Souanji is a small Buddhist temple a short distance from Hikone castle. It has an eventful 700 year history, destroyed in wars and fires, and an important point of worship for both the Ii family prior to the civil war, and the Ishidani family after it, and frequently used to host Korean emissaries . Today Souanji enshrines a variety of designated cultural assets which, for 200 yen, are available to view.
Unusually, we were left alone in the quiet and on soft carpets, to read our page and explore. This room would be used for Buddhist services, and there were seats for at least three priests, set up with microphones and hollow drums. On either side of the stage were old scrolls and Ojizo statues.
Souanji used to be a temple with a great deal of influence. It is near the centre of Hikone, a few minutes walk from the castle. Some of its cultural assets include a tablet memorialising Iesu Tokugawa on his death, a Buddhist Ojizo statue from the Edo era governor of Hikone, Ishidani Mitsunai, on his mother’s death, and a small room full of Korean books, scrolls and paintings. Korea was invaded, during the Sengoku civil war era, and hoped in the Edo era to improve their relations with Japan. Korean emissaries visited 12 times, 10 of which they spent in Souanji.
Then there is the massive rook-looking chess piece, which I am not really certain about at all.
There is a small, but lovely Japanese garden, best enjoyed while lounging on the age smoothed wood of the balconies.
The garden was rebuilt in 1968, perhaps after being neglected during the Meiji era, which saw the destruction of many temples and shrines, as well as castles.
Souanji is worth a visit. For 200 yen you can meander quietly, uninterrupted by other tourists (we went on a Sunday and were alone, though Hikone is a busy tourist town and Souanji is on the main street south of the castle). I enjoyed getting a closer view of the instruments and decorations used in Buddhist ceremonies, and resting on the dark wood ledges overhanging the garden, separated for a time from the rest of tourist hubbub Hikone.
- Japan Geographic (in Japanese) which gave me a good overview of Souanji’s history
- Sarah from Shiga Monogatari and her account of our Sunday spent exploring Hikone