Shitennōji Temple is one of the oldest temples in Japan (593 CE) and the first state one. Prince Shotoku, who supported the introduction of Buddhism in Japan, is the one that founded this temple. It’s been destroyed by fire several times since it was built, but it has always been faithfully reconstructed every time since. It’s quite a large temple complex, with a 5-story pagoda and garden, but I didn’t have time to explore either. As this is O-bon, there were a lot of people there to say prayers and/or visit the stalls that were set up there – a mixture of traditional festival stalls (food, games, etc) and market stalls (handmade goods, etc.). There’s a small cemetery on the grounds, and several tombs attracted the most attention, with people throwing water on them, leaving drinks, and praying (see the main photo above). Other areas had small paper lanterns set up. Behind the market people were writing on thin strips of wood, that would be burned later that night, or an candles. From August 9th to the 16th, the temple has it’s own O-bon rituals called Manto Kuyo. During that time, in the evenings candles are lit, and monks parade around the grounds chanting sutras. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t know about this until too late, as I had already made plans to go see the festivities in Nara the same night.
One block away from the temple is another cemetery, which I believe is part of the Shitennoji Temple complex, but my Japanese translations leave a lot to be desired. It’s famous for being the burial site of a famous Kabuki/Bunraku actor named Takemoto Yoshio. The cemetery had a mix of older and newer graves, and many had fresh flowers out for O-bon. It was a quick visit, but easy to do since it was just steps from the main temple.
Monuments: There are a few statues here and in the other cemetery, but it’s the temple grounds and buildings in general that people will be interested in seeing.
Grounds: It’s pretty flat, but a few stairs to get up and down into various (paid) locations on the grounds. It’s very open, with no real tree cover, so if you are here in the summer, wear a hat or bring an umbrella/parasol to keep the sun at bay.
Visitors: The outer cemetery had none, there were quite a few people though in the small cemetery on the temple grounds. This is a major temple and it is O-bon, but it wasn’t as busy as I expected.
Notes: There are special events throughout the year, it’s worth checking to see if any are going on while you are in the area.
Site: Shitennōji Temple (四天王寺)
Established: 593 CE
Location: A ten-minute (or less) walk from JR Tennoji station, or Shitennoji-mae-Yuhigaoka Station on the Tanimachi subway line.
Hours: 08:30-16:30 (to 16:00 October to March)