Mini 88 Temple Walk

88There are 88 small temples on one of the mountains behind Ninna-ji Temple.  These temples were built as an homage to the very famous 88 Temples on the island of Shikoku. While visiting all of the full-sized temples of Shikoku is the preferred option, the mini-pilgrimage was created for those who cannot make the journey.

The mini-pilgrimage route is built on a mountain, and so it is always open. However, there are only certain days when it is possible to collect evidence of your visit to each temple by completing a stamp book. These days are referred to as the 88-Temple Walk days, and they held once each month during  late spring into summer and fall. The Walk is sometimes canceled due to inclement weather, however, so there are often less chances to participate each year than planned. The walk is scheduled on Sundays.

The remaining 88-Temple Walk Days are as follows:

September 9th ・ October 14th ・ November 11th

To collect stamps, go to Kondo (the Main Hall of Ninna-ji) between 9-12 on the day of the walk, and purchase a stamp book for 300 yen. You will then be pointed in the direction of the hiking path. Collect stamps from each temple along the 3 km route to complete the walk.

I recommend the walk for visitors who have a lot of time to spend in Kyoto and enjoy hiking and the outdoors. No reservations are required, just come to Kondo the day of the walk and start hiking!


In the News: Omuro Cherry Tree has been cloned!

Recently Ninna-ji was in the news (see the article here) for planting a new Omuro Cherry tree in the orchard! The orchard is filled with about 13o trees and the oldest trees are over 360 years old. Some of the trees have been showing signs of aging and damage, so the temple has been coordinating with outside resources to develop ways to maintain the Omuro Cherries since 2007.

Just a few days ago a sapling cloned from the existing trees was planted in the orchard. It won’t bloom until next spring, but we have high hopes that it will be hardy and bloom with beautiful cherry blossoms! The temple plans to plant around 50 more of these cloned saplings in the near future.

Festival this Sunday!


This is the view looking from the inside out of Nio Gate, as you can see preparations for Fukuōji Shrine’s annual October festival have begun! The long staff center in the picture is called a “kenboko,” this kenboko (along with others, I believe!) will be carried during the parade this Sunday. Kenboko are very long and quite heavy, it takes skill and practice to carry them during the procession. You can also see two very long bamboo stalks that have been placed on either side of the road across the street. You can see more of these bamboo stalks placed along the parade route.

The parade originates at Fukuōji Shrine Sunday morning and after winding through the neighborhood, ends here at Ninna-ji. When the procession arrives at the temple in the afternoon, the mikoshi will be carried into the temple (up the stairs at Nio Gate!) and into the South Garden through the Chokushi Gate.


Omamori: The Biwa Named Seizan

Biwa of AoyamaThis omamori is a somewhat complicated historical and literary reference. The simplest explanation is that there was once a famous instrument (a biwa, a type of lute) named Seizan that was kept here at the temple. Unfortunately, the original has been lost, but we know of the instrument’s existence thanks to historical record. The more detailed story behind this omamori is found in those historical documents.

This biwa appears in the famous The Tale of the Heike. We are told that it was named “Seizan” (青山 “green mountain”) for the painting that decorated the front of the instrument. The painting depicted the moon rising above a lush green mountain in summer. Seizan was made in T’ang Dynasty China and was transmitted to Japan during the reign of Emperor Ninmyō (833-850).

Taira no Tsunemasa, a character in the The Tale of the Heike who is very talented at courtly arts including playing the biwa, brings Seizan to Ninna-ji Temple for safe keeping during the war. Tsunemasa had spent time at Ninna-ji as a child and was entrusted with Seizan for some time before he returns it to the temple. Sadly, Tsunemasa later dies in battle.

In the Noh play “Tsunemasa,” a monk at Ninna-ji holds a service to pray and mourn for Tsunemasa. Tsunemasa hears the prayers and appears at the temple as a ghost. He speaks of his longing to enjoy the courtly pastimes he once loved, and plays Seizan once more and performs a dance before disappearing back into the Asura Realm (an unpleasant realm where demigods are constantly at war). 

You can read the entire script of the play (in Japanese and English!) as well as a more detailed synopsis here at The

Feel free to use the information in this post to explain your Seizan omamori to your friends, Japanese or otherwise they will be very impressed with your knowledge!

Chinese Zodiac Omamori

Chinese Zodiac Omamori

巳 snake  ・ 辰 dragon  ・ 卯 rabbit  ・ 寅 tiger  ・ 丑 ox  ・ 子 rat

亥 boar  ・ 戌 dog  ・ 酉 rooster  ・ 申 monkey  ・ 未 sheep  ・ 午 horse

At the temple shop we offer many types of omamori including these Chinese Zodiac charms. Each charm is woven with the image of the zodiac animal on one side and a depiction of the appropriate Buddhist patron deity. These charms are for general luck and well-being. They are available in two colors for all animal signs: indigo and red.

The Chinese characters used to write the names of the animals as you see above are characters used specifically to refer to the zodiac. When referring to the common rabbit, monkey, or tiger (and all of the other animals) different characters are used than the ones you see above. The English translations are written in order from right to left, top to bottom as they are in the display at the temple shop. Take the time to remember the character for your zodiac animal (and maybe those of your loved ones!) and it will make it easy for you to find the omamori, or other zodiac-related goods, you seek!

Chinese Zodiac Omamori

Here you can see the weaved images of the patron deities for the first three signs (left to right: rat,  ox, and tiger). On the left is the Thousand Armed Goddess of Mercy  for Year of the Rat and the other two are color variations of  Akasagarbha (Kokuzō Bosatsu), the patron deity for both the Ox and Tiger.

Writing your own Goma-ki

Goma Hō

To make a wish or prayer on goma-ki: choose your preferred prayer, pay the small fee by putting coins in the box, write your name and address on the piece of wood, and leave it on the table. It will later be burned during a monthly ceremony called Goma Hō held on the 21st and again on the 28th. When your prayer is put on the fire it will be communicated to the gods and your request will be granted. In front of Daikoku-do and at the Middle Gate you will see a table with wooden slats with words printed on them, these are goma-ki that are used for writing prayers/wishes. There are blank goma-ki on which you can write your own request, but there are also pre-written versions with common prayers. The options available at Ninna-ji are explained below.


As seen in the photo above from left to right:

学業上達 (gakugyō jōtatsu) progress in studies

目的達成 (mokuteki tassei) achievement of goals

交通安全 (kōtsū anzen) traffic safety

心願成就 (shingan jyōju) realization of earnest wishes

家業繁栄 (kagyō han’ei) prosperity of the family business

諸難消防 (shonan shōbō) extinguish difficulties

縁談成就 (endan jyōju) successfully find a marriage partner

病気平癒 (byōki heiyu) recovery from illness

事業発展 (jigyō hatten) business development

身体健康 (shintai kenkō) full-body health

商売繁盛 (shōbai hanjō) prosperous business

家内安全 (kanai anzen) safety of family members/ of the household

Akadana and its Folk Etymology

AkadanaWhen you walk around Reimeiden, you will see this roofed shelf behind the building. These structures are often found in temples near main buildings in inconspicuous locations. This type of shelf is known as an akadana in Japanese and provides space to change the water for cut flowers that decorate the altar within the main building. At Remeiden, the water can be taken from a well that sits just around the corner.

The aka in akadana is spelled “閼伽” with Chinese characters. These are characters that were chosen for the word based on sound alone, the characters do not express the meaning of the word. Aka refers to water that is given as an offering, it could be translated as “holy water” in English. The popular belief is that this aka and “aqua” from Latin have the same etymology. There are beverages in Japan that start with “aqua” so while Latin may not be widely studied here, there is an understanding of “aqua” being related to liquid/ water.

However, there is research that suggests that this popular belief is just folklore and that the two words are actually unrelated. How the belief that aka came from “aqua” came about I am not sure, but the simplicity of the explanation must be one reason it has stuck around even in the face of research to the contrary.