The Great Temple on Mount Ikoma
Hozan-ji is a Buddhist temple of the Shingon Risshu school located on the side of Mount Ikoma, in Nara prefecture in Japan. Preserved in a dense forest, the religious site comprises several pavilions scattered in the mountain up to a viewpoint on Ikoma City. This bewitching place is liked for its quietness and spirituality.
The discovery of Nara prefecture should not be limited to its capital, despite its many historical and religious wonders. The prefecture is also home to many other ancient sites that resonate with the history of the Japanese civilization and its relationship to spirituality. The presence of several mountain ranges in the area also has an important role as they are often considered sacred and therefore dedicated to ascetic practices in Shinto and Buddhism.
Halfway between Osaka and Nara, the heights of the small city of Ikoma are home to Hozan-ji temple, one of the largest of the area. Unknown from tourists, this gem is worth the effort of climbing Mount Ikoma to discover a grounds with plenty of constructions and a cult that is still lively. More than a beautiful touristic city, it is a true place of worship and silence is required to respect the praying worshipers.
Praying on the heights of Ikoma
The visit of the temple starts by a long stone stairway sided by lanterns 🏮 and overlooked by a torii ⛩️ gate, an architectural element usually showing the entrance of a Shinto site. With origins dating back to the 7th century, Hozan-ji had several lives, as attests its syncretistic precincts, a mix of Buddhist and Shinto cults. We recommend taking your time to climb the stairs and to turn back to admire the landscape of Ikoma city spreading below.
Then, the majestic main esplanade hosts a collection of pavilions surrounded by the mountains. Each building has a different architectural style and is profusely ornamented. Stand back while the locals are paying their respects to the deities enshrined here.
A privileged site for the cult of Kangiten
Hozan-ji is the main temple in Japan for the cult of Kangiten, the Japanese Buddhist version of Ganesh, also named Shoten, one of the most important deities of Hinduism. Therefore, the site is frequently called Ikoma Shoten (or Shoden).
The temple’s influential status is due to the work of monk Tenkai (1629 - 1716), who, in the 17th century, rose 🌹 Hozan-ji to the rank of regional temple thanks to the sacred image of Dual Kangiten, that is to say the god of bliss portrayed as an elephant-headed human couple embracing. The icon is however, not visible for the public. Additionally, the temple belongs to the Shingon Risshu School of Japanese Buddhism.
The temple is frequented to wish for successful business, and therefore Hozan-ji has long been visited by merchants and shopkeepers who come to pray Fudo Myoo, the fire 🔥 god linked to commercial success, for prosperity.
Ascension in the forest toward the okunoin
Leaving the main level, the ascension of the mountain continues by successive landings. Pass the beautiful roofs of the little temples to reach the foot of the 2-story scarlet Tahoto pagoda. Then, continue along a path bordered by Jizo statues announcing the entrance in the remotest and holiest part of the temple (Okunoin), dedicated to the cemetery and the resting of the deceased souls.
The silence of the forest fosters recollection and visitors feel as if they were transported in another heavenly world. The lush vegetation often reclaims its rightful place and one can take the time to admire some few seasonal flowers brightening the scenery. At one of the latest pavilions, another elevated panorama opens on the valley and Ikoma city.
A mountain road continues further but it is not worth going, as it can be blocked due to landslide risk.
From Ikoma station, access to Hozan-ji can be made:
- Walking through the beautiful traditional residential neighborhood Monzen-cho;
- By car 🚙 to the dedicated parking area, or,
- Riding the Kintetsu Ikoma Cable Car, whose cat or dog-shaped carriages are very kawaii.
In September, the temple holds its yearly night festival at the occasion of which many lanterns are lit up.