Zenkō-ji’s most sacred object is the Ikkō Sanzon Amida Nyorai, a triad of Amida Buddha images sharing one halo. This golden statue is believed to have been made by Buddha himself in the sixth century BC and is said to have arrived in Japan some 1200 years later as a gift from Korea to the emperor. For a while, the image was kept in a specially built temple near Ōsaka, where it became the focus of a clan feud. The temple was eventually destroyed and the statue dumped in a nearby canal, from where it was later rescued by Honda Yoshimitsu, a poor man who was passing by and apparently heard Buddha call. Honda brought the image back to his home in Nagano (then called Shinano). When news of its recovery reached Empress Kōgyoku, she ordered a temple to be built in its honour and called it Zenkō-ji after the Chinese reading of Honda’s name. The empress also ordered that the image should never be publicly viewed again, so a copy was made and it is this that is displayed once every six years in the grand Gokaichō festival, held from early April to late May. The next festival is in 2016.

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