108 temples to establish pilgrimage route

The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 16, 2009

OTSU, Japan -- More than 100 Buddhist temples in Shiga Prefecture of various sizes and sects are cooperating to establish a pilgrimage route around Lake Biwa in September.

Famous temples as well as smaller, locally run ones are taking part in the endeavor, which involves 108 temples in all. The organizing body hopes the participants will gain a sense of peace by enjoying the area's scenic beauty and history.

According to the organizer's plan, the religious tour will begin at Ishiyamadera temple in Otsu, where Murasaki Shikibu is said to have gained inspiration for "The Tale of Genji" in the mid-Heian period (794-1192).

Other temples on the route include Hogonji temple in Nagahama, on Chikubushima island in Lake Biwa; Kogenji temple, known as Doganji Kannondo, in Takatsukicho, which houses an 11-faced standing Kannon statue, a national treasure; and three temples located on the east side of the lake, including Hyakusaiji temple in Higashi-Omi, established by Prince Shotoku (574-622).

The tour will end at Enryakuji temple's Yokawa Chudo hall in Otsu. The number of temples was chosen because 108 is said to be the number of human earthly desires in Buddhism. A stamped paper providing proof of visitation will be available at each of the temples.

Temples in the prefecture started discussing the plan about 15 years ago, in an effort to create a path on which visitors could think about the religious devotion of the ancients and make connections through Buddhism. However, choosing temples on the west side of the lake, where many are located, was a long process.

"People aren't as religious as they used to be. Fewer people are seeking guidance at temples," said Doryu Hara, head priest of Kannonji temple in Konan and the chairman of the organizing preparation committee.