Do you like visiting slightly less obvious things when you explore an area? If so, can you imagine visiting Japan’s largest papier-mâché tiger? What if I told you it was also at one of Japan’s oldest temples, Chogosonshi-ji, perched on top of a mountain, but still within easy reach from Osaka or Nara?
Even if you didn’t know it was possible to make such a large tiger from papier-mâché, you’ll still have fun visiting Shigisan so add this onto your list of zany things to visit in Western Japan!
Why visit Shigisan or Chogosonshi-ji Temple?
This is one of the quirky things I found out about when I worked for Nara Prefectural Government. I did quite a lot of translations about local events and interesting sights around Nara. The thing is, some things sound too crazy to be real! When I translated an article about a “giant paper tiger temple” it piqued my interest, so I invited a bunch of friends to come and explore Shigisan with me. I mean, how could we resist once we’d heard about it!?
Officially, Shigisan is the name of the mountain and Chogosonshi-ji is the name of the temple, but most people in my office refer to the whole area, including the temple as Shigisan.
Chogosonshi-ji Temple – How to get there
Chogosonshi-ji is pretty easy to reach from Nara or Osaka. You need to take a train to Shin Oji station, or Shigisanshita station. You can then take a bus, or just walk up.
- If you take the bus, buy a day pass “wan day pass” for ¥500. A regular bus ticket is ¥430
- We just walked up from the station. This took about 40 minutes.
On the way to Shigisan
If you decide to walk up Shigisan (the mountain), there is quite a lot to see on the way. The whole area is covered in small temples, plus there is a dam. We visited on a cold day, so we stopped and bought hot chocolate from a vending machine to warm us up on the way. We then stopped again to buy tiger shaped manju (cake-like snacks) to keep our energy up!
One of the first things you’ll see when you arrive at Chogosonshi-ji is the giant paper tiger. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so it was a pleasant surprise to see this slightly happy-looking tiger with a giant nodding head! The temple commissions a new tiger every year, so when you visit, the tiger on display might look a little different!
But, that isn’t the end of the tigers! Chogosonshi-ji is covered in tiger statues and decorations. Some of them look a bit kitsch, but there are some more sober, sensible tigers on display too.
We even found some Komainu statues, these are normally dogs, but on Shigi-san even those were tigers!
Somewhere in the temple is a kaidan-meguri tunnel. Visitors are meant to walk through the pitch black, touching the walls. If you manage to touch an iron lock in the tunnel, you’ll be granted good fortune. We did find a tiger tunnel, but I am not sure if this was the right one. It wasn’t pitch black, and I didn’t find a lock anywhere. Still, it was pretty cool.
I’m not sure if I had good fortune, but it was fun to explore!
Shukubo lodgings – you can stay in tigerland
If you like, there are three Shukubo (temple lodgings) where you can stay the night and experience temple life. The rooms won’t be particularly posh, but whenever I have stayed at temples they have provided tasty vegetarian food, and give you the option to wake up early and join/observe the morning prayers. These lodgings were originally built for pilgrims, but they welcome everyone.
Keep climbing to the top of Shigisan
The other thing I love about Chogosonshi-ji is that the temple grounds extend right to the top of Shigisan. This means if you climb up the steps to the top, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous views down to Nara and the surrounding area. Finding the path to the top is not particularly hard. Just keep following the stairs upwards through the temple complex.
There are stone lanterns (over 1800 of them) lining the path on the way up the mountain.
It’s a bit like taking a hike, but through temple grounds the whole way. Once you make it to the top of the mountain, there are lovely views down to Nara and Sakurai.
I also really like the way that older temples mix shrines and temples into one site. Chogosonshi-ji has some shrines within the temple grounds, including a walkway covered by pretty red torii gates.
The Main Hall – Hondo
Chogosonshi-ji’s main hall is further along the temple complex. It is high up on the mountain, and has more excellent views.
A bit of extra culture – Origata and matcha time
It’s funny, but when you visit less famous sights, local people seem really happy to see you there! Our visit to Chogosonshi-ji Temple is a good example of this. I started chatting to one of the temple’s monks, and so he invited us to come and meet an ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) master along with her disciple. These ladies were so excited that a group of foreigners had found the temple, that they invited us in to take part in a tea ceremony.
The ikebana master decided to teach us something, so she showed us all how to fold things with origata. You may have heard of origami before, origata is a bit like that, but it is the art of folding letters or gifts without using scissors of glue. She gave each of us some beautiful, handmade paper, and taught us how to fold it.
Lastly, we were all given some really tasty matcha tea, served in a giant cup! This is similar to the tea ceremony in Saidaiji temple. Having a giant cup means it is difficult to drink the tea without help from your friends and neighbours. However, this cup was not quite as massive as the cup in Saidaiji, so we could all hold it on our own.
Shigisan Tora matsuri
In ancient Japan, February was the month of the tiger, so each February, the temple holds a Tora matsuri, tiger festival!
In 2019 this will be on the 23rd – 24th Feb, from 9am – 5pm.
You can find out more about the festival here.