Temple of Flowers – Hasedera Buddhist Temple, Sakurai, Japan
Sakurai is a city located in Nara Prefecture, Japan. Hasedera Buddhist Temple (長谷寺) is located in Sakurai.
Hasedera Buddhist Temple has long been known as the “Temple of Flowers.” The temple is famous for peonies. It is especially popular in the spring, when the Chinese peonies are in bloom, and in the fall, when the leaves of the many maple trees in the temple grounds have turned red.
According to the description on the bronze plaque known as the Hokke Sessō-zu (銅板法華説相図), which is enshrined at Hasedera, the temple was first built in 686 and dedicated to Emperor Tenmu, who was suffering from a disease. Later, in the year 727, the temple was expanded by order of Emperor Shōmu and a statue of the eleven-faced Kannon was placed near the original temple that enshrined the bronze plaque. The temple has been burned down and rebuilt as many as ten times since the 10th century.
During the Heian period the temple was favored by members of the nobility, such as the authors of the Kagerō Nikki and the Sarashina Nikki. Hase-dera was consistently popular with visitors, helped by the fact it was situated on what was then the route to the Ise Shrine. Later still, Hase-dera flourished as one of the centers of the reformed Shingon Buddhism, particularly after the arrival of priest Sen’yo from Negoro-ji in 1588.
The current Main Hall is a reconstruction of 1650 built using donations from Tokugawa Iemitsu. A covered wooden staircase (登廊), 200 metres long, leads to the Hall from the Niō Gate.
The Main Hall (National Treasure): It is one of the largest halls in the Nara prefecture; the statue of the Eleven Faced Kannon is located in this hall.
The bronze plaque of the Hokke Sessō-zu (National Treasure): This plaque measures 75 cm (width) by 84 cm (height) and features at its center a hexagonal three story pagoda, surrounded by a series of panels showing two Buddhas sitting on lotus seats, as well as various deities and monks. The lower panel features 27 lines of inscription that is boarded by two guardian gods.
A copy of the Lotus Sutra. (National Treasure)
The Staircase (Important Cultural Property): The staircase is made up of 399 small stone steps, and is around 200 meters long. Pilgrims who visit the temple believe that when walking the staircase, it help to get rid of the 108 illusions that they believe lead to all human suffering.
The Eleven-faced Kannon (Important Cultural Property): The Statue of the Eleven Faced Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy) is 9.3 meters (or 31 feet) tall and it is said that it was carved by a priest known as Tokodo. This is said to be the largest wooden statue in Japan. Its faces consist of one primary face and ten secondary faces that are said to allow Kannon to see all around, in case anyone is in need of her assistance.
The Niōmon (Important Cultural Property): The Niō are present at the gates of many Japanese Buddhist temples, one on each side of the entrance. These statues are protectors of the temple, and can be thought of as two benevolent kings. These statues lend their name to the gate of the temple, which has become known as the Nio Gate (niōmon). The Nio have a threatening appearance in order to discourage demons and thieves.
The Shōrō (Important Cultural Property): In 1984 the original bell was replaced, and the original was placed in the treasure hall.