岩室観音

Iwamuro Kannon


Useful Information

Location: Kitayoshimi, Yoshimi Town, Hiki District.
(36.037884, 139.420441)
Open: no restrictions.
[2021]
Fee: free.
[2021]
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Light: n/a, bring torch
Dimension:
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:
Address: Iwamuro Kannon, Kitayoshimi, Yoshimi Town, Hiki District, Saitama Prefecture 355-0155.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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History

810-824 temple constructed.
1590 temple burned down during a siege of Matsuyama Castle.
1661-1673 current temple erected.

Description

弘法大師 (Kobo Daishi) chose a cave, carved a Kannon statue with a height of 1 shaku and 1 inch (36.4 cm) and put it in this cave. He named it 岩室山 (Iwamuroyama).

空海 (Kūkai) was a buddhist monk, civil servant, engineer, scholar, poet, artist and calligrapher. He became posthumously known as 弘法大師 (Kōbō Daishi, The Grand Master who Propagated the Dharma). He travelled to China and studied Tangmi, the Chinese Vajrayana Buddhism, and back in Japan founded Shingon, the Japanese branch of Vajrayana Buddhism.

The temple is located at the foot of Musashimatsuyama Castle which could be accessed through the temple. The temple even was destroyed once in 1590 during a siege of the castle. The current temple was rebuilt by Ryushoin III from 1661 to 1673 during the Edo period, with the help of local believers. 88 stone Buddha statues are placed here, which imitates the structure of 88 sacred sites in Shikoku. The pilgrimage to 88 places in Shikoku where Kobo Daishi trained is called Henro.

The 西国三十三所 (Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage) is a pilgrimage route of 33 Buddhist temples around Kyoto. It is probably the oldest pilgrimage in Japan and was copied numerous times. Each temple has a statue of Kannon Bosatsu which is worshiped. Kannon is one of the most popular deities in Japan and is often shown in female form. She has the nickname Goddess of Mercy. The Pilgrimage was founded by a monk named Tokudo who was in charge of Hase-dera Temple near Nara in the early 8th century. It became later popular with the aristocracy and today it is very well known and the temples are visited by many pilgrims.

This temple is the third station for the 比企西国三十三所観音札 (Hiki Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage), one of numeral clones of the original pilgrimage and much less popular. It was established in 1723 for people who were not rich enough for a pilgrimage to far away temples in Kyoto.

岩室観音堂 (Iwamuro kan'non) is rather special, as it is a cave temple. It was built into a sort of natural cave or gorge. From the front you can see only the wooden facade enclosed by rock walls on both sides. Nevertheless the temple has four walls and uses the cliffs only for support. The ground floor of the temple allows access to two caves, one to the left and one to the right of the main temple.