|The Hondo of Okadera|
Place Name: Oka-dera 岡寺
Type: Temple 寺
Location: Asuka Village, Nara Prefecture, JAPAN
Date of Visit: May 1, 2012
Take the Nara Kotsu bus from Kintetsu Kashihara Jingu Mae (橿原神宮前) east exit. Do not use Kintetsu Okadera station.
Walk 3~4km from Kintetsu Asuka (飛鳥) [This is the route we took. -David]
Fee: Adults ¥300
Hours: 8:00~17:00 (8:00~16:30 December through February)
Okadera is tucked into a small v-shaped gorge cut into the mountains forming the eastern edge of Asuka village, one of the ancient capitals of Japan. The village itself is a candidate for world heritage status. From the valley floor the temple is located at the end of a steep paved access road dotted with a few omiyage stores, tiny restaurants and minshuku aimed at pilgrims, but mostly private residences, abandoned houses and forest.
|The temple bell|
Behind the main gate is a set of stairs that leads to the temple grounds. The temple faces south and is built up against the slope behind it. In front of the temple is a four sided bell tower. Visitors are encouraged to sound it, with a small donation of course. Ringing the bell and focusing on the sound helps one calm down and get into right mindset to best enjoy this peaceful place. The temple itself does not have a bell to ring when you make your prayers like most do.
|You are here|
Inside the main temple building the enshrined image, a Nyorin Kannon, is the largest clay statue in Japan at 4.85 meters tall. The temple’s website clams the clay was made with soil from Japan, China and India. It was built at the end of the Nara era, which lasted from 710 to 794.Okadera was founded in 633 and originally called Ryugaiji (龍蓋寺) literally, “dragon lid temple.” It was named as such for the pond on the temple grounds which was thought to be the home of a dragon. This dragon was not a destructive one however. In times of drought the lid was, metaphorically, opened and the dragon released to bring rain. The pond still exists in front of the main temple building and is home to more than a few real carp. A single stone island shoots up from the murky waters and is wrapped with rope and paper in the Shinto style signifying spiritual significance. Perhaps as a manifestation of the dragon that sleeps below.
|Well and Waterfall|
Beyond the temple further into the mountains is a loop trail that that follows a small stream then climbs the slope on the opposite side of the main temple. First along this path is a tiny waterfall and well. There is no sign saying whether the water is safe to drink or not, but one sign does ask that you do not leave the bucket in the well.
Further back behind the well is the Okunoin (奥の院). This is the actual heart of the temple. Okadera’s is unique because of how accessible it is and because it’s built into a natural cave. Deep in the back of the cave is statue of Maiterya, a Buddha who will come to Earth in the in the future.
|Looking west across the Nara Plain|
After reaching the Okunoin the path heads up into the forest overlooking the main temple grounds. The trail passes a few gravesites and monuments and peaks at view looking west towards Asuka village and the mountains that make up the western border of the Nara Plain.
|One of Okadera's 3,000 rohdodendrons|
In spring the 3,000 rhododendrons (シャクナゲ) planted throughout the temple grounds bloom. Some plants are even shaded by white paper umbrellas to protect the flowers from the weather. They are typically in full bloom around Golden Week.[One of the first temples I visited when accompanying my mother-in-law as she completed the Western Japan 33 route was Okadera. I had been to many temples before then but mostly large ones on the foreign tourist routes. Going to Okadera really kindled my interest in temples and has led to our family going on the pilgrimage ourselves and exploring many wonderful places. -David]
|The village of Asuka as seen from Okadera|