The imposing main gate (Photo: Rufus Starbuck)

Bishamondo Temple in Urasa

Ancient temple with amazing woodwork & famous festival

The imposing main gate (Photo: Rufus Starbuck)
Rufus Starbuck   - 3 min read

Bishamon-no-Sato is a beautiful, ancient temple complex in the small town of Urasa. You know you are in for something special as you approach and are greeted by one of the most imposing gateways you are ever likely to pass under.

For a tiny rice farming town in the countryside, Urasa has a few surprises hidden away: a winery, an international university, a shinkansen station (thanks to a politically influential famous son) and Bishamondo. The temple is tucked away at the back of the town on the other side of the station from Route 71, and sits at the base of the mountains. You head up a paved road and at the top of the stairs is an intricately constructed wooden gateway that looks far too top-heavy to be safe. The carvings here alone are worth spending some time inspecting.

Through the main gate are covered walkways leading to the main hall of the complex and a fountain fed by a mountain spring. There is over a thousand years of history at this temple and much of it certainly looks the part. Further in there are other shrines and a hike up into the mountains.

At any time of year this is a beautiful temple to admire but if you want to see it at it’s very best you need to be here on the first Saturday of every March for the Naked Pushing Festival. Like all good "out there" festivals there is sake involved for the participants. They get togged up in little more than a loin cloth and are led down the main street (suffering the minus temperatures) to the temple by torch bearers carrying huge candles. Once in the temple grounds they are set off in small groups, where they dash to the fountain for a quick purifying dip (it is a winter night with snow on the ground!), and then join the pulsing scrum of bodies in the main hall. Everyone is trying to squeeze through a small gap to get to the inner sanctum and receive a blessing. It is a heaving mass of steaming flesh in the temple and crushed in the middle, there is not a great deal you can do to increase your chances. Personally I’d recommend watching from a distance wrapped in jacket, gloves and scarf, but to each to their own.

Whether you make it for the festival or just for a daylight stroll around the temple, there is plenty to see and photo opportunities galore.

Rufus Starbuck

Rufus Starbuck @rufus.starbuck

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