A UNESCO World Heritage Site located in southeastern Kyoto, Daigo-ji is a Shingon Buddhist temple with over 1,100 years of history. The sprawling complex starts at the top of a mountain and spreads downward, composed of Lower (Shimo-Daigo) and Upper (Kami-Daigo) sections. Multiple buildings and treasures of the temple are designated as National Treasures and Cultural Assets, including the wooden statue of the temple’s main object of worship, Yakushi Nyorai (the Medicine Buddha). The path leading from the entrance gate up through the temple’s two-storied Niōmon Gate is lined with cherry blossoms and then maple trees, making the area famous in spring and fall. Once inside the Lower Daigo area, don’t miss the famous five-storied pagoda, the oldest wooden structure that has written proof of age in Kyoto. A combined ticket for the temple grants entry to three areas, including the main precincts, the treasure hall, and the Sanbō-in sub-temple.
Don’t miss the famous five-storied pagoda, the oldest wooden structure that has written proof of age in Kyoto!
The oldest wooden structure remaining in Kyoto whose age can be verified in documentation, Daigo-ji’s gojū no tō (five-storied pagoda) is one of the few wooden constructions to survive the devastating Ōnin War in the 15th century.
Completed in 951 on orders of an emperor in honor of his predecessor, the pagoda is approximately 38 meters tall.
Though not normally open to the public, the ground floor of the pagoda is covered in precious mandala paintings that can be dated to the pagoda’s construction in the 10th century.
Benten-dō (Benten Hall)
One of the most photographed scenes of the Lower Daigo precincts is of the Benten Hall, a small altar dedicated to the goddess Benzaiten, one of the Seven Lucky Gods (shichifukujin) associated with creativity and music.
Situated on a small island surrounded by a picturesque lake and framed by the mountain maple trees and ginkgo, it is particularly popular in the autumn season.
Originally built in the 12th century by Daigo-ji’s 14th head priest, the current sub-temple was constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1598 when he ordered extensive renewal of Daigo-ji in preparation for a grand cherry blossom viewing party he planned to hold on the mountain. The gorgeous strolling pond garden was designed by Japan's second Great Unifier himself and features numerous small bridges connecting islands and shores with carefully pruned pines and placed stones, making it a lovely place to take in the view. The paintings on the walls of the inner rooms are also a delight, featuring wild animals, seasonal plants, and scenes of famous festivals, as well as more modern artwork towards the entrance.
Daigo-ji’s origin is traced back to the year 874, when the monk Shōbō, posthumously known as Rigen Daishi, received divine guidance from the local deity Yoko'o Daimyōjin. Led by the god to a sacred well on top of Mt. Kami-Daigo, he erected a small hermitage on the site and installed two statues of incarnations of Kannon, the goddess of compassion: Juntei Kannon (“the Mother of All Deities”) and Nyoirin Kannon (“the All-Knowing One”).
Due to contributions from various emperors, Daigo-ji grew in importance and size with the construction of the Yakushi Hall in 907, the Godai Hall in Kami-Daigo, and the additions of the Shimo-Daigo portion with an Amitabha Hall (Amida-dō) in 926 and a five story pagoda in 951.
In 930 the reigning emperor abdicated the throne to his son while on his deathbed and took the tonsure with the Buddhist name Kongōhō as a monk of Daigo-ji, where he was buried when he died shortly thereafter at only 46 years of age. Due to the location of his burial, he is now known as Emperor Daigo.
Further influence came when members of the Daigo Minamoto family, led by prominent politician Minamoto Toshifusa, seized control of the government from the Fujiwara family in the later Heian Period and had their sons serving as head priests of Daigo-ji, such as the 14th head priest, Shōkaku, who had the sub-temple Sanbō-in constructed in 1115.
Unfortunately, Daigo-ji suffered several devastating fires and was largely destroyed, with the exception of its pagoda, by the fighting caused by the Ōnin and Bunmei civil wars. Thankfully, many relics and documents have been faithfully preserved, including those that record the political turmoil of the Nanbokuchō Period (when the governing power was split into the Northern and Southern Court) and the history of the temple in regards to its position as the head temple of the Daigo branch of Shingon Buddhism.
Most recently, the Juntei Kannon Hall in the Kami-Daigo complex was struck by lightning and subsequently burned down in August 2008.
|New Year’s Ceremony|
|Godai Rikison Ninnō-e|
|Spring Higan Ceremony|
|Sakura-e Kanpaku Ceremony|
|Kanbutsu-e Flower Festival|
April, Second Sunday
|Hōtaikō Hanami Gyōretsu (Recreation of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Cherry Blossom Viewing Parade)|
|Sakura-e Nakabi Ein Ceremony, Ōkura Kyōgen Theater|
|Sakura-e Ketsugan Shitō Goma Ceremony|
May 15th – 21st
|Special Opening of the Juntei Kannon Hall|
June 6th – 9th
|Sanbō-in Monzeki Ōmine-san Hanakunyūbu Shugyō|
|Kōbō Daishi Kōtan-e|
|Sanbō-in Monzeki Katsuragi-san Rengenyūbu Shugyō|
July 13th – 15th
Ura Bon-e Ceremony
July 19th – 23rd
|Sanbō-in Monzeki Ōmine-san Okugake Shugyō|
|Joya no Kane (New Year’s Bell Ringing)|
- General Admission: ¥800* (Lower Daigo Area, Sanbō-in Sub-Temple and Treasure Hall)
- * The ticket costs ¥1500 in spring (March 20th – May 15th) and fall (October 15th – December 10th)
- Junior High and High School Students: ¥600* (Lower Daigo Area, Sanbō-in Sub-Temple and Treasure Hall)
- * The ticket costs ¥1000 in spring (March 20th – May 15th) and fall (October 15th – December 10th)
- General Admission: 09:00 – 17:00 (March – first Sunday in December), 09:00 – 16:30 (December – February) (last entry is 1 hour prior to closing)
- Closed: No closing days
- Tōzai Line Subway ⇒ Daigo Station ⇒ 15 minutes walking OR Community Bus to Daigo-ji Temple
- Keihan Bus ⇒ Daigo-ji-mae Bus Stop