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  • Japanese: 善光寺 (zenkou-ji)

Zenkô-ji is a major temple of the Tendai Jôdo sect, located in Nagano. The temple is believed to have been founded during the reign of Empress Suiko (r. 593-628), and during the Tokugawa period became patronized by the Tokugawa shogunate, and made a branch temple of Kan'ei-ji.

A statue of Amida held at the temple is particularly famous; a hibutsu (hidden Buddha) sculpture believed to have been brought to Japan from China in 552,[1] it is never shown to the public. It was traditionally believed to be not simply a spiritually efficacious image of Amida, but to be the living incarnation of Amida himself; Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo is said to have improperly viewed it twice in 1195, and claimed that between the two times, the hands had moved. Due to popular interest and devotion to the image, the temple produced a number of replicas which it put on display, though eventually some of these replicas came to be considered sacred enough to also be hidden away from sight.[2]

The original Zenkô-ji Amida was removed to Hôkô-ji by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who sought to elevate the power and prestige of that temple. As it is meant to never be seen, it was transported inside a closed box, and is believed to have never been seen by anyone throughout the process of transportation, nor during its time at Hôkô-ji. The sculpture was returned to Zenkô-ji in the 1660s, when Hôkô-ji was reduced by the Tokugawa shogunate.[1]


  • Arai Hakuseki, Joyce Ackroyd (trans.), Told Round a Brushwood Fire, University of Tokyo Press (1979), 292n124.
  1. 1.0 1.1 Timon Screech, Obtaining Images, University of Hawaii Press (2012), 95-98.
  2. Screech, 120.
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