UJITAWARA, Kyoto -- Some 20,000 visitors came to this town of 9,000 residents last year to see just one thing: A heart-shaped "inome (wild boar's eye)" window at the tiny Shojuin Buddhist temple.
The window was curved into that shape following an architectural design with some 1,400 years of history intended to repel evil spirits. Instead, it has been attracting a lot of visitors of the good sort. The temple's monks, who say they had no tourism pitch in their hearts, are surprised but happy with the surging popularity.
The temple of the Koyasan Shingon sect was established some 800 years ago. It is famous for a statue of Buddhism deity Acala, created by Kaikei, a master Kamakura-era (1185-1333) sculptor of Buddhist images. The statue is designated as an important cultural property by the national government.
Some seven years ago, the temple started a wind bell festival during summer where more than 1,000 wind bells adorn the precinct. Temple deputy monk Daikan Kunomura, 30, says that despite this attraction, "far less than 10,000 worshipers" a year came. It took some 10 minutes' walk to the temple from the last stop of a community bus service that runs only seven times a day; the distance hardly helped boost visitor numbers.
Everything changed in 2015. The temple erected a reception hall for tea ceremonies and other purposes, and based on a proposal from a carpenter, a heart-shaped inome window was built into the hall's western wall. Visitors to the wind bell festival loved the design, snapped pictures and posted to online photo sharing sites such as Instagram. Thus began an influx of new visitors from far and wide, coming for a glimpse of the hearty view.
The window opens onto a brook, and frames cherry blossoms in spring, green branches in summer, colorful leaves in fall and a snow covered garden in winter.
Says Kunomura, the deputy priest, "The window gave us an unintended result. I guess divine guidance brought us here."
(Japanese original by Kenji Yagura, Gakken Uji Bureau)