The longest established temple in Japan, Shitennō-ji, was built in Ōsaka, Japan by Prince Shōtoku in 593 (but see our Glossary entry for recent scholarly doubt of such assumptions). Prince Shōtoku designated Buddhism as the national religion in order to create Japan as a unified state. Over the centuries, various portions of the temple complex have been destroyed through war and other disasters but has repeatedly been rebuilt. Buildings within the complex include the Kondo (Main Hall), the Kodo (Lecture and Assembly Hall), and the Goju-no-To (Five-Storied Pagoda). Each building houses various Buddhist relics. The Kondo contains a statue of Prince Shotoku as Guze Kannon, the Buddha of Infinite Mercy, surrounded by the Four Guardian Kings. The Kodo has a statue of Amida Buddha, as well as an 11-headed Kannon figure, while the Goju-no-To is said to hold sacred relics of Gautama Buddha, the original living Buddha. Because Prince Shōtoku lived by the Wa philosophy (harmony in all things), a Wa sect of Buddhism was established at Shitennō-ji.
This temple was very unique among our other temple visits for several reasons. We arrived at the temple on our final day in Japan, and very few people were there other than our group. Construction greeted us, as the pebbles surrounding all of the buildings were being replaced. The front gate featured wheels representing the cycle of life that could be spun in order to remember that we always live within the cycle, and all human beings are connected in life. Several visitors to the shrine spun the wheels as they left as a reminder of life. We ventured over to a well with a dragon statue in front of it. I looked into the well, to see how much water could be seen, and was met with the image of a dragon staring back at me. Craning my head around, I saw a dragon painted on the ceiling of the well, meant to reflect in the water as you look into it. Dr. Roemer decided that we had to take a picture with the reflection of everyone's face in the water, so we leaned over the edge and took a picture with our new dragon friend. We wandered to the pagoda and were allowed to go inside and up, a very rare opportunity. Each level of the pagoda introduced us to various Buddhist statues, and the names of financial donors to the temple since the 1950s. As we ascended, the temperature rose, but I was excited to reach the top, so nothing would stop me. Once we reached the final level, we were in the presence of a relic that supposedly once belonged to Gautama Buddha. Did it in fact belong to the Buddha? No one knows for sure, but it was still an interesting thought that we may be near something that was once owned by such an historical figure as the Buddha. We made our way back down the pagoda and over to the Kodo. Paintings depicting the life of Gautama Buddha lined the walls, and the three beautiful statues of Amida and other bodhisattvas sat in the center. The building was also air conditioned, a welcomed feeling on such a hot day. After we left the temple, we made our way to food area and bought some ice cream before we left for our hotel to pick up our luggage and leave for the airport.