Now that I’m getting back to blogging, it seems like a good time to start a sort of mini-feature: write-ups of my favorite places in Japan. And I’m going to start with one that most foreigners have never even heard of: Ishiteji.
Ishiteji (石手寺) is a temple near Dogo Onsen, in Matsuyama, Ehime. It’s number 51 on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage and I first went with my mother and sister when they visited me in Japan last spring.
I’ve talked about Ishiteji a bit before: on the surface it’s pretty normal, but the reason I love it isn’t the main temple, but rather the oddities that lurk a little beneath the surface. You see, if you walk around behind the main complex, you’ll find the entrance to a series of very dark caves that lead through the hill. There are two ways in, but I think one is meant to be an exit because it’s less clearly marked (guess which one we found first), and the whole thing is lined with wall art and filled with 88 stone Buddha statues, one for each temple. I had to turn on my camera’s flash because otherwise nothing would have shown up.
When you get to the end of the passage, you’ll exit onto a narrow, paved road. And if you cross the road to the right, you’ll come across a place that feels old and forgotten about and neglected. A haikyo (廃墟) if I’ve ever seen one. It’s very overgrown and filled with odd, crumbling statues that look more Hindu than Buddhist. Go a little farther and you’ll come across a very unusual building that, according to the map back at the main temple complex, is a mandala. And inside you will find the creepiest collection of wooden statues I have ever seen, in a perfectly round room lit only by skylights.
If it were just a few statues, it wouldn’t be all that noteworthy, but it’s pretty packed. I was finally, on my third visit, able to get the explanation that the monk in charge of the temple is an artist and the statues are his project: he’s making 500 and the round temple is their repository. It’s amazing, really.
A couple more photos from my visits (click to see them in their actual size):
Ishiteji is a fantastic place. Way off the beaten path and 100% worth the trip.
Hours of Operation: The shops close at 17:00.
Access: Take the number 3 streetcar from Matsuyama City Station to Dogo Onsen and hop on bus 8. The stop is Ishiteji and it’ll be about a 5-minute ride. The bus runs every 20 minutes until about 20:00.
Address: Ishite 2-9-11, Matsuyama, Ehime