Senbon Shakado

Temples & Shrines: Sembon Shakado (Daihoonji Temple), Kyoto

Sembon Shakado 千本釈迦堂

Sembon Shakado (Daihoonji Temple) is a medium-sized temple located north of Imadegawa Dori and west Senbon on Itsutsuji Dori, close to Kuginuki Jizo, Sembon Emmado, Hirano Jinja and Kitano Tenmangu in north west Kyoto.

The Main Hall (Honden) at Sembon Shakado is one of the oldest buildings in Kyoto and has survived intact since 1227 despite wars and fires though the ages that have destroyed other buildings in the area over the years.

The reason for this architectural longevity is supposedly the work of the head carpenter and his wife Okame.

Sembon Shakado aka Daihoonji Temple, Kyoto.
The Main Hall at Sembon Shakado (Daihoonji Temple) is one of the oldest buildings in Kyoto
Sembon Shakado aka Daihoonji Temple, Kyoto.
Main Hall, Sembon Shakado aka Daihoonji Temple, Kyoto

According to legend, the carpenter made the length of the central pillar too short. He asked his wife for advice (an act considered unbecoming for a man at the time) and she suggested adding an extra piece, which her husband did and the building was completed.

Before the hall was unveiled, Okame supposedly committed suicide to atone for her husband's loss of face. Her husband carved a mask of her face and attached it to the pillar so her spirit could see the finished temple.

Nowadays Okame masks are a popular mask that can be seen all over Japan and carpenters sometimes attach them to buildings they are making as a good luck charm.

The main hall contains a collection of Okame and Otafuku dolls - the latter is a Shinto kami associated with fertility, happy marriage and painless childbirth.

The main attraction, however, of Sembon Shakado is a separate hall holding some large-scale, wooden and bronze Buddhist statues from the Heian and Kamakura periods. These include a statue of the infant Buddha and six, tall statues of Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy), thought to be by Tankei.

The beauty, craftsmanship and power of these works of art is amazing and truly a magnificent and inspring sight.

Also among the collection are two huge wheels from a carriage of the shogun Shikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) and elaborate drum stands complete with carvings of peacocks and dragons.

Unfortunately, there is little or no information in English and photography is prohibited, though the images of these statues will stay in your mind's eye for some time.

The small garden is home to a weeping cherry tree and a shrine and statue dedicated to Okame, the loyal wife.

Judith Clancy's book Exploring Kyoto: On Foot in the Ancient Capital is an excellent guide to this fascinating and relatively little-visited area of western Kyoto.

Sembon Shakado aka Daihoonji Temple, Kyoto.
Okame masks on display in the Main Hall, Sembon Shakado (Daihoonji Temple), Kyoto
Sembon Shakado aka Daihoonji Temple, Kyoto.
Shrine to Okame, Sembon Shakado (Daihoonji Temple), Kyoto

Sembon Shakado Access - how to get to Sembon Shakado in Kyoto

Sembon Shakado
Kamigyo-ku, Senbon Matsu Dori, Imadegawa agaru, Kyoto 602-8319
Tel: 075 461 5973
Hours: 9am-4.30pm
Admission Fee (600 yen) for the museum and to enter the main hall.

Sembon Shakado is located north of Imadegawa on the north of Itsutsuji.

Kyoto buses #206 from Kyoto Station, #59 from Shijo Kawaramachi, #46 from Shijo Omiya and Raku Bus #101 all run close to the temple.

Sembon Shakado aka Daihoonji Temple, Kyoto.
Weeping cherry tree at Sembon Shakado (Daihoonji Temple), Kyoto.

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