Onjôji (Miidera) monastery, (in) Ôtsu, Shiga Prefecture, JP

Raw data

Miidera (“temple of the three wells”) is located between the townships of Miidera-chô and Onjôji-chô in Ôtsu City. The Kannon-dô (Hall of the Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva) has a view of Lake Biwa from its vantage on top of Nagara-san, a foothill of the mountains between Ôtsu and Kyoto.

According to legend, Emperor Tenmu (r. 672-686) commissioned the temple in 672 in honor of his deceased brother, Emperor Tenji, after seizing the throne from Tenji’s son, Prince Ôtomo, in the “Jinshin Disturbance.” Known as Onjôji, the monastery was built on the site of an older one (“predecessor to Onjôji”), attributed to Emperor Tenji. The predecessor had been one of four temples in auspicious locations around Emperor Tenji’s Ôtsu Palace. Kawaradera-style tiles have turned up. Since the site has not been excavated, however, its layout is presently unknown.

Along with Enryakuji, Kôfukuji and Tôdaiji, Onjôji became an important guardian of Heian-kyô, the imperial capital during the Heian period (794-1185). It was a subsidiary temple of Enryakuji on Mount Hiei, until Enchin became abbot in 859, a year after his return from a mission to China. By espousing the Jimon school, Enchin broke with the Sanmon school of the Tendai Sect at Enryakuji. He has also been credited for the new name, Miidera. Relations between the two monasteries deteriorated, especially in the 11th century, when Miidera petitioned the imperial court for its own independent ordination platform. The request was denied. Nevertheless, novices ceased going to Enryakuji to be ordained, and went instead to the more distant Tôdaiji in Nara. Armed monks (“warrior monks”) from Enryakuji burned down Mii-dera four times in the 11th century. Yet, shifting relationships between monasteries meant that on occasion Enryakuji sided with Mii-dera against other rivals, such as Kôfukuji in Nara.

Miidera was damaged during the Genpei Wars (1180-85) that brought the Heian period to a close. The main gate was rebuilt in 1452. Several buildings were destroyed when warlord Oda Nobunaga burned Enryakuji to the ground in 1571. Oda’s successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, burned down the original main (golden) hall. It was replaced in 1599. The belfry was rebuilt in 1602.

The early treasures of Miidera that have survived include an 11th century wooden statue of Miidera’s guardian divinity, Shinra Myôjin, as well as two wooden statues of Enchin, dating to the ninth and tenth centuries respectively. There are various treasures from the Kamakura period (1185-1333), including the 13th-century wooden figure of Kishibojin (Hariti), protector of children and childbirth. Miidera’s bell was famous for its sound, and was featured in the 15th-century Noh play, “Miidera.” The temple is also mentioned in the early 11th-century Tale of Genji.

- McCallum (2009: 70)
- “List of National Treasures of Japan (sculptures).” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_National_Treasures_of_Japan_(sculptures)
- “Mii-dera.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mii-dera
- “Miidera ni tsuite.” http://www.shiga-miidera.or.jp/about/index.htm
- McCullough & Shively (1999: 495-7)

Src: JPN

Input by: Lizbeth H. Piel, Mar 17, 2010

Final data (and their sources)

Last updated: 30 Jan 2014

Lat/Long coordinates' accuracy:
The monastery in question is assumed to be situated actually no farther than 200 m from the point defined by the coordinates below.

Location of Miidera monastery, JP.

General location of the Miidera monastery, JP.
Lat 35.0133 Long 135.8528
Mapping & images: Falling Rain Genomics (http://www.fallingrain.com), 2009.

Google Map link:


Final data - explanatory notes

1. Monastery's name

  • Miidera 三井寺 monastery. Alternative English spelling: Mii-dera, Onjoji

2. Monastery's modern country & province

  • Japan: Shiga Prefecture

3. Monastery's alternative/historical names

  • Onjô-ji, Onjôji, Nagara-san Onjôji

4. Monastery's lat/long coordinates

  • Approx., Lat 35.0133 Long 135.8528 - based on visual identification of the monastery in satellite images, using maps.google.com - tmciolek, 26 Mar 2010.

5. Other known nearby Buddhist monasteries

6. Modern name of the known nearest city, town, or village

  • Ôtsu-shi (Ôtsu City), Onjôji-chô

7. The settlement's alternative/historical names

8. The settlement's coordinates

9. Monastery's major Buddhist tradition

  • Mahayana

10. Monastery's Buddhist sub-tradition

  • Tendai sect (Chinese: Tien-tai)

11. Date-early

MBM chrono-tag: 0667-99c - tmciolek 30 Jan 2014
0667-99c 0700-32c 0733-66c 0767-99c 0800-32c 0833-66c 0867-99c 0900-32c 0933-66c 0967-99c 1000-32c 1033-66c 1067-99c 1100-32c 1133-66c 1167-99c 1200=> dated-el

12. Date-intermediate

13. Date-late

MBM chrono-tag: 1200=> - tmciolek 30 Jan 2014

14. Details of contacts with other monasteries

  • The “predecessor to Onjôji” was part of the Ôtsukyô temple system established by Emperor Tenji. Through Tenji there is a relationship with Kawaradera in Asuka (Nara Prefecture). Miidera had relations with Enryakuji, Kôfukuji and Tôdaiji.

15. Type of evidence regarding the monastery

  • Archaeological, documents

16. Additional notes

  • In 1081, Miidera consisted of “fifteen imperially sponsored temples, seventy-nine halls, fifteen sutra repositories, and dozens of other structures.” - McCullough & Shively (1999: 496)

17. Corrections & addenda to this page were kindly provided by

  • [missing data]

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