One of the three famous temples of Mt. Takao, Saimyō-ji is located between Kōsan-ji and Jingo-ji, across a picturesque vermilion bridge that stretches over a mountain river surrounded by maple trees. A short climb past the bridge leads visitors to the entrance gate and into the temple proper. The volunteers at Saimyō-ji are friendly and ready to urge visitors to the main hall, where people are allowed to get quite close to the wooden statuary within to observe their fine craftsmanship. Green tea and a sweet can be enjoyed in a side hall in November, and a pleasant side garden features a nice view out over the mountains – particularly splendid in fall or late spring when the azaleas on the mountainside burst into bloom. Before you leave, drop 100 yen at the main hall as a donation to ring the large temple bell outside near the row of stone lanterns!
The volunteers at Saimyō-ji are friendly and ready to urge visitors to the main hall, where people are allowed to get quite close to the wooden statuary within to observe their fine craftsmanship.
The most famous sight at Saimyō-ji might be its sacred bridge, a vermilion arch that connects the temple to the main road leading between Kōsan-ji and Jingo-ji. The bridge stretches over the Kiyotakigawa, a river that branches off of the Katsuragawa, and can be viewed from the road, the opposite side, and even from down by the riverbed below for those willing to take the slightly rocky path down to the shore. Like the temple itself, the bridge view is particularly famous in autumn, when it is surrounded by colored maple leaves. As part of the Mt. Takao Illumination it is lit up at night for a period in November.
Within Saimyō-ji’s main hall are several wooden statues, some of which are Important Cultural Properties and can be viewed from quite close by visitors. The main object of worship is the Seiryō-ji style Buddha Shakyamuni, carved by the famous sculptor Unkei in the Kamakura period and installed in the central room before the altar. There are statues in the east and west halls as well, including a Thousand Armed Kannon from the Heian period and an esoteric figure of the wisdom king Aizen Myō’ō (Rāgarāja), said to possess the ability to turn mortals away from worldly lusts and towards spiritual awakening.
Though most all temples feature a large bronze bell, not all of them can be seen or touched by visitors. At Saimyō-ji, a 100 yen donation made at the main hall allows you to ring the bell yourself after offering a prayer for your future happiness. Be firm, but not too over the top, as you pull back the branch and let it swing, hitting the bell and making the sound ring out over the mountainside! There’s just something about that deep ring that makes it easy to imagine how the temples must have been like in the past.
Saimyō-ji was first constructed between 824 and 834 as a sub-temple of the nearby large complex of Jingo-ji by Chisen Daitoku, a leading disciple of the famous monk Kōbō Daishi. At some time after this the temple gradually fell into disrepair, but from 1175 to 1178 a monk from Izuminokuni Makino’o-dera, a temple where Kōbō Daishi once underwent ascetic training, saw to the restoration of Saimyō-ji.
In 1290, Saimyō-ji broke from its status as a betsu-in of Jingo-ji and became an independent Shingon sect temple. In the late 1500s, the temple was lost to a disastrous fire and once again absorbed into Jingo-ji until 1602, when the monk Myōnin Risshi saw it restored.
The current main hall was donated in 1700 by Keishō-in, birth mother of the 5th Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi.
- General Admission: Free (¥500 in November)
- Junior High School, High School: Free (¥400 in November)
- General Admission: 09:00 – 17:00
- Closed: No closing days