The Five-Storied Pagoda at Saishoin 最勝院五重塔

Hirosaki is home to many beautiful and historic landmarks, one of which is the Five-Storied Pagoda at Saishoin.

This pagoda is said to be the most beautiful pagoda in the entire Tohoku region and is one of the northernmost pagodas in Japan. It stands at 31.2 m (102.4 ft) and was built completely without the use of nails. 

The Five-Storied Pagoda at Saishoin was built by Tsugaru Nobuhira, who wanted a pagoda built as a memorial for the souls of all the people who died in battle to unify the Tsugaru area. The building was completed in 1667. Then in 1908 this pagoda was marked as important cultural property. 

The pagoda is beautiful during all four seasons, but draws the most attention in the spring during cherry blossom season. Unfortunately, a lot of places were closed to limit travel during Spring 2020, so I didn’t get any photos of the pagoda with the blossoms.

The temple is a fairly large one. If you enter from the front you’ll be greeted by two bunny statues in front of a large sanmon.

After you walk through the gate the pagoda will be on your left and the road will be lined by stone statues of Bodhisattva. The trees lining the path always have fall foliage, which is a lovely backdrop to the pagoda.

After walking through this path you’ll be greeted by a big bell that you can ring for 200 yen. I’ve always been to embarrassed to ring it myself but I always make my friends go up and do it!

Behind the bell lies a very large chōzu-bachi where you can wash your hands. This chōzu-bachi is actually the most detailed one I’ve ever seen in Japan. Typically they just have the head of a dragon pouring water from its mouth but this one has a full bodied dragon holding a golden sphere.

The structure around the chōzu-bachi is also very elaborate in that it has four oni holding up the roof. These four oni are called gohou shizen-oni (護法四善鬼).

Each Oni represent a different human emotion. The four human emotions are called kidouairaku (喜怒哀楽), which represent joy (喜), anger (怒), grief (哀) and pleasure (楽).

The story behind these demons is that they were once evil, but where saved from the abyss by Nyorai, a type of Zen Buddhism, and now stand to protect the Buddhist temple.

Behind the chōzu-bachi is the main temple, where you can ring a bell as well as light incense. 

If you walk past the main temple off to the left there are also a number of other smaller temples and a place to hang up your omikuji and ema.

If you are facing the main temple there will be a building off to your right which is where you can purchase omamori and other good luck charms.

The pagoda is incredibly detailed, it is hard to believe that a structure so tall is built without nails. If you visit Hirosaki, this is definitely a site that you wouldn’t want to miss!

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