At the southern end of the town on Miyajima, at the base of the mountains, is Daisho-in Temple, which is probably the most notable Buddhist temple on the island. Most people approach Daisho-in by climbing the main staircase up to the temple but there’s also a secondary staircase that’s lined with small statues. Most of the hundreds of statues along the trail have knitted hats on them, and a couple even had scarves. These statues are meant to represent the Buddha’s first disciples and every year new hats and scarves are knitted for them.
Daisho-in was first established in the year 806 by a monk name Kukai, who is more popularly referred to as Kōbō-Daishi. In addition to founding Daisho-in, Kōbō-Daishi would create the Shingon school of Buddhism and become one of Japan’s most famous and influential Buddhist monks. The temple complex has many buildings and as far as I can tell it is the second largest religious site on Miyajima, after Itsukushima Shrine. Be prepared to be going up and down plenty of stairs if you want to try to see everything.
For me the most notable part of the temple was Henjokutsu Cave. In this room are 88 Buddhist icons that represent the 88 temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage route. It is said that visiting and praying here can get you the same blessings as actually visiting all 88 temples, which sounds very convenient.
Not every building at Daisho-in was open to the public but I tried to visit as many as I could while also checking out the various small shrines and statues scattered around the temple grounds. In the main hall I couldn’t help but notice the portrait of Emperor Meiji, as well as some photos of the Dalai Lama. Apparently Emperor Meiji stayed here back in 1885 and the Dalai Lama visited in 2006.
Since I had taken the secondary staircase when going up to Daisho-in Temple I hiked down the main stairs when I was leaving. The railing in the center of the staircase has metal prayer wheels that you can spin as you ascend or descend the stairs and at the ends of each set of prayer wheels you can find more bits of Buddhist artwork. Spinning the wheels is considered equivalent to reading a Buddhist sutra.