Shiofune Kannon-ji temple (塩 船 観 音 寺) is a large Buddhist complex belonging to the Shingon sect. The temple, located west of Tokyo in a valley near the city of Ome, is famous for the flowering of its azaleas (Rhododendron tsutsuji – evergreen) in spring.
Foundation of the temple by the nun Bikuni
The name “Shiofune”, literally “salt boat”, was assigned to the temple because of its curved topography resembling a ship.
The foundation of the temple dates back to the Taika era (AD 645–650). According to legend, a Buddhist nun from Wakasa province, Yao Bikuni, enshrined a statue of the goddess Kannon in the valley.
This nun is known as Happyaku Bikuni because she’s thought to have lived 800 years. thanks to (accidentally) eating mermaid flesh. This impressive longevity has allowed her to travel throughout Japan.
Kannon is the goddess of mercy and compassion. She hears the cries of the world and helps those who call upon her. In Japan she’s known as Kannon, but changes name and form according to the country.
Senju Kannon, the statue sanctified by the nun Bikuni, is always kept in the temple, which reveals it to the public several times a year at various events.
The effigy is on display during the Azalea Festival, but what attracts most visitors is the spectacle of the dazzling colours on the hillsides.
Azalea Festival at Shiofune Kannon-ji Temple
From mid-April to mid-May, Shiofune Kannon-ji offers a magnificent spectacle with its 17,000 azalea bushes in bloom.
The hills surrounding the temple are entirely covered with flowering bushes, a multicoloured fiesta of pink, red, violet, white.
Right at the top, the imposing statue of Shiofune Heiwa Kannon dominates the colourful azalea bushes as far as the distant Tama hills.
The festival peaks on 3 May, with numerous celebrations. For the more adventurous, experienced firewalkers invite you to walk over hot coals.
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