Thursday, July 28th, 2022

The Shoshazan Engyoji Temple, Himeji

Black and white photograph of a Buddhist hall facing you, with two matching halls aligned on left and right

Himeji may be most famous for its castle, but it has far more to offer. Located in the mountains a few kilometres to the north, is a stunning Buddhist temple that has welcomed pilgrims for more than a thousand years.

The Shoshazan Engyoji Temple is a complex of shrines, temples and great halls spread across the Shosha Mountain. Stunning scenery and Buddhist architecture is in abundance, and the shaded pathways offer blessed relief from the hot sun.

Aside from its beauty, the complex also has religious and cultural significance. It’s on the Kannon pilgrimage route, which has been trod by pilgrims for centuries. You will still see the occasional pilgrim, dressed in their customary loose white garb. Out of respect, you should avoid taking photographs of them, unless you have their explicit permission.

Access is a little tricky if you’re afraid of heights. There is a long and winding path, but it is quite a hike and you need a degree of fitness and preparation (particularly if its hot). The easiest way up is the ropeway, a cablecar that runs every fifteen minutes and takes about 5 minutes. I hate heights with a passion, but I found this one particularly smooth and stable. Pick a spot in the middle, focus on something inside the car and listen to the Japanese and English announcements.

Photograph of a landscape. In the foreground are green trees covering the steep sides of a mountain. Beyond is the mottled greys of the city of Himeji. In the centre rises a support for a ropeway, a metal structure seemingly out of place
The ropeway up to the complex. It’s safe and stable, tolerable even for a vertigo sufferer like me.

Once you make it to the top you can enjoy the observation deck before making your way up to the main complex. If you take the bus, you’ll miss out on the statues that line the kilometre long climb up a winding track, and the occasional views it offers.

Afterwards, I suggest you just explore what’s on offer. The map suggests it takes two hours to work your way around. My visit lasted over three, and I hadn’t seen half of what was on offer. That might be because I tend to linger at things I find interesting, and I knew I could return another day.

There is a cafe and a couple of vending machines dotted around. However, I’d recommend packing a bento, a big cold bottle of something and enjoying a picnic at one of the beauty spots.

Photograph of a statue of a Buddhist deity. The statue is brown and green with fire behind it as it sits in a serene cross legged pose
The walk from the ropeway to the temple passes more than 30 of these beautifully carved statues.
Photograph of an entrance to a buddhist temple. To the left, wooden stairs rise to meet the wooden entrance structure, which has a sloping roof and is surrounded by green trees
The entrance to the temple complex is modest, and does little to prepare you for what’s to come.
Photograph looking down on a Japanese cafe
Although there is a cafe and other amenities, I suggest taking plenty of drink, snacks and decent walking shoes.
Photograph of a buddhist belfry with the lower half a square, slope sided structure of light woods, rising to meet the ornate bell tower in a darker wood and topped with an ornate roof
The temple complex is spread out across the mountain, and every turn of a corner is a potential surprise.
Photograph of a structure within a buddhist temple. A complicated criss-cross of carved forms slot together to form a support for the roof
The carpentry is stunning. Although the temple dates back to before 1,000CE, this was assembled as late as the 1960s.
Photograph looking down a wooden veranda on a Buddhist temple. Open shutters are on the left, and a balustrade on the right that vanishes into the distance
Almost everywhere you turn there are stunning views. From scenes across Himeji to more intimate ones, such as this along the veranda of one of the Three Great Halls.
Photograph of the inside of a Buddhist hall with three windows open in the background, casting silhouettes of people copying sutras
Pilgrims will copy Buddhist texts called “Sutras”, considered a act of piety.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.