Takkoku no Iwaya Bishamondō – 達谷窟毘沙門堂

Takkoku no Iwaya Bishamondō – 達谷窟毘沙門堂

Back to Hiraizumi

A few kilometers from Hiraizumi, already defined by us as Tohoku’s Nara, there is another buddhist complex worth visiting, the Takkoku no Iwaya Bishamondō (達谷窟毘沙門堂).
With over 1200 years of history, this temple and sanctuary set in the ridge of a mountain, carries us back in time, between mysticism and ancestral rites.

About the temple complex

Located along the Takkoku Gaido, a rural road that joins Hiraizumi with the Genbi valley, if visited as we did in the spring, the weeping cherry trees that are next to the entrance torii immediately catch the eye. Below you can take a look to the map of the complex, directly from the flyer that will be delivered at the entrance (paid, 300 yen as of 2018).

Click to enlarge


Entering, after passing three torii gates, the first of stone and the other two in red-colored wood, you are faced with an imposing wooden structure painted in red vermilion, the Bishamondō, or the Bishamon hall.

– The legend –

There are dozens, if not hundreds of variations and stories that are lost in the mists of time, about this complex …

About 1200 years ago, in this area at the time outside the imperial control, and known as Ezo, lived a local lord, such Akurō Takamaro whom, strong of his power, oppressed the people, kidnapping and torturing women and children. His headquarters were inside a cave. According to the legend, Akurō carried out ignoble actions, such as the confinement of a princess in a narrow basket (kagonohime, 籠姫), the hanging of her hair on a rock (katsuraishi, 鬘石) and the presence of a waterfall where he would have waited for a princess to kill her (himemachinotaki, the waterfall of the princess’s waiting, 姫街滝) was also recorded.

Meanwhile, the then emperor Kanmu gave Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, under the title of “seii taishōgun, 征夷大将軍” the task to subjugate Akurō and bring his region under imperial control. Akurō was defeated in the year 801, and peace returned to reign in the area. To thank Bishamon, the deity of war, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro made this building in Kyoto’s Kiyomizudera style, with a decking under the floor supporting the entire building. 108 stone statues of Bishamon were built, and the place was called Iwaya (cave) Bishamondo (Bishamon’s pavilion).


In 1490 a fire destroyed the building, which however was promptly rebuilt, although in later centuries further calamities and other fires put the life of Bishamondo to the test. The current building is a reconstruction of 1961 and protects inside a statue of Buddha probably built in Heian era by the sculptor Jigaku Daishi. This and other statues, however, are not always exhibited, and the next exhibition of Buddhist sculpture is scheduled for 2042!

Bishamon, the god of war, protects in particular those born in the tiger years according to the eastern zodiac, and those dealing with inner conflicts or with people close to them. Inside the room it is possible to buy, for only 20 yen (normally 100 are requested), some omikuji, that is small cards that foresee any luck (or misfortune) in different gradations (big, medium, small, and good luck) just as bad luck).

Near the building you will find a relief of Buddha, with only his face clearly visible on the rocky face of a mountain. A legend tells that the work was done by Minamoto no Yoshiie throwing arrows towards the wall, but probably the sculpture dates back to the Muromachi period. With 16.5 meters of height, it is one of the 5 great Buddhas of Japan, as well as the one located further to the north. Originally the whole figure was present, including the body, but an earthquake in 1896 destroyed much of it, and what remains is now the face, in the upper part of the rock face. This Amida Butsu protects thousands of soldiers who perished in local battles in the 11th century.


This other building, located towards the exit of the complex, is dedicated to Chishō Taishi and originally located in another place. It was moved inside the Takkoku no Iwaya in 1789. Inside it is a statue of the god Fudō (which means “the unmovable”), and is made from a single wooden block of a katsura tree (cercydiphyllidae ). This deity protects those born in the year of the rooster, and traditionally, it is necessary to turn a sword to it to get lucky. Protects from fires and diseases of sight.

Immediately next to this pavilion you will also find that of the Buddhist bell and a small red shrine called Akadō.


The golden hall, an unmissable element in the Japanese Buddhist complexes, is also a reconstruction made in more recent times (completed in 1996) of an original building that had been lost. It houses inside the statue of the Buddha Yakushi, revered by those who want health and fortification of the body. Particularly impressive and impact is the glance coming from the Fudōdō, where you can see the Kondō building on a small hill with a bamboo grove to frame the whole.

Hoping once again to have given you an opportunity to find something authentic, inspiring and new, in one of the most hidden places in Japan, we always welcome your impressions, suggestions on places that we have not yet had the pleasure of visiting and so on!

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