Hase-dera Temple, Nara’s Timeless Beauty

Nara is home to many nationally recognized and well-known ancient temples. While many of these temples are dotted around city areas, some are in the mountains. One example is Hase-dera Temple [長谷寺]. Located at the foot of Mt. Hase, Hase-dera Temple is not only famous because it is the eighth temple of the Saigoku Pilgrimage, but also because its temple grounds are especially beautiful; ranging from beautiful flowers like sakura to peonies in the spring, to breath taking leaves in the fall.

Because of its beauty, Hase-dera appears many old pieces of Japanese literature such as The Pillow Tales, The Sarashina Diary and even The Tale of Genji.

The History of Hase-dera Temple

Hase-dera dates back to the 686, when the monk Domyo, built a little temple and three-story pagoda in the hopes of curing illness of Emperor Tenmu. Later in 727, Tokudo, the founder of the Saigoku Pilgrimage, carved a statue of Juuichimen Kannon Bosatsu [十一面観世音菩薩]. He enshrined the statue in a small temple as the main deity and expanded the temple, ergo creating Hase-dera Temple.

hase-dera temple with scores of blooming peonies in front

Hase-dera Temple

Hase-dera has had a rough time throughout the centuries. It fell in to disrepair around the 16th century i.e. the Sengoku Period. In order to revive the temple, Toyotomi Hidenaga, the brother of Hideyoshi, ordered the monks of Negoro-ji to move to Hase-dera after their war against Hideyoshi. For this reason, Hase-dera and Negoro-ji have a strong relationship and today share the same beliefs.

Grave of Kakuban at Hase-dera Temple

Grave of Kakuban, the founder of Negoro-ji Temple, at Hase-dera Temple

Getting to Hase-dera Temple

Hase-dera is very easier to access from Osaka. In Osaka, take the Kintetsu Nara Line from Namba Station and get off after a few minutes at Uehonmachi or Tsuruhashi and change to the Kintetsu Osaka Line. At either station, take the Express or the Semi-express and get off at Hase-dera.

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Transit

It roughly takes an hour or so from Namba. From Hase-dera Station, you will have to walk about fifteen minutes. The road to the temple is pretty straight forward and there are signs everywhere.

 

Temple Grounds

After walking fifteen minutes or so from the Hase-dera Station, you will be Hase-dera. When we went there, peonies were full bloom and many people flocked to the temple to photograph the flowers.

path leading to Hase-dera temple lined with blooming pink and purple azalea bushes

Niomon Gate, rebuilt in 1894

After Niomon Gate, you will see a long staircase, called Toro. The toro, leads to the main temple grounds and has a total of 399 steps.

Toro wooden staircase at hase-dera temple

Toro

This staircase is very rare and is iconic of Hase-dera. The head priest of Kasuga Shrine donated the Toro to Hase-dera in the 1039 but it has undergone a lot of repairs over the centuries.

hundreds of blooming peonies at Hase-dera temple

The Toro is lined with hundreds of peonies. Try to stop by in May to see the flowers.

Hondo

The hondo is so big!

hondo of hase-dera temple surrounded by brilliant fall colors

Hondo

The original hondo was built by Toytomi Hidenaga in 1588 but Tokugawa Ieyasu demolished it for unknown reasons. Overall, Hase-dera has burnt down as many as seven times. Tokugawa Iemitsu, the 3rd Tokugawa shogun, built the current hondo in 1650.hondo of hase-dera temple framed by pink azaleas

The hondo consists of the Shodo [正堂] that enshrines the main statue, and the Raido [礼堂], where rituals take place. In between those buildings is a corridor, the Ainoma, where you can actually go in and see the main Buddha statue at a distance.

Inside of Ainoma at hase-dera temple in Nara

Inside the Ainoma

This style of building is rather quite unique and is a great example of large temple halls built in the early Edo Period, making it a Japanese National Treasure.

The main Buddha is an astonishing 10 meter tall statue of Juuichimen Kannon Bosatsu. The original, unfortunately, burnt down long ago. The current statue is still quite old, however, and dates back to the Muromachi Period.

When you look at the main Buddha statue, you will immediately notice it is very unique. It has a bottle in his left hand like other Kannon statues but it has a cane in his right hand, like Jizo Bosatsu. This is because this Kannon can appear in the human world and help people, like Jizo does for lost children.

View from the Hondo

Points of Interest

After you see the main statue in the hondo, enjoy walk around the temple grounds. Especially in spring, there are many kinds of flowers throughout the temple.

Daikoku-do

daikoku-do at Hase-dera temple

Enshrines Daikoku

Goju no To

five-story pagoda at hase-dera temple

Their five story pagoda is the first pagoda built after WWII.

Moto Hase-dera [元長谷寺]

original site of hase-dera temple

The original temple that Domyo built once was located here.

Hoki-in

On the way from Kintetsu Hase-dera Station to Hase-dera,is the Hoki-in. Though it is quite small, you shouldn’t miss it! The Hoki-in is one of the Bangai temples of Saigoku Pilgrimage.

entrance of Hoki-in temple in Nara

Hoki-in

Hoki-in is where Tokudo, the founder of Saigoku Pilgrimage, lived out the remainder of his life. Legends say that upon his death, Tokudo went to heaven from this temple, and became Hoki Bosatsu. This is the primary reason why this temple is called Hoki-in.

small stone pagoda that is the grave of Tokudo in Hoki-in

Grave of Tokudo

Hase-dera Temple

Address  731-1 Hase, Sakurai, Nara Prefecture 〒633-0112
Website http://www.hasedera.or.jp/
Hours of Operation Apr-Sep:
8:30-17:00
Oct, Nov, Mar:
9:00-17:00
Dec-Feb:
9:00-16:30
Admission Fee Adults: 500 yen
Children: 250 yen

No matter what time of year you come to Hase-dera Temple, the beauty of this temple is always entrancing. Considering the history and majesty of this temple, it is easy to see why so many famous Japanese authors included this temple in their works.

Coming next time,
Muro-ji, the “Women’s Koyasan”

The adventure continues…

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