Iwadono Kannon is the most common name used for Shoboji temple in Higashimatsuyama. However, on Google maps its called Shōbōji and that is the name that has stuck with me. The legendary gingko tree at Shoboji is one of my personal favorite posts on this blog! But there is more to the temple than just the gingko tree. Although, in fairness the tree in Autumn is an attraction all in itself. It is the most beautiful and magnificent gingko tree I’ve ever seen. But the temple and the grounds are also beautiful and worthy of a blog post all of their own. Apart from Autumn, spring is a great time to visit the shrine with cherry blossoms, moss and azalea (among others) coloring the temple’s grounds. Even without anything in bloom the temple is worth a visit to see the deva gate, the lanterns, the bell tower etc. And there is even a small playground on the grounds for children.
Iwadono Kannon / Shoboji
I have tried for the last few years to get a post out about Iwadono Kannon / Shoboji temple, but I’ve had a mental block with it for some reason. Actually, to be honest about it, its the photos I really have a block with. And its entirely my own fault. I have hundreds of photos of the temple in different seasons, the thoughts of picking just five or six for this post is daunting. But its New Year, Chinese New Year at least! Resolutions freshly abound. Its time to get this post out of the draft box and into the permanent realm of cyber links!
The other part that is daunting is the history. I can’t do it justice. It doesn’t help that there is no other information online about it in English. Furthermore, there are various versions of the temple’s history online in Japanese. Moreover, none are particularly concise! I will just have to do my best and give you a synopsis of the fascinating history of this under-appreciated temple.
Firstly, Iwadono celebrated 1300 years of history in 2018. It began when “Ikkai” enshrined the kannon in a rock in a hillside. However, it wasn’t until 796 that a temple was built. By the order of Emperor Kanmu after he heard about the providence of the Iwadono Kannon from Sakaenoue no Tamuramaro…
The Iwadono Dragon
Once upon a time, a dragon lived in the mountains of Iwadono. He caused all sorts of hardships for the locals. There are various versions of the story, but many mention the dragon being responsible for snow in summer and thunder in the winter. He was also blamed for the ruination of the agricultural fields.
One fine day, the legendary Sakaenoue no Tamuromaro, a Shogun in the Heian period (794 – 1185). was passing through the area. He stopped at the temple to pray. The villagers asked the formidable general to get rid of the dragon. Using religious arrows of the temple, he defeated the dragon. The dragon’s head was buried in the area from which a pond emerged. And the people of the Iwadono area lived happily ever after!
Butt Burning Festival
You’ve heard the expression “blowing smoke up your arse”? Well, at Shoboji / Iwadono Kannon once a year they quite literally blow smoke up people’s asses. In celebration of the conquering of the dragon, the Goma Saito festival at Iwadono Kannon is a one of a kind, called – what loosely translates to – the butt burning festival! With a history of 800 years, the festival is held annually on the first Sunday of June. If you’re lucky the hydrangea will also be in bloom at the same time.
Features of Iwadono Kannon
The name Iwadono can be interpreted as “made of rock”. “Dono” means a large and fine building. It is often used in religious words, but with the reading den. For example, shinden, haiden, butsuden etc. When used with “iwa” for rock it implies a temple of rock. Iwadono Kannon itself is not made of rock, but it is located at the base of a rock cliff. There are beautiful statues carved and / or displayed in the cliff. Moreover, the temple started with these Kannon made of rock, Iwadono Kannon.
The Deva Gate is at the bottom of the hill / temple grounds. As such, you need to walk down through the temple grounds from the car park to see the gate. However, if you are hiking in the area and approaching the temple from down in the valley the deva gate is the main access point. There are two nioman guardians at the deva gate.
More often than not you can see into the Kannon Hall. As per the first photo in the gallery above. The second photo is of a statue that is on the veranda. People place money on his lap and offer prayers. There is also a vending machine fortune telling omikuji machine!
The bell tower is located on the North east of the temple grounds. It overlooks the valley.
Simply the most magnificent tree in the whole world! Its actually several gingko trees that merged together. The 31+ meter high tree is as curious as it is breathtaking. I had so much to say about this tree, and so many photos, that I gave it its own blog post a few years ago! In recent years, people hang ema prayer plaques from the tree. Beside the tree there is a peace memorial statue “may peace prevail on earth”.
Coming from route 212 you can either walk down a stairway near the larger car park for hikers. Or you can use a tunnel that goes under the smaller dedicated car park. The tunnel adds to the mystical atmosphere of this Ghibli-esque temple in the Iwadono hills. Unfortunately, although the tunnel is wheelchair friendly, the grounds of the temple are not.
- Cherry blossoms
- Moss which is thick on the trees when the cherry blossoms and azalea are in bloom
- Autumn leaves – the autumn leaves can be seen on the post about the legendary gingko tree.
Cherry blossoms and Azalea in photos
Hiking in Higashimatsuyama
Iwadono Kanno is located beside the Higashimatsuyama Shimin no Mori which extends into Ishizaka no Mori of Hatoyama Town. The kannon is also close to Monomiyama Park, which is just across the road. The car park at the Shimin no Mori is the most convenient for all three. In these surreal times with Covid, the Shimin no Mori / Ishizaka no Mori park is ideal for forest bathing and avoiding the Coronavirus.
Higashimatsuyama Shimin no Mori and Ishizaka no Mori park are “citizen’s forest”s. An area maintained in its natural state except for purpose built walkways. Apart from the walkways, these type of places have nothing to offer except nature. The Higashimatsuyama Shimin No Mori is at the top of a hill in the Iwadono area of Higashimatsuyama. Its car park is shared with Monomiyama park.
The forest is an ideal place to practice self isolation and for the healing vibes of forest bathing. However, please note that because of the natural setting, in summer there are snakes and some nasty creatures. And in winter there are occasionally wild boar. Parking is free. There is nothing in the car park. If you need a toilet or vending machine you can find both across the road from the car park in Monomiyama Park.
Iwadono Temple aka Shoboji Information
|Address:||1229 Iwadono, Higashimatsuyama, Saitama 355-0065|
|Hours:||The grounds are open 24 hours|
Iwadono Kannon / Shoboji Temple is on the same road that the main entrance to the zoo is on, route 212, past Daito Bunka University if you are coming from the direction of downtown Higashimatsuyama going toward Hatoyama.
If you are coming by bus you can get the bus to this University from Takasaka station on the Tobu Tojo Line. The temple is about a ten minute walk uphill from the bus stop.