If the leaves are still holding on, our next temple (number 26 on the pilgrimage list) is another great place to see them. Ichijo-ji, located in Kasai City, was built in 650. Its three-storied pagoda, completed in 1171, is a Japanese National Treasure and is also the oldest pagoda in Hyogo prefecture.
Access to Ichijo-ji is by bus or car. You can take a Shinki bus bound for Yashiro (社) from Himeji Station Kitaguchi. It’s about a 35 minute, 630 yen ride; get off at the Hokkesan Ichijo-ji (法華山一乗寺) stop. If you drive, take the Sanyo expressway to the Kakogawa-kita IC (加古川北IC), then head north on 43. When the road ends at 三口 intersection, turn left. When you come to 三口西 (the very next light), turn left. Follow 206 until you see signs for Ichijo-ji on the left.
The parking lot is located next to one of the remarkable aspects of this particular temple – its Jizo-do. A Jizo-do is a hall in which Jizo is enshrined; most of the temples on the pilgrimage (and indeed, in general) have an area for making dedications to Jizo, where small statues or other items are dedicated to this guide and protector Bodhisattva, but fewer of them have a building where the figure is worshiped. This Mizuko Jizo’s area was larger than ones I have seen at the other temples I’ve visited, and a little less austere as well. Mizuko Jizo is in charge of conducting ‘water babies,’ or babies who do not survive pregnancy, back through the flow of life to their next incarnation. The one at Ichijo-ji is rows and rows of little statues, all outfitted with knitted things or other accouterments, but these three hexagonal areas were full not only of statues with bibs and collars and knitted things, but also toys, a few clothing items for babies, pinwheels, and other such dedications.
The Miko Daimyojin and Inari shrine areas, both being Shinto and not Buddhist, are lovely peaceful areas in the forest beyond the Jizo-do. There’s also a lovely Benzaiten shrine in the middle of a pond. As you’ll recall, Inari are the fox creatures, messengers of the gods and patrons of wealth and the harvest. Benzaiten is patron of water, words, speech, eloquence, and music – in short, things that flow. Many of the temples along the pilgrimage route have one or both of these shrines somewhere on the grounds.
The stairway by the main entrance leads up to the picturesque pagoda and the main hall where you get your stamp and seal, and can look down over the mountainside. Even further up the mountain is the Kaizando, or founder’s hall. This part of the temple complex was partly damaged by storms and landslides in late 2011, but the path is not especially difficult or steep.
Ichijo-ji is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon exploring. Get in your car or on a bus and check it out!