Ominesan-ji Temple (大峯山寺)

Ominesan-ji Temple is Shugendo (mountain ascetism) temple located in Amakawa-mura, Yoshino-gun, Nara Prefecture. It stands on the peak of Mt. Sanjo at the center of the Omine mountain range. Women are banned from the mountain which holds a Toakeshiki (ceremony for the opening of the mountain to new ascetics) on May 2 and a Tojimashiki (closing ceremony) on September 22. The temple is designated as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range. It is one of the sites on the En no Gyoja pilgrimage.

History

Ominesan-ji Temple is a Shugendo temple that legend states was founded by En no Ozunu (En no Gyoja) with a main hall enshrining a statue of Zao Gongen situated near the peak of Mt. Sanjo (1719.2 m) at the center of the Omine mountain range. The Ominesan-ji Temple main hall (Zao-do) is referred to as 'Sanjo no Zao-do' (upper main hall) as opposed to the main hall of Kinpusen-ji Temple on Mt. Yoshino which is referred to as 'Sange no Zao-do' (lower main hall). The upper and lower main halls are separated by a distance of over 20 km and have now become two distinct temples but their separation into Kinpusen-ji Temple on Mt. Yoshino and Ominesan-ji Temple on Mt. Sanjo is a modern development and both were originally part of the single Shugendo temple named "Kinpusen-ji Temple."

Kinpusen' and 'Ominesan' do not refer to individual mountains but are collective terms for mountains that are places of religious belief and ascetism.
Kinpusen' refers to the entire sacred mountain area from Mt. Yoshino to Mt. Sanjo in which the scattered temples are collectively referred to as 'Kinpusen-ji Temple.'
Conversely, 'Ominesan' is the collective name for the Omine mountain range which includes Mt. Sanjo, Mt. Daifugen and Mt. Misen. The approximately 80 km long path that passes through the Omine mountain range from Mt. Yoshino to Kumano Hongu-taisha Shrine in Kumano is named 'Omine Okugake-michi' and is used by Shugendo practitioners in their ascetic practice.

The origin of the Ominesan-ji Temple main hall is uncertain. According to legend, it was founded by En no Ozunu at the end of the seventh century, the founder of Shugendo, who carved the statue of Zao Gongen after awakening to the deity at Ominesan and constructed the Zao-do hall in which to house it as a the principal image. There is also a legend that Gyoki later made major reconstructions between 729 and 749 and built another Zao-do hall lower down the mountain (Kinpusen-ji Temple on Mt. Yoshino) as the original was difficult to reach. The temple briefly fell into decline during the early Heian period but was restored at the end of the 9th century by Shingon Sect monk Shobo and was visited continuously by members of the Imperial Family and nobles since the 10th century. The upper main hall and other buildings were devastated by fire as a result of a conflict with the Ikko Sect during the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States) but these were reconstructed during the Edo period. Refer to the article 'Kinpusen-ji Temple' for details regarding Omine on Mt. Yoshino.

Ominesan-ji Temple is operated and maintained on a rotational basis by the five 'Goji-in Temples.'
Of the five Goji-in Temples Sakuramoto-bo Temple (Kinpusen Shugen Main Sect), Chikurin-in Temple (independent), Tonan-in Temple (Kinpusen Shugen Main Sect), Kizo-in Temple (Honzan Shugen Sect) and Ominezan Ryusen-ji Temple (Shingon sect Daigo school), Ryusen-ji Temple is located in Dorogawa, Amakawa-mura at the foot of Mt. Sanjo while the other four are situated on Mt. Yoshino. These five temples maintain pilgrims' lodgings near to the main hall of Ominesan-ji Temple, and these are used from the Toakeshiki ceremony on May 2 to the Tojima ceremony on September 22.

Temple precinct

There is a mountain path leading from Mt. Yoshino to the Ominesan-ji Temple main hall but visitors generally ascend from the Amakawa-mura Dorogawa hot springs at the foot of Mt. Sanjo. It takes approximately 4 hours to walk from Dorogawa. The walk from Omine Ohashi bridge at the start of the mountain trail takes approximately 3 hours. The 'Nyonin Kekkai Mon' (gate prohibiting women from entering) stands past the Omine Ohashi bridge and the custom of forbidding women from entering the mountain is still enforced. Ominesan-ji Temple continues its ban on women despite the fact many of the sacred sites in Japan once prohibited women are becoming open to all regardless of gender. Although there are those who see this as the upholding of 1,300 year old tradition, there is also opposition against what is seen as discrimination against women.

A path leads from Omine Ohashi bridge to the Ominesan-ji Temple main hall and there are numerous teahouses along the way. Walking from Omine Ohashi bridge past the remains of the Ichinose teahouse and the Ipponmatsu teahouse, one will soon arrive at the 'En no Gyoja Otasukemizu' spring. Further along is the Dorotsuji teahouse where the track meets the path from Mt. Yoshino to Omine. Past this is a pharmacy at the foot of the mountain named Daranisuke teahouse (at which a herbal medicine known as Daranisukemaru is produced and sold).
The path continues to hazardous spots involving the use chains ('Omote no Gyoba', exterior sites) which include 'Aburakoboshi,' 'Kanekakeiwa' and 'Nishi no Nozoki.'
Of these, the task known as 'Nishi no Nozoki' is well-known and involves pilgrims being hung over a cliff by a rope as they attempt to gain an insight into the world of Buddhism. After passing the 'Nishi no Nozoki' trial, the path leads to the previously mentioned five lodging houses, beyond which stands the main hall. Behind the main hall is the 'Ura no Gyoba' (interior site) which involves climbing a sheer cliff without safety ropes.

Many sources relating to Ominesan-ji Temple main hall claim it to be 'the highest wooden structure in Japan' or 'the highest Important Cultural Property' but these are incorrect. The Important Cultural Property occupying the highest altitude in Japan is Tateyama Muro-do in Toyama Prefecture.

Building

Main hall (Important Cultural Property): Constructed in 1691. Also called Sanjo no Zao-do. A yosemune-zukuri style building with copper tiles and copper plates. The inner sanctuary was constructed in 1691 but the expansion of the outer sanctuary was carried out until 1706.

Important Cultural Properties

Main hall
Temple bell
Yamato artifacts excavated from the summit of Kinpusen
2 gilt bronze plate images of Zao Gongen
2 bronze-casted images of Zao Gongen
26 bronze statues of Zao Gongen
2 gilt bronze hanging Buddha images of Zao Gongen
Gilt bronze plate line-engraved Yoshino Mandala
Bronze plate line-engraved image of 400 deities systematically arranged in 12 sections
3 bronze plate incomplete sutra remains
4 bronze mirrors (Zuika socho hachiryo mirror, Zuika socho goka mirror, Matsukuitsuru mirror, Hokyo zanketsu)
Gilt bronze hanging bell
Other incomplete remains of bronze sutra cases, Buddha statues, reflected images and hanging Buddha images

Historic artifacts excavated from the summit of Ominesan in Nara Prefecture: All articles unearthed during excavations and research that was conducted from 1983 to 1986 during the disassembly and repair of the Ominesan-ji Temple main hall. These include a gold Amida Nyorai statue and gold bodhisattva statues (all approximately 3 cm tall) which are extremely rare as they are not gold-plated bronze but made from highly pure gold.

Gold seated statue of Amida Nyorai
Gold seated bodhisattva statues
Bronze statue of Zao Gongen
Incomplete remains of 2 bronze Buddha statues
Incomplete remains of 27 hanging Buddha images
Bronze-casted image of Zao Gongen
Incomplete remains of 8 sutras on copper plates
Incomplete remains of copper sutra cases
Incomplete remains of 116 bronze mirrors
Incomplete remains of 7 dokkosho, sankosho and gokosho pestles
Incomplete remains of 9 pilgrim's staff rings
217 sutra scroll heads
Suzugyoyo
Incomplete remains of 52 bells
Gems
2 iron spears
Copper coins
Incomplete remains of ornamental gold items
Tsuketari: Incomplete remains of silver, copper and glass artifacts

The above items are deposited at Tokyo National Museum, Nara National Museum and the Kashihara Archaeological Institute, Nara Prefecture.

Historic site

Ominesan-ji Temple precinct

Access

Take the Nara Kotsu Bus (for Dorogawa Onsen) from Shimoichiguchi Station on the Kintetsu Yoshino Line, alight at the terminal stop and walk for 4 hours (3 hours from Omine Ohashi bridge at the start of the mountain trail).