Gakuenji Temple 鰐淵寺
A majestic 6th-century temple that was a training center for mountain ascetics
Sometimes the best places to visit are not necessarily the easiest places to visit, like Gakuenji Temple. Located high in the Kitayama Mountains of Shimane Peninsula and set among majestic trees, this was once the greatest temple in all of Izumo, pre-dating Kyoto temples by centuries.
How to Get There
Take a bus from Unshuhirata Station bound for Shishigahana. Get off at the Gakuenji Chushajo bus stop. From there, the temple is a 10-minute walk up the road.
Many people choose to hike here along the Chugoku Nature Trail, a 2,200-kilometer-long walking route that circles west Japan. To the west, the trail passes over the forested mountain to Izumo Taisha, and to the east, it goes to Ichibata Temple, a famous mountaintop temple with views of Lake Shinji .
One of the oldest temples in Japan
Established in the 6th century, this was a major center for mountain ascetic training. Most of the buildings that once spread out over the steep hillsides are now gone, but what remains is evocative and atmospheric. In November, when the maples have turned crimson, the whole area seems aflame.
As you pass through the imposing Niomon, housing fierce-looking Nio guardians, you will see the massive priests' house across the stream. Nearby is Onarimon, a gate exclusively used by members of the Imperial family.
A shrine brought over the mountains
Next to the main hall is Matara Shrine, which was brought over the mountains piece by piece from Izumo Taisha, where it originally stood, and reassembled.
Follow a mountain path along a small stream through an ancient forest to Zaodo Hall. Built into the cliff face behind a waterfall, it is said that the legendary warrior-monk Benkei trained here. Enjoy the silence and try to imagine how such a building was constructed.