Japan’s first Buddhist temple

14 March, 2012 by

As the first and oldest Buddhist temple in Japan, Osaka’s Shitennoji (四天王寺) is an expected stop on most visitors’ itineraries. Regarded as the chief Buddhist temple in Osaka, the Asakusa of Osaka if you wish, Shitenno translates to the four heavenly kings, to which this temple is dedicated to.

Getting to Shitennoji

Shitennoji is located in the south east central area of Osaka. The nearest station on the map would be the explicitly named Tennoji Station from which it is a 10 to 15 minute (1 kilometer) walk away from.

Entrance to Shitennoji costs 300 yen for the temple grounds (pictured here) and another 300 yen for the temple’s private nature gardens. There is also an onsite treasure museum showing off various collected relics, but is under renovation for earthquake proofing until next year. Entrance to the main temple grounds is covered by the Osaka Unlimited Pass.

At Shitennoji

As Japan’s first Buddhist temple, Shitennoji draws many influences from classic Shinto Shrines. In fact, they have a torii gate at the entrance to the street in which Shitennoji is located.

Big gate ride next to the main road.

The actual grounds on which Shitennoji stands is pretty huge. There are a great number of buildings here, most of which are open to the public for free. The temple also boasts excellent facilities for its visitors and I was surprised to find an air-conditioned waiting room and various seats all over the grounds. It is also completely wheelchair friendly. It’s nice how much thought has been put into for its older visitors.

Another large gate.

For this article, I’ll be looking mostly at Shitenno Temple proper as most people know it, its iconic red pagoda and zen gardens. Like most other Japanese places of worship photography is not frowned upon, but out of respect, keep your cameras when indoors.

Dharma Wheel.

The original Shitennoji temple dates back to 593 A.D. But those looking to be floored by a visit to Shitennoji may be disappointed to learn that the current buildings standing are from the 1960s. Still, for a “must-visit site”, Shitennoji does make for a pretty sight.

Zen Garden.

Sheltered off from the surroundings by the red walls, there isn’t as much a sense of awe as when visiting some of the country’s more impressive monuments. Rather than a great peacefulness to be found at Shitennoji, at least on this morning when the temple was devoid of any other visitors.

Geometric patterns.

Tiny pebbles.

Shitennoji’s entrance, courtyard shelter and the Shitennoji Temple Tower are coated in a bright orange-red lacquer. Needless to say, beautifully coordinated. All of these buildings seem to stand on top of a sea of pebbles as the buildings in the courtyard are fully surrounded by the zen garden. This was unlikely to have existed in the original temple but rather a more modern addition. Still it can be a worthwhile visit for those who appreciate such experiences.


Images by Wilson.

Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.

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Supermerlion's Webmaster and Editor-in-Chief. Singaporean Nikkeijin with over 12 years of experience in the media industry. Producer at a Japanese entertainment company. Former Web Developer, Graphic Designer, Multimedia Programmer, Manager and Consultant. Shoots with a Canon 5Dmk2 and Sony RX100-2.
  • Shug Dornan

    My girlfriend took me to this place last month. I quite enjoyed it. She told me a bit about it’s history as she has been coming here for a long time. It’s supposed to be part of the same Buddhist faction as Mount Koyasan. Which is another lovely place I would recommend visiting.