Striking and Colorful! Nakayama-dera Temple

Just 20 minutes from Osaka City is Nakayama-dera Temple. Located in Takurazuka, Nakayama-dera is a huge, historic temple and is part of the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage. Popular as a temple for safe birth, Nakayama-dera is also a very popular place in the spring time, as its 1,000 Japanese plum trees burst into full bloom!

 

The History of Nakayama-dera

According to temple legend, Nakayama-dera was built by the illustrious Prince Shotoku. As the prince was searching for the best place to build Shitenno-ji Temple, Mononobe no Moriya, Shotoku’s enemy from a previous war, appeared in the form of an angry spirit. Distraught, Prince Shotoku sought answers through prayer. During his prayers, Emperor Chuai’s wife, Onakatsu [大中姫], appeared in a vision and told Shotoku of a place to the north where purple clouds gathered. If he built a temple in that place, she said, the angry spirit of Moriya would disappear. Shotoku found the place of purple clouds and built Nakayama-dera Temple.

stony path leading to dark entrance of Nakayama-dera Kofun

Nakayama-dera Kofun. The supposed resting place of Empress Onakatsu. Located on the temple grounds.

A Place of Safe Birth

Another temple legend states that after Hideyoshi visited this temple, his wife, Yodo-dono, became pregnant. The pregnancy was especially shocking because Hideyoshi was already 60 years old! After that, many people started visiting Nakayama-dera Temple to pray for a safe and healthy birth. Furthermore, Emperor Meiji’s mother credited Nakayama-dera for her being able to conceive him.

Even today, many hopeful parents visit Nakayama-dera Temple to receive a special belly band called a kaneno-o [鐘の緒], to ensure a safe birth.

Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage, Japan’s Oldest Pilgrimage

Getting to Nakayama

Getting to Nakayama-dera is very easy. Take the Hankyu Takarazuka Line from Umeda (i.e. Osaka Station) to Nakayama Kannon Station. It’s only 20 minutes and the temple is only a ten minute walk from the station.

Alternatively, you could use the JR Takurazuka Line and get off at Nakayama-dera Station. The JR station is a little bit further away than the Hankyu station, but all in all, it’s not that far; only about 20 minutes.

Temple Grounds

Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu donated this large gate to Nakayama-dera in 1646.

Main entrance of Nakayama-dera Temple

Nakayama-dera Temple, main gate.

You will notice that the gate is covered with many sandals. In ancient times, participating in the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage was rather hard, so people hung their sandals at the gate to pray for their safety during the pilgrimage. Now people hang special sandal charms here to pray for healthy feet.

fearsome red statue guards Nakayama-dera entrance covered in small straw sandals

 

Just before hondo are two little temples.

Enma-do [閻魔堂]

One enshrines Enma-ou, the king of hell. Check out our post about the Saigoku Pilgrimage, to find out what the king of hell has to do with the start of the Saigoku Pilgrimage.

vermilion ema-do of Nakayama-dera covered in colorful paintings

Enma-do

Gohyaku Rakan [五百羅漢]

The second building enshrines Shaka Nyorai [釈迦如来]. Inside the statue of Shaka Nyorai is surrounded by more than 700 statues of rakan, practitioners seeking enlightenment. The statues are arranged around Shaka Nyorai as though were listening to his sermon.

rows of old statues of Buddhist priest and practitioners

Inside of Gyohyaku Rakan.

Hondo

The Nakayama’s hondo is located at the top of a tall slope, but don’t worry, you can always take the escalator!

Nakayama-dera hondo

Once you go up the escalator, you will reach the Hondo. Nakayama-dera’s Hondo is very colorful and full of paintings of legendary animals.

Built in 1603 by the order of Hideyori

Nakayama’s hondo enshrines an eleven-faced statue of Kannon Bosatsu from the Heian Period. An interesting fact about the statue is that has a strong resemblance to Queen Shrimala, an key figure in Buddhism. You can go an see the statue for yourself on the 18th of any given month.

 

Tahoto of Nakayama-dera surrounded by plum blossoms

Tahoto of Nakayama-dera Temple

 

Blue Dragon Pagoda /Seiryuto [青龍塔]

There is almost always a pagoda in a temple, but Nakayam-dera’s pagoda is very eye catching! Modeled after the original pagoda that stood there 400 years ago, this new pagoda is still very new. What is really shocking about this pagoda is that–it’s blue!

bright blue pagoda of Nakayama-dera Temple

It’s huge too. 33m tall!!

striking blue pagoda framed by white japanese blue blossoms

The only blue pagoda I have ever seen.

We’ve been to a lot of temples (obviously) and have never seen a blue pagoda before. The blue color blue represents the blue dragon that protects the teachings of Buddha.

Points of Interest

Ume Grove

flowering pink and white Japanese plum trees and a vermilion bridge in the background

Ume grove

Tucked away at the top of Nakayama-dera Temple’s ume grove is truly spectacular. This grove contains roughly 1,000 Japanese plum trees and is completely free to enter.

blooming japanese plum garden with a statue of kannon bosatsu in Nakayama-dera Temple

A satue of Kannon Bosatsu watches over the ume grove.

Hasu gohan [蓮ごはん]

When you visit Nakayama-dera, you must try hasu gohan. This large rice ball is made of steamed mochi rice and wrapped by lotus (hasu) leaf. The rice contains a number of tasty ingredients like gingko nuts, pickled yukina, goji berries, and thin strips of fried tofu.

stamed ball of hasu gohan wrapped in lotus leaves

Hasu Gohan

Hasu gohan is quite popular. We were lucky enough to get the last one when we visited the temple around noon. Though it looks a little small, it is actually quite filling since it is made from mochi rice. Be sure to give it a try if you can get one in time! 

 

Nakayama-dera Temple

Address 2-11-1 Nakayamadera, Takarazuka,
Hyogo Prefecture 〒665-8588
Website http://www.nakayamadera.or.jp/top.html
Hours of Operation Mon-Sun
9:00-17:00
Admission Fee Free

Nakayama-dera is a very interesting temple. While a number of temples in Japan like to leave their buildings as they were for hundreds of years, Nakayama-dera seems to have less issue modernizing itself a little. Most of the decorative paintings on the temple buildings are routinely touched up making the temple a really colorful place. I strongly encourage visitors to try and come when the ume grove is in bloom. Bring a lunch and stay while!

Coming next time,
Japan’s prince of legend, Prince Shotoku

The adventure continues…

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