Ishido-ji Temple (石塔寺)
Ishido-ji Temple is a Tendai sect temple located in Higashiomi City, Shiga Prefecture. Its sango (title given to a Buddhist temple) is Ashokao-zan Mountain, and its honzon (principle image of Buddha) is Sho Kannon (Buddhist image normally withheld from public view). Just as the name 'Ishido-ji' (stone pagoda temple) shows, there are tens of thousands of pagodas and stone Buddhist images around the three-storied stone pagoda called the pillars of King Ashoka in the precincts. At the end of August, 'Stone Pagoda Festival' (Ishido-ji Manto [lantern] Festival) takes place every year, and stone pagodas and stone Buddhist images are lit up with votive lanterns. This is the 22nd temple of 33 Omi Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage.
Ishido-ji Temple is a Buddhist temple which is said to have been founded by Prince Shotoku. According to that tradition, Prince Shotoku erected 48 temples in Omi Province, and Ishido-ji Temple was the 48th temple with the fulfillment of a vow, and it was called Hongan (which literally means main wish) Joju-ji Temple. The tradition which tells Prince Shotoku built this temple cannot be accepted as a historical fact. However, in the Koto region in Shiga Prefecture, where Ishido-ji Temple is, there are many other temples with a legendary story of Prince Shotoku's foundation such as Chomei-ji Temple (Omihachiman City), which is one of 33 Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimages, and Hyakusai-ji Temple (Higashiomi City), and this area may be a region in which the Buddhist culture prospered from early times, with some sort of connection with Prince Shotoku.
People still have the following tradition about the highest three-storied pagoda among tens of thousands of pagodas in the precincts of Ishido-ji Temple. In 1003, during the Heian period, Jakusho Hoshi, a monk from Mt. Hiei-zan who studied abroad in Tang, heard the following story from a monk in Mt. Wutai Shan while he stayed in Mt. Wutai Shan (China); a long time ago, Ashoka the Great of India prayed for the prosperity of Buddhism and distributed 84,000 stupa to the whole world, and two of them are in Japan, but one is under the Lake Biwa while the other is under the ground of Mt. Watarai-yama in Omi Province. Jakusho wrote a letter to Japan to deliver the news. Three years later after that, in 1006, the monk Gikan Sozu of Banshu Akashi (Akashi City, Hyogo Prefecture) obtained this letter and delivered it to Emperor Ichijo. Accordingly, the search of the pagoda was conducted by an imperial order from Emperor Ichijo, and a samurai called NODANI no Mitsumori found a big mound in the hill at the back of Ishido-ji Temple. When NODANI no Mitsumori and TAIRA no Tsunemasa, an imperial messenger of the Emperor, dug the ground, they found a pagoda of Ashoka the Great. Emperor Ichijo was so pleased that he erected a new Shichidogaran (seven major structures in a temple compound) and changed the name of the temple title to Aikuo-zan Ishido-ji Temple. The temple became a chokugan-ji (temple built by order of the emperor) of Emperor Ichijo, and he thoroughly tried to conduct prosperity, and built a large Buddhist temple with more than 80 rooms.
Needless to say, the tale of 'Ashoka the Great of India' among all those legendary stories is a pretext added by the posterity, and a generally-accepted theory is that this pagoda was erected by settlers from Chosun Peninsula around the beginning of the Nara period (the seventh century). This pagoda has a completely different style from other pagodas built in or before the middle ages which are seen in many regions in Japan, and it is similar to ancient stone structural objects in Chosun Peninsula. Koto is a region which has close relations with the settlers, and this is backed up by some statements in "Nihon Shoki" (the Chronicle of Japan) such as a story that in 669, about 700 settlers immigrated from Baekje (already fallen back then) to Gamafuno, Omi Province (around Gamafuno, Shiga Prefecture). Additionally, it is generally thought that the three-storied pagoda of Ishido-ji Temple was erected by the settlers of Kudara.
In the Kamakura period, many gorinto (a gravestone composed of five pieces piled up one upon another) and stone Buddhist images were dedicated to the three-storied pagoda (called Aikuo pagoda) in the precincts.
In the Azuchi Momoyama period, due to the fire set by Nobunaga ODA, all of Shichidogaran, wooden buildings, the temple's treasures were destroyed in the fire, and the temple was ruined. After that, in the beginning of the Edo period, the temple was partially restored because Tenkai told his pupil Gyoken to do so.
Important Cultural Property
Three-storied stone pagoda (called Ashurao pagoda) - Erected in the early Nara period. This is Japan's oldest stone pagoda, and this is the biggest three-stone pagoda in Japan. Height 7.6m. This is made of granite.
Stone hoto-pagoda - Erected in 1302. The term 'Hoto' (treasure tower) refers to a cylindrical type of pagoda with a hogyo-zukuri style roof (all the roof ridges gathering at the center) in quadrilateral structure.
Two stone gorinto - Erected in 1304 and 1349 respectively.
Location and Access
521-1501 860 Ishido-cho Higashiomi City, Shiga Prefecture
Take the JR Biwako line to Omihachiman, and then take Omi Bus (bound for Hino) transferring to Kokoku Bus at Sakuragawa-eki, and get off the bus at Ishitoguchi followed by 15-minute walk.
Available for 20 standard-sized cars and 10 large-sized cars
Open from 9AM to 5 PM (May to June: 9AM to 6PM)
Entrance fee: Adult 400 yen Kids 100 yen