Special Feature on Shrines and Temples Related to 'Oni' (Demons)
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Unkei’s Oni masks come to life! Takisanji Temple (Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture)

Main hall of Takisanji Temple. Local speciality is Miso Barrel
Main hall of Takisanji Temple. Local speciality is Miso Barrel

This time, I would like to introduce Takisanji Temple in Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture.
It is a temple with a very prestigious mountain name and temple name of Tendai Kissho Darani Sanyakujuouin.
Every February, an Oni festival is held here where demons with masks made by Unkei appear to pray for peace and prosperity.
Yes, Unkei.
He is the famous sculptor known for his works such as the Great Buddha at Todaiji Temple and the Miroku Miroku Bosatsu at Hokuendo, Kofukuji Temple. Although there are many temples where Setsubun is held, this may be the only place in Japan where an Oni festival is held with Unkei’s masks.

Oni festival with Unkei’s masks

At Takisanji Temple in Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture, the Shushoe (a prayer for a good harvest) is held in the main hall for seven days from New Year’s Day on the lunar calendar.
The final evening of the festival is the Oni Festival.
Although they are called “demons,” the demons at Takisanji Temple are actually oni-gami (demon gods) that purify evil spirits.
Therefore, monks who wear demon masks spend seven days before the festival in a separate room, and conduct Saikai Mokuyoku.
Saikai Mokuyoku is a practice of purifying oneself before participating in Shinto or Buddhist ceremonies. It involves many precepts such as not eating meat and avoiding contact with women, and it is a thorough purification of one’s mind and body.
Then the Oni Festival starts.
An Oni wearing a mask made by Unkei, which weighs about 7 kg, appears in the main hall amid flames of torches. With flames dancing and the sound of conch shells and fire bells, three demons wearing masks of grandfather, grandmother, and grandchild respectively dance wildly. This sight is truly that of demon gods purifying evil spirits.

  • Grandfather mask. A powerful image that seems to be about to move at any moment.
    Grandfather mask. A powerful image that seems to be about to move at any moment.
  • Grandmother mask. Although it has no sharps, it has a truly demonic appearance.
    Grandmother mask. Although it has no sharps, it has a truly demonic appearance.
  • A little cute grandchild mask.
    A little cute grandchild mask.

It’s surprising that the Oni Festival at Takisanji Temple began with a prayer by Minamoto no Yoritomo. Why Minamoto no Yoritomo, you may ask? After Unkei, it’s the second famous historical figure appearing on the stage.
No, no, Takisanji Temple has deep connections with other historical figures as well.
Let’s briefly explore the history of Takisanji Temple.

The connection between Takisanji Temple and the rulers

The waterfall of Aoki River that flows beside Takisanji Temple.
The waterfall of Aoki River that flows beside Takisanji Temple.

Takisanji Temple was founded in the Nara period.
It starts from the story that En no Gyōja picked up a Buddha statue from the basin of waterfall of Aoki River and placed it inside a hand-carved statue of Yakushi Nyorai , and build a temple called Kichijō-ji.
En no Gyōja was said to have supernatural powers that enabled him to control demons and gods, and was the founder of Shugendo in Naka period.
He not only opened many sacred sites but also wielded extraordinary powers beyond human beings. He was once exiled to Izu Oshima Island for confusing people’s minds and after that, he worked on the island during the day while running on the sea like on the land at night, climbing to the top of Mount Fuji in Suruga Province for training, and jumping off the peak like a phoenix. This has been recorded in many contemporary artistic works such as Shoku Nihongi and Nihon Reiiki
Kichijō-ji, which En no Gyōja founded, was completely ruined by the end of the Heian period.
Then, Bussenshōnin Eigū from Hieizan of Tendaishu visited there to revive Kichijō-ji under the protection of the Mononobeji and renamed it Takisanji Temple, in order to spread the Yakushi beliefs. Later, they invited Suenori, a local Atsuta Shrine priest, as their patron and received strong support from him. Kan-den, Suenori’s grandson, became chief priest of Takisanji Temple’s due to this connection.
Kan-den Shonin was Minato Yoritomo’s cousin. Therefore, Takisanji Temple received strong support from Kamakura Shogunate such as building a main hall by Yoritomo.

A very complicated family tree
A very complicated family tree

Please take a look. The family tree is so complicated.
After the death of Yoritomo, Unkei and his son Tankei created statues of Kannon Bodhisattva, Bonten, and Taisyakuten with Yoritomo’s hair and teeth inside them.
Later, Takisanji Temple became a sub-Bodaiji temple of the Ashikaga family as shown in the family tree. During the time of the third shogun Yoshimitsu, there was also assistance in building the main hall. However, Takisanji Temple was gradually weakened by the wars of the Muromachi period and beyond.
But in the Edo period, Takisanji Temple regained its popularity.
Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Tokugawa family, deeply relied on Tenkai Shōjō of Kanei-ji Temple and made Kanei-ji Temple a Bodai-ji temple. Ryojo Shonin, a disciple of Tenkai Shōjō, became the concurrent chief priest of Takisanji Temple.

One of the three major Toshogu shrines, Takisan Toshogu Shrine
One of the three major Toshogu shrines, Takisan Toshogu Shrine

As a result, Takisanji Temple was granted 412 koku of temple land by the shogunate. Also, at the command of Iemitsu Tokugawa, a Toshogu shrine was built in Okazaki, which has a deep connection to Kunozan and Nikko. This marked the third Toshogu of Takisanji Temple. As a result, 200 koku was added as a shrine land, making a total of 612 koku.
One koku is the amount of rice an adult male eats in one year, so Takisanji Temple at that time had enough land to support more than 600 people.
In this way, Takisanji Temple received protection not only from the Kamakura Shogunate but also from the Edo Shogunate.
However, fate will be changed again.

Sanmon gate of Takisanji Temple and Taki Niou gate.
Sanmon gate of Takisanji Temple and Taki Niou gate.

After the Meiji Restoration, the temple’s stipend was confiscated, and the six soubo (monks’ quarters) that existed at its peak were reduced to only one that remains today.
Takiniou gate is located about a 5-minute drive from Takisanji Temple. In the past, it was part of the temple’s precincts, and it can be inferred that it had considerable power due to its size.
When we trace the history of shrines and temples like this, we realize how much their fate is influenced by their relationship with those in power.
In any case, I hope you now have a better understanding of the greatness of Takisanji Temple.

Exploring the Oni at Takisanji Temple

Starting from the main hall, Takisanji Temple is full of charm the more you know about it such as Takisan Toshogu Shrine, Hie Shrine, Mizutai Yakushi Nyorai, and more. However, this time we will focus on the theme of “Oni” and introduce some highlights.

Demon masks: Unkei’s works are so close !
Demon masks: Unkei’s works are so close !

★Treasure Hall
If you visit Takisanji Temple, the Treasure Hall is a must-see!
Other than the Oni masks, it’s filled with many other treasures such as the three Buddhist statues of Kannon Bodhisattva, Taishakuten, and Bonten created by Unkei and Tankei, as well as a hanging scroll of ascending and descending dragons painted by Kano Tanyu, and a letter from Nobunaga to Ieyasu

Gosyuin (300 yen for each). Kannon Bodhisattva and Yakushi Nyorai
Gosyuin (300 yen for each). Kannon Bodhisattva and Yakushi Nyorai

As I visited on a weekday, the treasure hall was locked without visitors, and there was a sign with an intercom that read “Please ring for admission and stamping.”
When I rang the intercom, a person from the temple came out of the main hall and opened the treasure hall, so I visited inside.
I also requested two Goshuin stamps.
While photography of the demon mask was permitted, taking pictures of other Buddha statues was prohibited. I hope you will visit and see the treasures packed in the small treasure hall.

Onizuka where Yamabushi (mountain ascetics) sleep with the masks of parents
Onizuka where Yamabushi (mountain ascetics) sleep with the masks of parents

The tomb is located quietly beside the main hall and has a Yakushi Nyorai statue.
The old ink-written signboard is completely unreadable due to exposure to wind and rain, but according to Takisanji’s website, this is called the Onizuka tomb. There are only three existing masks in the treasure hall: those of the grandfather, grandmother, and grandchild. However, according to legend, there were originally five masks of demons, including those of the father and mother.
In the past, two yamabushi attended a festival with the father’s and mother’s masks without conducting Saikai Mokuyoku. As a result, they could not remove the demon mask from their faces and died.
The Onizuka tomb was built to bury and pray for the two yamabushi.
Since then, the father’s and mother’s masks have been lost, and there are only three demon masks left.
Perhaps it was punishment for participating in a religious ceremony without purifying themselves of impurities. The story is quite impressive because Unkei’s masks seem like they are really alive.

Pay a visit to Okazaki Castle as well!

After enjoying Takisanji, please also visit Okazaki Castle.
It is the birthplace of Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu and is also known as Ryugajo.
On the day of the castle’s construction, a pure maiden appeared before the castle lord Saigo Danjosaemon Tsuguyori at that time, who was in the castle tower, and said, “I am a dragon god who has lived here for a long time. If you worship me as a guardian god, I will protect this castle for a long time and make it prosperous.” The well in the castle tower spouted vigorously and rained down, and since then, the dragon god has been enshrined in the castle tower.
It is also said that when Lord Ieyasu was born, black clouds swirled over the castle and a golden dragon flew into the sky. For this reason, there is also a Tatsuki Shrine next to the castle where you can get an ema with a golden dragon.
Okazaki Castle has been renovated and a drama museum has been created due to the airing of the Taiga drama “What will you do, Ieyasu”. Please enjoy Okazaki Castle while thinking about its connection with Takisanji Temple

  • Tea shops offer Sengoku warlord sweets
    Tea shops offer Sengoku warlord sweets
  • Okazaki Castle is surprisingly small
    Okazaki Castle is surprisingly small


How was Takisanji Temple?
The Oni Festival will be held on February 11, 2023.
You can enjoy watching people wearing the demon mask of Unkei and dancing in the flames, or you can experience other treasures in the treasure hall at a later date.
The more you know, the deeper Takisanji Temple becomes.
Please come and visit!