Taming the Tiger Temple of Nara
Hidden away on the forested slopes of Mount Shigi in Nara Prefecture, Chogosonshi-ji is a striking temple complex best known for the giant papier-mâché tiger guarding its gate. With other highlights, including a tiger tunnel and a stunning view from the mountaintop, it’s an unmissable destination on your Nara itinerary!
Although clearly a big draw for visitors, the temple’s tigers are more than just cute mascots—they’re actually an important reminder of the temple's origins. Chogosonshi-ji (朝護孫子寺), also referred to as Shigisan (信貴山), is a Buddhist temple dedicated to Bishamonten, the god of war and protector of warriors. According to legend, Prince Shotoku, a regent during the Asuka Period (538-710) came to Mount Shigi to pray for success in an upcoming battle. Bishamonten appeared before him at the Hour of the Tiger, on the Day of the Tiger, in the Year of the Tiger (according to the Chinese zodiac), and helped him lead his troops to victory. The prince later had this temple built as a sign of his gratitude.
'Tiger Tiger, Burning Bright'
Pretty much the first thing you see when you get to Chogosonshi-ji is its famous guardian: a papier-mâché tiger statue. Huge and vivid, it's impossible not to smile at the sight! But it's not the only tiger in town. The entire complex is adorned with the striped felines, making it one of the most unique temples you’re likely to visit here.
Just within the entrance, you’ll come across an elongated tiger tunnel with a gaping mouth at either end. Those brave enough to walk through it are said to be granted good luck. And in the center, there’s a place to hang small wooden plaques known as ema—decorated with a tiger, of course—on which you can write your wishes.
Exploring the Temple Grounds
While tigers may be the main attraction, Chogosonshi-ji has even more to offer. Keep heading up through the lantern-lined temple grounds and you’ll pass plenty of interesting features. The main hall has a spacious wooden balcony that juts out over the hillside, giving you a magnificent view of the valley below. It’s particularly beautiful during the spring when cherry blossoms abound, and in autumn with the vibrant red and orange leaves.
Also, be on the lookout for the walkway covered by vermillion torii gates, a couple of gorgeous red pagodas, and a building topped with a large silver Buddha statue. For those interested, it’s also possible to stay overnight in the shukubo, or temple lodgings, with the chance to join the monks for morning prayers.
How to Get There
The nearest station is Shigisanshita, but Shin-Oji and Sango stations are also nearby. From any one of these, you can walk up the hill to the temple in about 40-50 minutes. Alternatively, you can try to hail a taxi or hop on a bus from Oji Station (north exit). The nearest bus stop to the temple is Shigi Ohashi (信貴大橋).