Shinjihiji

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Page ID1007404  Last update December 12, 2017

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Photo:Stairway leading up to the Keio Mogusaen Gardens

Stepping into the Keio Mogusaen gardens is like walking into a fairytale. The woods high up in the hills seem to create a world of their own and have attracted a number of accomplished poets with their beauty. Moreover, they’ve also been hiding traces of a long-lost legend – Shinjihiji.

Records suggest that hundreds and hundreds of years ago, a highly ranked temple on par with Asakusa’s Sensoji existed somewhere in Japan. This mysterious temple, Shinjihiji, has been mentioned in artifacts dating back to the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. At first, no one was sure exactly where the temple was, but recent clues point to the area around Hino’s own Mogusaen.

Photo: A sampling of roof tiles thought to be from Shinjihiji
Pictured: a sampling of roof tiles designated as City Cultural Property (photograph courtesy of the Hino City Local Museum)

Why Mogusaen? The story of Shinjihiji’s rediscovery begins suddenly in an unexpected place – the bathroom! While performing construction on the outdoor bathroom near Keio Mogusaen’s entrance, a large number of roof tiles were found under the ground. These tiles were examined and determined to be from the middle ages. What’s interesting about tiles is that many roofs of the time would have been thatched, indicating the presence of a special building worthy of more hardy covering. The tiles are thought to have lined Shinjihiji’s main hall or the Buddha statue’s hall.

Photo: Chokan era scripture tube
Pictured: a Chokan era scripture tube held at the Nara National Museum (photograph courtesy of the Hino City Local Museum)

In addition to the roof tiles, archaeologists have discovered other artifacts thought to belong to Shinjihiji. One example is the scripture tubes buried around Mogusaen. Scriptures were extremely valuable, especially due to a Buddhist belief that the Buddha’s teachings would be apocalyptically lost in the future. In order to preserve the information contained within, the precious scriptures were sealed inside protective tubes and buried in special mounds called kyozuka. The process is thought to have involved a grand ceremony led by Shinjihiji.

High up in the hills overlooking the surrounding land, an unnatural mound of rocks was discovered marking the location of one such kyozuka. As of now, a total of five kyozuka have been found scattered around the area.

Photo:Researchers and hobbyists attending a lecture on Shinjihiji

Another example and perhaps the most convincing is a 13th century Amitabha Buddha statue. This statue was cast in bronze in 1250. The statue bears an inscription on the back including a line similar to an address, complete with Shinjihiji’s name!

While much of the temple’s past is still shrouded in mystery, researchers and hobbyists continue to work towards new discoveries, such as this group attending an on-site lecture held by the Hino City Local Museum each September. The museum has also put together resources chronicling what we know of Shinjihiji and its rediscovery. If you’re interested in learning more about the long-forgotten temple and are up for a challenge, you can pick up Japanese pamphlets with maps and timelines at the Hino City Local Museum (website in Japanese) next time you’re in the area.

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