It may not be as famous as Itsukushima Shrine, but Daisho-In Temple on Miyajima is just as beautiful and to let you in on a secret, it’s actually my favourite. When I go to Miyajima, I bypass Itsukushima (and the crowds!) and head straight for Daisho-In.
Unlike shrines, which are Shinto, temples in Japan are Buddhist. Daisho-In Temple is part of the Shingon sect which was founded by Kobo Daishi. The temple is closely linked to Mt. Misen, the sacred mountain at the centre of Miyajima and is also where, in 806, Kobo Daishi underwent 100 days of ascetic practice. He lit a fire which has been burning for 1200 years and is also the fire that was used to light the Flame of Peace in the Peace Memorial Park.
The temple complex actually contains a collection of buildings which you enter via Niomon Gate. After washing your hands and mouth to purify yourself, you walk up a number of stairs where, on your right are the Dai-hannyakyo Scriptures. Tradition says that if you spin them as you go up and as you come down that you will receive great fortune.
The official map outlines 27 points of interest, but for this article’s sake, I’m going to give you a rundown on my favourite and a few tips you won’t find in guidebooks because people like to keep them to themselves!
For something visually spectacular and mind-blowingly impermanent, check out the sand mandala created by Buddhist priests from Tibet. It’s housed in the Kannon-do Hall which is also the hall with the underground passage. Yes, the underground passage which not everyone knows about and which isn’t always advertised.
Tip Number One: Go!
I was lucky enough to be by myself one day when an old Japanese man gestured to me to follow him into the depths below. Not knowing what to expect, I found myself plunged into complete darkness and having to rely on my faith and hands to guide me through. The illuminated pictures and small statues throughout were the only light and I emerged at the other end wondering what had happened. I know of only one other person who also knows about this…
Just next to the information office of the temple is also a place where you can taste the herbal tea comprised of 16 herbs for good health. You can drink as much as you want, but Tip Number Two: do not fill your tea bottle with it to take away!
If you enjoyed spinning the first lot of scriptures, head to the even longer Mani Wheel which leads up to Maniden Hall. By spinning these it is said that you are reading the equivalent of one volume of the Heart Sutra. The Hall itself is for those wishing to achieve contentment, good health and longevity. In other words, it’s the hall with something for everyone!
To be honest, the real reason I visit the temple each time I go to Miyajima is for the English omikuji (おみくじ) or fortune. For only 50 yen it’s well worth your money and every single time I’ve read my love/marriage section I’ve been told: he will be late. It’s very clear it’s a he and believe me, they don’t have to tell me he’s late! If you get a less than desirable one, tie it up outside with all the others.
My final favourite place within the temple complex is the Hen jyokutsu Cave of Buddhist icons which is said to grant you the equivalent blessings as those bestowed upon people who take part in the pilgrimage route of the 88 temples of Shikoku.
Daisho-In has a number of annual events including a fire walking ritual (April 15 and November 15) and a lantern ritual (September 9-11) and there are also small markets with various trinkets you can buy at any time you visit.
The road to the temple is lined with old houses and is particularly peaceful, and in autumn the temple comes alive with red, yellow and orange leaves which make for a spectacular backdrop for photographs.
I guarantee that one visit will enchant you and that you will return again and again to experience the wonder of Daisho-In Temple.