On the top of Mt. Hiei is a huge temple complex, Enryaku-ji. While many people just visit the To-do the Sai-to, Yokawa is also a historic and important part of Enryaku-ji Temple as it houses the grave of the Tendai sect’s 18th abbot, Ryogen, who was also the first person to make omikuji charms.
Though Yokawa is hard to access, but it is a quiet, quaint place deep in the woods.
For more information on the Enryku-ji temple complex, please click here for our main article.
History of Yokawa and Enryaku-ji Temple
Ennin [円仁], the third head of the Tendai sect first built Yokawa in the 9th century. Ennin, who’d studied directly under the Tendai sect’s founder, Saicho, was responsible for incorporating the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism, or Mikkyo, into the Tendia beliefs. In doing so, he hoped that the Tendai sect would gain more followers and become as popular as the Shingon sect.
To accomplish the feat, he decided to study abroad in China. However, his trip to China was rather rough. His first problem was that the Chinese government would not grant him permission to enter the country. After entering the country illegally, he had to walk thousands of miles to the temples where he intended to study. Then, if that wasn’t enough, as he was returning to Japan the Chinese government prohibited people travel abroad. Ennin ended up remaining in China for 9 years. However, his extended stay in China enabled him to master the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism. When at last he was able to return to Japan he expanded Enryaku-ji’s temple complex. Additionally, his now profound understanding of Pure Land teachings and Esoteric Buddhism secured the temple’s reputation as one of the most prominent places to study Buddhism in the country.
Unfortunately, Enryaku-ji was often at conflict with many of the other temples and shrines near Kyoto (specifically Mii-dera). Many of these conflicts were resolved by force, resulting in many areas of the temple complex, including Yokawa, being destroyed.
The 18th head of the Tendai sect, Ryogen, revived Enryaku-ji and took up residence here in Yokawa.
Yokawa is far away from the Sai-to and the To-do, but the real reason there are always significantly fewer people in Yokawa is that there is not a lot of bus service. Also, during the winter season when there is no bus in Enryaku-ji Temple, you have to walk an hour and a half to get here.
After a short walk, you will see the main building of Yokawa, Yokawa-chudo. This building was designed to look like the ship Ennin took to study abroad in China. Sadly, this hall burned down many times over the ages.
The Yokawa-chudo houses the principal deity of Yokawa, a statue of Seikannon Bosatsu statue, carved by Ennin himself. Although Oda Nobunaga burned the entire Enryaku-ji temple complex to the ground, this statue somehow survived.
Yokawa is pretty expansive, so be sure to have enough time to explore. Just be careful not to miss the bus!!
On the temple grounds, you will find the Ganzan Taishido [元三大師堂], Ryogen’s former personal residence.
The Birthplace of Omikuji
This place is known as the birthplace of the omikuji. Many consider Ryogen the first to make and sell special charms to ward off bad spirits. You can opt to get an omikuji here, but it is a much more serious process than in other temples. First, you have to talk to a monk about your troubles, then the monk will draw an omikuji for you and explain what the omikuji says. Since you need to have a private session with a monk, you need to make a reservation to get an omikuji here.
Ryogen’s grave is located far to the back of Yokawa, and not so many people visit it. Despite his tremendous contributions to the temple, it is perhaps fitting that his final resting place is rather modest; as befitting a devote monk.