Buddhist Statues to Architecture: Great Cultural Spots in Otokuni


Kyoto Otokuni Bamboo Grove

Blessed with a rich natural environment, the Otokuni area is located at the foot of the Nishiyama mountain range that runs along the western side of the Kyoto basin. Otokuni is the old name of the area that includes Muko, Nagaoka-kyo, and Oyamazaki. Due to its strategic location between Kyoto and Osaka, Otokuni has been the setting for many dramatic events through the centuries. That’s why today we can still visit many famous temples, shrines and residences in Otokuni. Here are seven spots that are home to particularly valuable Buddhist statues, architecture, and other points of cultural interest.

Hoshakuji Temple

Hoshakuji is a historic temple founded in 724. It has long been known for a place to come and pray for prosperity in business. Located in the foothills of Mt. Tennozan on the border of Kyoto and Osaka prefectures, immediately behind the temple grounds is a trailhead for mountain climbing. The mountain was the scene of the Battle of Yamazaki (1582), a turning point in the Warring States period, a time of great political unrest in Japan. Hoshakuji is also known as the site where Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the general who was eventually victorious in that battle, set up his headquarters during the crucial conflict.

Hoshakuji is home to a variety of temple treasures, some of which have been designated as National Tangible Cultural Properties. For example, the vermilion-painted three-story pagoda (photo on the left), which dates from the early 1600s and is said to have been built in a single night, and the standing eleven-faced Kannon bodhisattva (photo on the right). At over 700 years old, the Kannon statue still retains a majestic beauty.

Also not to be missed are the five statues in the Enma Hall, which is a representation of the Court of Hell in Buddhist lore. Enma, the King of Hell, sits in the center of the hall wearing a large crown and an angry expression. His job is to judge the sins of the dead, and surrounding him are his scribes.

All these works were made in the Kamakura period (1185-1333), a time when the art of Buddhist sculpture evolved at a remarkable pace. The expressions on their faces look so realistic and the depiction of their poses are so dynamic, they look as if they could start moving at any moment. In addition to being works of art, they also vividly convey the beliefs of the people who in those days truly feared hell and prayed fervently for rebirth in paradise.

Hoshakuji Temple

Hoshakuji Temple

Hoshakuji Temple is located on the south side of Mt. Tenno (270m) near Oyamazaki Town on the border between Kyoto and Osaka Prefectures. The temple is beautiful year round with cherry blossoms in spri …

Komyoji Temple

Komyoji is a temple located at the foot of the Nishiyama mountain range and covers an area of 6.6 hectares. Founded at the end of the 12th century, Komyoji is the head temple of Seizan Jodo, a sect of Pure Land Buddhism. It is known as the place where Honen, the founder of the Pure Land sect, first preached his teachings. It is also the site of his mausoleum, due to having some of his remains relocated and buried at the temple.

There are two approaches to Komyoji. One is the Omote-sando (main approach), which runs straight up to the temple from the main gate. After climbing a long flight of stone steps, you will see the Miedo, a grand hall built in 1754. The area is peaceful and serene, and many visitors find it soothing. The Miedo and the various halls, large and small, built along the slope of the mountain, are all connected by a corridor, giving Komyoji a grand sense of scale.

The other approach to the temple is called the Momiji-sando and is famous for its autumn foliage. Walking through the tunnel of bright red maple trees is a memorable experience, and the carpet of fallen leaves that covers the stone pavement in late autumn is well worth a visit in itself.

Komyo-ji Temple

Komyo-ji Temple

Komyo-ji Temple was first built in 1198 by the soldier Kumagai Naozane in an area favored by his master Honen. Today, it the head temple of the Seizan sect of Pure Land Buddhism. Visitors can tour the …

Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine

Nagaoka Tenmangu is one of the most well-known destinations in Nagaokakyo City. The enshrined deity is Sugawara no Michizane, known as the god of learning, and the shrine is characterized by its vermilion pavilions that stand out against a blue sky. To the east of the shrine grounds is the large Hachijogaike Pond. The approach to the shrine grounds via a bridge over the pond is a feature unique to Nagaoka Tenmangu. Every year in late April, the rows of kirishima-tsutsuji (azaleas) bloom bright red, adding a striking splash of color to the approach.

The picture on the bottom left is Miyako Meishozue (1780, courtesy of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies). The shrine grounds as depicted in the guidebooks of the time look almost the same as they do today.

The Hachijogaike Pond was built by Prince Hachijo Toshitada, a member of the imperial family in the 17th century. He is also known for having designed the gardens and buildings of the famous Katsura Imperial Villa, which took two generations to complete. Here in Nagaokakyo, too, Prince Hachijo created a graceful landscape that skillfully weaves together the natural environment of the Nishiyama mountains and the culture of the imperial court. This is the reason why Nagaoka Tenmangu has a somewhat elegant, regal atmosphere.

Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine

Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine

Nagaoka Tenmangu is a shrine in Nagaokakyo City, Kyoto Prefecture, not far from Kyoto City and close to Uji—the region of Kyoto famous for matcha green tea—and the famous Otokuni Bamboo grove. Nagaoka …


The restaurant Kinsuitei is located in the shrine precincts and is well worth a look when visiting Nagaoka Tenmangu. The restaurant was founded in 1881. The Ikeda family had been running a business in the area for a long time, and Kinsuitei has been in their charge for five generations. There are two sets of buildings: a two-story main structure and a few detached cottages lined up by the water. Many have the impressive Hachijogaike Pond as a backdrop, so visitors and diners alike can enjoy wonderful meals while taking in the seasonal scenery.

The 80-year-old main building is like a work of art in itself. The pillars, floors, ceilings, and other parts of the structure are fashioned from high-quality wood by skilled carpenters and the workmanship is superb. The ceiling of the hall on the second floor features a gotenjo or coffered ceiling, a design used in castles, imperial palaces, and other prestigious buildings. The large windows give a great view of the garden and pond.

The main building also has rooms facing a garden with a picturesque waterfall. The small cottages are located so close to the pond they seem to be almost floating on the water. The scenery imparts a feeling of coolness which can be most welcome on a hot day.

Kinsuitei’s specialty is bamboo shoots, served in springtime. Nagaoka-kyo is one of Japan’s leading producers of premium bamboo, and because Kinsuitei has its own grove, the quality and freshness of its shoots are exceptional. Bamboo shoots picked in the morning are so tender and sweet that they can be eaten raw, without any bitterness. A meal at Kinsuitei is a chance to enjoy the bounty of nature in an exquisite setting.

Nagaokakyo City Kinsuitei

Nagaokakyo City Kinsuitei

Founded in 1881, this restaurant incorporates a pond constructed by the 14th century Imperial Prince Toshihito and sukiya-style gazebos of various sizes. Take in the seasonal views as you enjoy Kinsui …

Nakano-tei Obanzai & Sake

At the beginning of the Edo period (17th century), highways were built to connect all parts of Japan. One of these roads was the Saigoku Kaido, which extended from Kyoto to the westernmost tip of Honshu. Along the Saigoku Kaido, which was a busy route for travelers and traders, stood a stately rural structure known as Nakano-ke Jutaku, or the Nakano Family Residence. The main house and kura storehouse were built about 180 years ago and are designated as National Tangible Cultural Properties.

Happily, the building is now open to diners as a restaurant called Nakano-tei and serves obanzai seasonal dishes accompanied by delicious sake.

The most popular seats at Nakano-tei are the zashiki seating on tatami facing the garden. At lunch time, diners can enjoy a bento box filled with seasonal local vegetables, and in the evening the restaurant serves a casual prix-fixe meal. A wide selection of sake from all over Japan is also available for those that enjoy pairing sake with their food order.

Don’t miss the design details in the traditional architecture, such as the beautiful shoji screens and the intricate metal fittings. The pattern of two overlapping feathers is the kamon, or family crest, of the Nakano family. In addition to the lantern box in the photo, you can see the crest motif repeated here and there in the building. Nagaoka-kyo City, where Nakano-tei is located, is also known for its high-quality bamboo. The grounds feature a modern bamboo fence created in collaboration with high school students and local craftsmen.

In addition, Nakano-tei has been proactive in hiring employees with disabilities, and 100% of the electricity is generated from natural sources. The specialty coffees roasted at the restaurant are mainly from Southeast Asia, and all coffee purchases support farms in those communities. The charm of Nakano-tei lies not only in the preservation of a historic structure, but also in its attempts to make a positive contribution to both society and the environment.

Nakano-tei Obanzai & Sake

Nakano-tei Obanzai & Sake

This is a restaurant that was renovated from the Nakano family residence, which is a registered Tangible Cultural Property of Japan. Here, you can enjoy dishes that are made with special care in the ” …

The Former Ueda Family Residence

The Heian-kyo capital was established on the site of present-day Kyoto in 794, but did you know that a capital called Nagaoka-kyo existed in the Otokuni-area for 10 years immediately before that? As the nation’s capital for a decade, Nagaoka-kyo measured 4.3 km east to west and 5.3 km north to south, roughly the same size as Heian-kyo, and its center was located in present-day Muko City. Surprisingly, the remains of Nagaoka-kyo were not excavated until 1955. Those imperial remains had lain silently in the ground for more than 1,000 years prior to that point.

The Kyu Ueda-ke Jutaku or Former Ueda Family Residence is a 110-year-old traditional rural home and is designated as a National Tangible Cultural Property. This structure stands in the center of the former Nagaoka-kyo capital, which is designated as a National Historic Site. So, when you visit the Former Ueda Family Residence, you can also experience being at the heart of the imperial capital more than a millennium ago.

The Former Ueda Family Residence is now under the management of Muko City and is open to the public free of charge. The site includes the main house, an uchi-kura (a storehouse connected to the living area, mainly for storing household goods), a soto-kura (an outdoor storehouse), a hanare or detached reception room, a fence, and a central gate. The okudo-san, an affectionate nickname given to a traditional kitchen stove, is still in place, allowing visitors to imagine the life of a farming family at the dawn of the 20th century.

The Dairi (Emperor’s Residence) at Nagaoka-kyo was protected by a double-layered corridor, and excavations have revealed that the Former Ueda Family Residence stands on the remains of the Dairi Inner Corridor. On the site, you can see marks where the remains of pillars from the Nagaoka-kyo structures were found, letting you picture what it must have looked like in those days.

Left: Image of the restored Nagaoka-kyo Dairi Inner Corridor. It is estimated to have been a magnificent structure with a tiled roof and a 4.5m-high earthen wall. (Picture courtesy of Muko City Board of Education)
Right: Excavation of the Former Ueda Family Residence. Roof tiles were also excavated at the site. (Picture courtesy of Muko City Archaeological Center)
Former Ueda Family Residence

Former Ueda Family Residence

Built in 1910, this is an old family home that is located on the historic site of Nagaoka-kyo, which is a former capital of Japan. The residence is preserved in the state it was built in over 100 year …

Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art

The Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art is located in a 1.8-hectare garden in the southern foothills of Mt. Tennozan. In addition to an unparalleled collection of art, visitors can also enjoy taking in the museum architecture, which was designed to harmonize with the surrounding environment.

The main building, with its triangular roof in the style of a British mountain retreat, is the main attraction. It was designed by industrialist Shotaro Kaga (1888-1954) as a weekend home, and it took him about 20 years, starting in 1912, to complete the building. The structure is an eclectic design that incorporates both British and Japanese architectural styles and motifs. In addition to this main building, a total of six buildings, including the facility’s tea house and old garage, have been designated as National Tangible Cultural Properties. The Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art can be said to be the result of Kaga’s exceptional taste and aesthetics.


Every inch of the building is evidence of Kaga’s meticulous attention to detail. The entrance hall, lined with solid wood beams, has a stately atmosphere. Various stained-glass windows decorate the walls. The upper left photo shows gold that has been kneaded into the metallic feature. When it catches the light, it glows orange like a sunset.

Lower left: picture courtesy of Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art

The old living room is also a must-see. The fireplace is embedded with Chinese stone reliefs (decorations used on ancient Chinese tombs), and the background panels sport a bamboo shoot motif, a specialty of the Otokuni region. The room is full of fun and playful design elements.

The core of the museum collection is dedicated to Japanese folk art of the Mingei cultural movement that began in 1926. Mingei refers to utensils and items for daily life that were made by unnamed craftsmen. Tamesaburo Yamamoto, the first president of Asahi Beer, was one of the early art collectors who recognized the sense of beauty inherent in these everyday objects. The collection includes ceramics by Kanjiro Kawai, Bernard Leach, and others, as well as old folk art from the East and West.


The coffee shop on the second floor has a spacious terrace with a view of the Kizu, Uji, and Katsura Rivers as well as Otokoyama, the location of the Iwashimizu Haghimangu Shrine. It is a pleasant surprise to realize that this spectacular view was incorporated into the design of the building.

There are also two modern annexes that have been constructed as a counterpart to the classical style of the main building. Both annexes were designed by contemporary Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The Underground Jewelry Box (South Wing) is a cylindrical gallery built for the museum’s opening in 1996. It is unique in that the concrete structure is embedded underground so as not to spoil the surrounding environment. The photo shows the beautiful approach to the below-ground entrance.

There are many other attractions within the grounds. A visit to the garden is recommended, as the flowers in bloom change from season to season.

Asahi Group Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art

Asahi Group Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art

The Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art consists of the main building, which was built between the 1910s and early 1930s, and two annexes—the Underground Jewelry Box (South Wing) and the Dream Bo …

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