Saturday, January 07, 2012

Chome-ji 長命寺 #31

Looking down from the bell tower
Chome-ji was originally built in 619 and the name of the temple means "long life." Located on a hill over looking a inlet of the large Biwa-ko lake, it offers a beautiful view and a peaceful retreat from city.

The final stairs
Number 31 of the Western Japan Kannon pilgramage route Chome-ji is a few kilo from Omihachiman station in rural Shiga prefecture. The temple is located on a hill side and is traditionally accessed by walking the 808 stairs from shore of the lake. Nowadays, you can drive up most of the way, but that's too easy. The hike isn't too tough, but remember that they are old stone steps that are uneven and irregularly spaced. Good shoes and careful hiking is recommended, especially when heading down.

The bell
The stairs climb through a bamboo, then pine forest as you get to the temple. The wind blows through the bamboo knocking it around and making a beautiful chanting-like soundtrack for your walk. The main temple and pagoda is surrounded by pines and some very unique exposed boulders. A garden with a pond runs behind the main temple and under one of the adjacent buildings. To the left there is a bell tower that anyone can ring and the right is a pagoda. The bell makes a most wonderful tone and must be experienced. The pagoda was burnt and rebuilt 3 times. It was restored and repainted in the 1960's (if I remember correctly) so it retains some of it's red color. My baby daughter Mia really got excited looking at the pagoda for some reason. She was gasping in awe and laughing at it as Yuko and I were reading the sign.

Two workers cleaning and tending to the garden.
There is a nice open space with some benches where you can sit and look out on the lake and watch the sky. We arrived in the afternoon as the sun was lowering in front of us casting long shadows across the ground. A family was having a day out running up and down the stairs for fun and / or exercise. A few other visitors were about quietly taking in the temple and relaxing, peaceful atmosphere.

The sun shining into the temple
The main image of a thousand armed Kannon is not viewable to the general public and is held behind a wall in the main building. For as big as the main building looks not much of it is accessible to visitors. It's one of the shallowest temples that I've been to and not much to see to be truthful. The real attraction here is the location.

The main building
Make sure you bring water with you on your hike. We didn't bring anything and were thirsty the entire time. There is a public toilet in the upper parking lot with non-potable water. At the entrance to the stairs at the bottom of the hill there is a small omiyage shop with drinks and walking sticks. Parking at the omiyage shop is also free. We also took the wrong path initially up the hill walking up the street. The stairs actually begin to the right of the small jinja behind the shop. Ohmi buses run to the little park in front of the shop from Omihachiman station.

More information:
Sacred Japan
Biwako Visitors Bureau


Japan Australia said...

Looks amazing and will have to put this place on my next visit list.

Japan Australia

David Kawabata said...

Chome-ji is nice, but it's really out of the way unless you're staying in Shiga or taking the pilgrimage. The Western Japan 33 Temple Route has many great temples with nice hikes connected to them closer to Osaka and Kyoto. Check out my "Saikoku 33" tag to see some of the other ones I've been to.