Ishiyama Dera was established in 749 by a Kegon priest named Ryôben at the request of Emperor Shômu (701-756; reigned 724-749) to enshrine an image of Nyoirin Kannon. At the time, the Emperor was praying for the discovery of gold to assist in his undertaking of the construction of the great Buddha of Tôdai-ji Temple in Nara.
In the Heian period (794-1185), this temple became a popular pilgrimage site among the courtiers. Today, it is the 13th destination on the 33 temple Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimange which includes Hogon-ji on Chikubu Island. Ishiyama Dera is also the headquarters of the Buddhist Shingon sect.
The temple is located on the side of a mountain overlooking Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture and facing the Seta River. The Hondo, or Main Hall, designated a National Treasure, was built upon a great megalith, which contributes to the temple’s fame as one of the eight scenic views of Ômi, the Autumn Moon from Ishiyama-dera. The Hondo was built architecturally in a veranda construction style called “Butai Zukuri”. The Tahoto Pagoda (treasure tower) was built by Minamoto Yoritomo in 1194 in the Kamakura period, and is the oldest of its type in Japan.
Inside the Hondo is the Room of Genji, where Shikibu Murasaki created the plot of the Genji Monogatari or the Tale of Genji, a famous court story of the Heian period and believed by many to be the world’s first novel. Murasaki is said to have begun writing The Tale of Genji at Ishiyama on the night of the full moon in August 1004. The temple is mentioned in the Ukifune chapter of the story. A life-size figure of the author at work is displayed in this room.
The Sanmon Gate is another featured sight as are the wollostonite rocks, from which the name of this temple was derived from. They can be seen protruding everywhere, harmonizing with the temple’s buildings. There are also Japanese maple trees on the 1.2 hectare site as well as flower gardens with cherry blossoms, Japanese plum blossoms, Chinese peonies, camellias and other flowers that bloom in different seasons.
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