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Jackie is a customer support assistant in our office in Nagoya, Japan. She recently paid a visit to the “Ninja Temple” in Kanazawa – read on to find out how she fared…
I’ve been a fan of Japanese shrines and temples for quite some time, and I’m always keen to check another one off my list. The most recent temple I’ve had opportunity to visit is Myouryuji Ninjadera, a Nichiren Buddhist Temple located in Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture. In the past several months, I’ve heard a lot about this place, so I decided to pop over and see it for myself during a recent trip to Kanazawa.
The proper name of the temple is Myouryuji, but it is fondly known as “Ninjadera” – or “Ninja Temple.” The name is a bit of a misnomer, as the temple itself is not associated with any Japanese ninja clans. However you might say that the building itself is quite the ninja since there are numerous secret passages, trap doors, and hidden features within. The only way to find out the mysteries is to make an advance reservation for one of the temple’s guided group tours.
Myouryuji is a short ride away from Kanazawa station by car and – according to my taxi driver that day – it is the third most visited spot in Kanazawa, next only to Kenrokuen Park and the old-fashioned geisha district.
The first ninja-like aspect about “Ninjadera” is that it’s hidden in plain sight. Originally founded in late 1500s by the Maeda Clan – one of the serving families to Oda Nobunaga – it was relocated to its current spot in Kanazawa’s Teramachi district in 1643. Tucked away and a short walk from the main road, it’s not somewhere I expected to find a secretive temple.
When joining the tour, there is a strict set of rules guests must adhere to, including but not limited to arriving early for your reservation and not speaking or translating during the tour. Taking photos inside the temple is also not allowed, partially as a safety precaution.
While the tour itself is conducted entirely in Japanese, there is a very useful English language handbook available for non-Japanese visitors. Provided at the beginning of the tour and collected afterwards, the handbook contains detailed explanations of each of the features so that you can follow along with everything your guide describes on the tour. Reading through it after listening to the Japanese explanations, I found that the descriptions matched up very well with what the guide was saying. Chances are you won’t miss a beat!
Without giving too many of the temple’s secrets away, I will say I was surprised to find that the designers of Myouryuji were not only cunning in their planning of the layout, they were refreshingly rebellious for their era. The building was designed to protect the Maeda Clan’s feudal lord from enemy attack during his prayers, but it also incorporates certain features that were banned during the Edo Period. For example, at street view the temple appears to adhere to the Edo Period’s rule that no buildings should be more than two stories high. On entering however, you will find that not only is the building four stories tall, it has a seven-layer internal structure hidden within. These “forbidden” floors are only accessible through hidden staircases, the location of which – well, that’s best found out with a visit!
Even going in with some expectations, Myouryuji surprised me. It’s one of the most unique temples I’ve visited in Japan and it most definitely worth seeing if you happen to be passing through Kanazawa.
Our Traditional Japan itinerary is an excellent choice, combining Kanazawa with the samurai castle at Matsumoto, the thatched farmhouses of Shirakawago, and much more. Get in touch with us to find out more.