Isshin-ji Temple: A Modern Design and Statues of Bone

The Tennoji area of Osaka City is famous for its many old temples and shrines. While Shitenno-ji, one of the most ancient temples in Japan, is the most popular, nearby Isshin-ji Temple [一心寺] is also popular among Osakans. Not only is Isshin-ji famous for its rich history, but its unique Buddha statues made of human bones! Here, past and present literally meet!

 

The History of Isshin-ji Temple

Isshin-ji dates back to 1185, when Honen [法然], the founder of the Jodo sect, built a little hut on the current temple site where he could practice nissokan [日想観]. Nissokan is a meditative practice in which monks face west during sunset and envision what heaven looks like. The hill Honen chose for his hut was particularly famous for beautiful sunsets, as is much of the Tennoji area. Even Emperor Shirakawa came to practice nissokan here too.

portrait of Honen by Ninkai

Honen by Ninkai [忍海] via Wiki Commons

*Check out our other post on Sunset on the Seven Slopes of Tennoji!

It is unclear when Isshin-ji went from a meditation hut and became a proper temple, because as power began to settle in Kyoto, Osaka became somewhat of a forgotten city. It wasn’t until the 15th century when Hideyoshi’s wife, Nene, donated a large sum of land and many temple buildings to Isshin-ji that the temple could once again flourish.

Isshin-ji temple's dousenkai

Dousenkai, commemorative building for Honen.

Another fortunate event at Isshin-ji was that they held the funeral for Tokugawa Ieyasu’s eighth son, Senchiyo, helping to establish good ties with Ieyasu. Ieyasu even set up camp in Isshin-ji during the Winter Campaign in the Siege of Osaka. Willingly allowing Ieyasu to stay in their temple at this time was certainly unusual, since many people in Osaka strongly favored the Toyotomi clan.

 

Getting to Isshin-ji Temple

The two closest stations to Isshin-ji are Tennoji Station off the Osaka Loop Line or the Tennoji Station off the Midosuji Subway Line.

At either station use the zoo exit and walk north in the direction for Shitenno-ji.
Turn left at the Shitennoji-mae intersection and Isshin-ji is only a few more minutes away. All in all you should be at the temple in about ten minutes.

Outside of Isshin-ji Temple in Osaka

Isshin-ji Temple

It is also possible to walk through Tenno-ji Park to Issiin-ji, but the path be a little complicated if you are new to Osaka.

Since it is very close, be sure to also visit Shitenno-ji as well!

 

Temple Grounds

Despite its long history, the Osaka Fire Raids of WWII destroyed the entire temple, so all the current buildings in the temple are very modern looking.

Modern looking entrance of Isshin-ji Temple

Main Gate: Very modern gate. designed by the former monk and artist Takaguchi Kyogyo

Reception hall of the Nenbutsu-do

Daihondo: Enshrines a statue Amida Nyorai originally from Chion-in in Kyoto.

By far, the most iconic thing at Isshin-ji are the Buddha statues made of human bones. In Japan, when people die the bodies are crimated and their ashes are stored in a grave. However, if you don’t have grave for some reason, or have nobody to take care of your grave, you can choose to donate your ashes to a temple. In 1887, Isshin-ji made their first Buddha statue out of the bones of some 50,000 people. Today, Isshin-ji makes a new statue every ten years. The statues are stored in two buildings, the Nokotsudo and the Okotsubutsudo, which are right next to each other. 

The statues are in this building. Go take a look for yourself!

As a side note, Isshin-ji willingly accepts a persons ashes regardless of that individual’s religious beliefs in life and will incorporate those ashes in their statues.

Points of Interest

The Grave of Honda Tadatomo

Isshin-ji contains the graves of many famous people. Among those, the most famous is the grave of Honda Tadatomo [本田忠朝].

grave of Tadamoto Honda at Isshin-ji Temple

Grave of Honda Tadamoto

Tadatomo was one of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s retainers who unfortunately lost a decisive battle in the winter campaign of the Siege of Osaka. The reason for his defeat? He was drunk. His carelessness earned him a harsh and humiliating reprimand from Tokugawa. To regain his honor, he fought valiantly in the summer at the Battle of Tennoji. During the battle, Tadamoto received a fatal blow and at the moment of his death, swore to help people suffering from alcoholism. Today, people seeking Honda’s help donate rice paddles at his grave.

rows of rice paddles at the grave of Tadamoto Honda at Isshin-ji Temple

Rice paddles

Isshin-ji Sanzenbutsu-do

Just outside and to the east of the main temple grounds of Isshin-ji is the Sanzenbutsu-do [三千仏堂], which was also designed by Mr. Takaguchi. Though the building may not look like a temple, it enshrines roughly 1,000 Buddha statues

modern looking entrance of Isshin-ji Sanzenbutsudo

Isshin-ji Sanzenbutsu-do

hundreds of golden buddha statues inside Isshin-ji sanzenbutsu-do

Inside of the Sanzenbutsu-do

Visitors are supposed to walk around the statues, clockwise. In doing so, you can pray to the Buddhas of the past, present and future. One your first pass, you will see a thousand statues, and after three rounds, you can see three thousand, or sanzen butsu in Japanese.

At different points there are larger statues of who represent a different animal in the Chinese zodiac.

Isshin-ji Temple

Address 2 -8-69 Osaka, Tennoji Ward, Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture 〒543-0062
Website http://www.isshinji.or.jp/
Hours of Operation Mon-Sun
9:00-16:00
Admission Fee Free

Coming next time,
Our Guide to Osaka’s Private Train System

The adventure continues…

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