Japan // Western Honshu //


A giftshop-lined street leads directly from the waterfront just west of Setoda’s ferry landing to the unmistakeably gaudy entrance of Ikuchi-jima’s most famous attraction – the technicolour temple complex of Kōsan-ji (耕三寺), the creation of steel-tube manufacturer Kanemoto Kozo, who made much of his fortune from the arms trade. When his mother died, the bereft Kanemoto decided to build a temple in her honour, so bought a priesthood from Nishi-Hongan-ji temple in Kyoto and took over the name of a minor-league temple, Kōsan-ji, in Niigata. He resigned from his company, grew his hair, changed his name to Kōsanji Kozo, and began drawing up plans for the new Kōsan-ji – a collection of copies of the most splendid examples of Japanese temple buildings – which includes about ten halls, three towers, four gates, an underground cave and an enormous statue of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Although many of the re-creations are smaller than the originals, Kanemoto cut no corners when it came to detail, even adding his own embellishments – most famously to the already over-the-top replica of the Yōmei-mon from Nikkō’s Tōshō-gū, earning Kōsan-ji its nickname Nishi-Nikkō, the “Nikkō of the west”.

The entrance gate is modelled on one from the imperial palace in Kyoto. To the right of the main temple building is the entrance to the Senbutsudō (“Cave of a Thousand Buddhas”) and the Valley of Hell. An underground passage leads past miniature tableaux showing the horrors of damnation, followed by the raptures of a heavenly host of Buddhas. You then wind your way up to emerge beneath the beatific gaze of a 15m-tall statue of Kannon. From here you can walk up to the Hill of Hope, a collection of unusual modern marble sculptures with names like “Flame of the Future” and “Stage of the Noble Turtle”.

Kōsan-ji’s five-storey pagoda, modelled on the one at Murō-ji in Nara, is the last resting place of Kanemoto’s beloved mother, whose holiday home, Chōseikaku (潮聲閣), is right by the exit (included in admission to the temple). The home is a fascinating combination of Western and traditional styles, with two of the rooms having beautiful painted panels on their ceilings and a Buddha-like model of Mrs Kanemoto resting in one of the alcoves. Opposite the mother’s retreat is Kōsan-ji’s art gallery, a plain building housing sober displays of mainly religious paintings and statues.

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