While the town of Azuchi is most famous for Azuchi Castle, one of Oda Nobunaga’s most impressive fortresses, nearby Kannosho-ji Temple is also quite famous in its own right. Overlooking the town from the top of the Mt. Kinugasa is Kannonsho-ji Temple is temple number 32 of the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage.
The History of Kannonshoji
According to temple legend, the origins of Kannonshoji goes back to the 7th century, when the legendary Prince Shotoku visited Lake Biwa. As the prince stood on the shore, a mermaid emerged in front of him and begged him to create temple dedicated to Kannon to mourn those who die. The mermaid explained that she became a mermaid because she killed living things while she was human. Prince Shotoku kindly granted the mermaid’s request by building what would become Kannonshoji.
In the 16th century, the Rokkaku clan, who governed Shiga Prefecture, built Kannon-ji Castle on top of the mountain as their clan’s main castle. With such a powerful clan’s headquarters so close, the temple prospered. However, the Rokkaku clan fought against Nobunaga and the temple burned down during the conflict. Also, quite sadly, this temple burned down again in 1990s and much of Kannonshoji Temple is still under reconstruction.
Getting to Kannonshoji Temple
Kannonshoji Temple is located on the top of Mt. Kinugasa, which is 400m high. There are several routes to access the temple, and most people choose to drive. If you wish to walk the main path, it is a 45-minute walk from JR Azuchi Station (via the JR Tokaido Line) to Hiyoshi Shrine and then another 30 minutes until you reach Kannonshoji Temple. Unfortunately, there is no bus stop near the main path, though there is one on the back path.
It is quite hard to find the path, especially because there are no signs anywhere to indicate what direction the temple is, so I strongly recommend you bring a map.
The main path starts right next to Hiyoshi Shrine. Since there is a driveway up to the temple, I assume that few actually walk up the mountain.
Once we arrived at the temple, we were surprised to see that there were a good number of people on the temple grounds! I guess those people are visiting nearby the mountain castle, Kannon-ji Castle, which is one of the Top 100 Castles of Japan.
Once you enter the temple ground, there is a large hondo in the middle. Unfortunately the temple building completely burned down in the 1990s, including its main deity, so it is quite new temple compared to the other temples of Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage. The main deity is a huge 6-meter-tall statue of Kannon Bosatsu that is always open to the public. Given that many of the main statues of the temples of the Saigoku Pilgrimage are rarely on public display, it’s pretty amazing you can see this one anytime!
There was a huge stone wall right next to the Hondo; maybe part of Kannno-ji Castle?
2 Ishidera Azuchi-cho, Omihachiman City, Shiga Prefecture
The main path starts from Hiyoshi Shrine on the foot of the mountain. It takes an hour by walk to from Azuchi Station to Hiyoshi Shrine and then 45 minutes to Kannonsho-ji.
The bus is available from Notogawa Station off JR Tokaido (Biwako) Line. Take a bus from bus stop No.1 for Yokaichi Station and get off at the Kannon-ji guchi bus stop. This will take you to the buck path for Kannonsho-ji.
Right next to the temple is Kannon-ji Castle, which is one of the 100 castles in Japan. Make sure to drop by the castle too!!