Tanukidani Fudoin 狸谷不動院
Tanukidani Fudoin is a quirky temple in the hills of Higashiyama in the east of Kyoto, a short walk uphill from Shisendo. Tanukidani Fudoin's beginnings as a sacred place are believed to date back to the Heian Period of Japanese history.
Tanukidani Fudoin looks more like a Shinto shrine than a Buddhist temple on first appearance. In the car park before the steep stairs to the main temple buildings, yamabushi mountain priests bless cars with their magic gohei wands.
Tanukidani Fudoin is a Shingon-sect temple associated with Shugendo - a form of ascetic practice undertaken in Japan's mountains.
The main temple precinct contains an image of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. 88 stepping stones have been placed around the hall, referencing the 88-temple pilgrimage in Shikoku associated with Kobo Daishi. Thus worshipers can complete the pilgrimage in a couple of minutes by stepping on all the stones, rather than spending a couple of months tramping around Shikoku.
Miniature straw sandals, known as waraji, are placed as offerings on the statues of Kobo Daishi at Tanukidani Fudoin. This practice harks bark to pilgrims, who would leave their old sandals at temples when they had worn through. Judith Clancy, in her book Exploring Kyoto: On Foot in the Ancient Capital, explains that the sandals "left here represent spiritual adversities faced and surmounted."
The Main Hall at Tanukidani Fudoin is raised on pillars and is approached by two stairways: forty-two stairs for men and thirty-three for women. The number of steps corresponds to the yakudoshi (厄年) "unlucky ages" for each sex. From the veranda of the Main Hall there are views west over Kyoto.
Here priests conduct ceremonies for good health (with an efficacy claimed for cancer sufferers), where thin pieces of wood with the supplicants' wishes written on them, are offered to an image of Fudo Myo-o and then burnt in a fire.
Beyond the main complex is a small pilgrimage circuit of the thirty-six attendants of Fudo Myo-o. Enter through the red torii gate.
Scattered around the grounds are also many ceramic statues of tanuki (raccoon dogs or badgers), which give the temple its name.
Various good luck charms are on sale at Tanukidani Fudoin including distinctive orange shield-shaped stickers for your car (seen on many vehicles in Kyoto) and even a charm for your toilet!
On July 28 there is a popular fire festival in the evening where priests and later the audience walk over the ashes of burning pine branches. The spectacular scene set in the wooded valley is a wonderful sight accompanied by the sounds of conches being blown and the aromatic scent of burning pine needles rising into the night sky.
6 Matsuhara-cho, Ichijoji, Sakyo-ku
Tel: 075 722 0025
Admission: Grounds are free.
Tanukidani Fudoin Access - How to get to Tanukidani Fudoin
Take an Eiden Railways train from Demachiyanagi Station, get off at Ichijoji Station and then walk east toward the hills in the distance (Mt. Hiei). Cross Shirakawa Dori (street) and continue straight. Walk up the slope. On your right you will come to the gate of Shisendo Hermitage. Carry on up the hill to Tanukidani Fudoin. It is uphill and then there is a long, steep flight of stairs to reach the top.
Alternatively take a number #5 bus from Kyoto Station and get off at the Ichijoji-sagarimatsu-cho bus stop.