Yakuoji Temple 薬王寺
Approaching the small coastal town of Hiwasa in Minami Town, southern Tokushima Prefecture, the pagoda of Yakuoji Temple is visible from miles away.
Yakuoji Temple is number 23 on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, and the last temple on the route before entering Kochi Prefecture, but independent of its part of the pilgrimage the temple receives hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over Japan every year due to its reputation as a good place to pray for protection from "unlucky years".
Yakudoshi - Unlucky Years
Yakudoshi are years of misfortune or calamity, and there are quite a few that occur throughout a Japanese person's life, and while there is some geographic variation on the exact years in which they will occur, it is generally agreed that for men the ages of 41, 42, & 61 are the most dangerous. For women it is 32, 33, & 61.
At Yakuoji the approach to the temple has a 2 sets of steps, one with 42 steps for men to climb, and the other side with 33 steps for the women. The final set of steps to the Hondo has 61 steps. Visitors will leave a coin on each step on the way up while reciting the Yakushi mantra.
According to the temples founding legend it was originally founded by the itinerant monk Gyogi in the 8th century. Many temples on the pilgrimage route claim Gyogi as their founder and this legendary figure is known for spreading Buddhism to the common people at a time when it was illegal to be doing so.
In 815, at the age of 42, Kukai (posthumously known as Kobo Daishi, the focus of the 88 temple pilgrimage) visited here and carved the statue of the temple's main deity, Yakushi Nyorai, the healing Buddha. The temple belongs to the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism.
Like most major temples the grounds have an abundance of statuary, including models of boats that have been saved from disaster at sea by prayers to the temple. There are great views of the town below and Hiwasa Bay, and the best can be had by climbing the pagoda.
If you happen to be visiting Hiwasa in the first week of October the Hachibana Jinja Matsuri is worth checking out. The mikoshi (portable shrines), each weighing over a ton, are carried around attached to huge bamboo frames measuring about 6 meters square.
At the end of the procession they are carried down to the beach and dipped into the sea. There are several hotels in the town as well as numerous ryokan and minshuku, and the temple also offers accomodation in its shukubo (Tel: 0884 77 1105) , though at the height of the pilgrimage season (March, April, May) advance booking is needed.
Hiwasa is on Route 55 about 2 hours drive south of Tokushima City. Hiwasa has a railway station on the JR Mugi Line. Hiwasa Castle is close by.
285-1 Teramae, Okugawachi, Minami Town
Tel: 0884 77 0023
Google map of Yakuoji Temple
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