Tohoku’s oldest temple with its history of prosperity and destruction
Tendai-ji was established in 728 by the monk Gyoki under the command of the emperor. Built in the Heian Era, it is thought to have developed the northernmost example of Buddhist culture in the ancient days of the nation with worship of the holy water bubbling from the giant katsura trees below the sando path to the temple. In the 14th century, further developing under the auspices of the increasingly influential Nambu clan in the Tohoku area, the temple underwent major restoration and repairs during the Edo Era of the 17th century so that it enjoyed great prosperity as a large temple with 27 subordinate temples under it. However, due to the anti-Buddhist movement at the beginning of the Meiji Era in the 19th century, the temple went through some harsh times. It is said that the temple suffered the greatest damage in Japan due to the movement with most of its buildings and cultural properties destroyed. In 1953, the tragedy of the temple continued when 1666 giant cedar trees were cut down without permission. The shock of this incident was so great that there were calls for the preservation and restoration of the temple, and in 1976, Shuncho Kon, the chief abbot of Chuson-ji, the main temple of the Tohoku district for the Tendai sect, appointed a special chief priest to oversee its restoration. Continuing that intention, in 1987, the famous female writer, Jakucho Setouchi, took over as the chief priest and devoted her efforts into the restoration to achieve one of Iwate Prefecture’s foremost temples.
Valuable Heian Buddhist statues enshrined despite the many hardships
In spite of many cultural properties being destroyed during the anti-Buddhist movement, many parishioners at the time took away several Buddhist statues and hid them, although they were put in some severe environments such as being buried underground or being left out to become weather-beaten. However, with their warm expressions beaming through the simple locations, these statues have become important items to witness as they relate the past after surviving such an ordeal. It is said that 13 of the 59 statues enshrined at the temple were created in the Heian Era, and the Standing Image of Shokannon, which was supposedly made by the monk Gyoki himself, is a masterpiece that was created through the use of the distinct method of natabori (hatchet carving) with chisel marks being left on a majority of the statue’s surface.