Last weekend we took a trip up into the mountains to visit Ichibata Yakushi Temple in Shimane Prefecture. Heavy snowfall deterred all the other tourists, so we had the place to ourselves.
Many temples and shrines in Japan become associated with particular benefits, Tenmangu shrines for success with exams, shrines and temples for blessings for cars, Izumo Taisha shrines for finding marriage partners, etc.
Ichibata Yakushi Temple, perched on a mountaintop in Shimane Prefecture is the equivalent of a Japanese "Lourdes" for those with any kind of eye complaint, with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims making their way there every
The temple was founded in 894, and was built around a statue of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of medicine and healing.
A local fisherman found the sculpture of Yakushi washed up on a local beach. The current along the Shimane coast comes from Korea, so this is the probable source of the statue.
He took it home and prayed fervently in front of it, and many miracles occurred, the most relevant being his blind mother had her sight restored.
The temple was built on the mountaintop overlooking the coast, with expansive views of it, as well as views of Lake Shinji in the other direction. Being on a mountaintop there are steps leading up to it, 640 in all, but a road and bus now goes all the way to the top and few people climb the stairs, except once a year when a race is held which draws distance runners from all over.
The temple was originally of the Tendai Sect of Buddhism, but then became Rinzai Zen, and though the temple still maintains its Rinzai lineage, it became a Kyodan (a religious corporation, or church) and operates outside the Buddhist hierarchy.
To facilitate the journey for the pilgrims a railway line was built, and there are the usual line of souvenir shops on the approach to the temple. They have also branched out to specialize in children, and also pets.
Another money-making scheme is a couple of rental cabins within the temple grounds, built on a bluff with wonderful views, that are available for a reasonable fee (12,000 yen per cabin).
As well as the views from the temple, 84,000 statues of Yakushi Nyorai, donated by pilgrims and supporters, are well worth a view.
Ichibata Yakushi can be reached via the Ichibata Electric Railway from the terminals in Izumo City, or Matsue.
From Ichibataguchi Station, Ichibata Yakushi Temple（Tel: +81853670111) is a ten minute ride by bus or taxi.
Entrance is free.
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Wednesday, February 27, 2008