Japan Temples & Shrines: Shitennoji Temple, Osaka
Shitennoji Temple 四天王寺
Shitennoji Temple, in the Tennoji district of southern Osaka, is often claimed to be the oldest temple in Japan, founded in 593 by Prince Shotoku (572-622), though nothing remains of the original buildings as Shitennoji has been constantly destroyed by fires and rebuilt over the centuries.
The Shitenno are the four heavenly kings of Buddhism and Prince Shotoku built Shitennoji to honor them as the state sought to spread the new faith in Japan.
The stone torii gate at the main entrance to Shitennoji dates from 1294 and is the oldest of its kind in the country. Several other buildings at the temple remain from 1623, though the Kondo (Main Hall), five-story pagoda, Kodo (Lecture Hall), Taishiden Hall and corridor were built post-World War II in 1965 as replicas of the original 6th century structures. Prince Shotoku is enshrined in a statue of Kannon in the Main Hall.
The many gates at Shitennoji Temple are guarded by wooden statues known as Nio or Benevolent Kings. These impressive temple gates include the Great West Gate (Gokuraku-mon), the Great East Gate and the Great South Gate (Nandai-mon).
Since its founding Shitennoji has been associated with health and welfare. The original temple included the Hiden-in (Welfare Institution), the Ryobyo-in (Hospital), and a Seiyaku-in (Pharmacy). Today the area of Tennoji still has a number of hospitals close by including Shitennoji Hospital, NTT Nishinihonosaka Hospital and Osakakeisatsu Hospital.
Shitennoji Temple is the headquarters of the Washu sect of Buddhism and the treasure House contains a number of National Treasures including swords said to have belonged to Prince Shotoku and a copy of the Heian Period Hokekyo sutra. The Treasure House also holds documents, paintings and sacred objects which are displayed in themed exhibitions throughout the year.
Shitennoji plays host to a number of important festivals including Shusho-e (Doyadoya) on January 14 and Higan-e rituals on the spring and autumn equinoxes. A large and popular flea market takes place on the temple grounds on the 21st of each month.
The five-story pagoda can be entered and climbed. The Gokuraku-jodo Garden, laid out in the early Edo Period, is based on an idea of the Western Paradise of Amida with pleasant ponds and rock waterfalls, cherry trees, irises and stone lanterns. The Kame-no-ike Pond in the main complex is famous for its scores of basking turtles.
Access - getting to Shitennoji Temple
Shitennoji Temple (in Japanese)
Tel: 06 06771 0066
Admission to the grounds is free but there is an admission charge for the Gokuraku-jodo Garden and the Treasure House.
Shitennoji Temple can be reached in about 10-15 minutes from Tennoji Station on the Midosuji Line, Tanimachi Line and JR Osaka Loop Line or in less time from the less busy Shitennoji-mae-Yuhigaoka Station on the Tanimachi Line of the Osaka subway network.