The Myoken Bodhisattva is an incarnation of the Polestar or the Big Dipper; it is thus called Sacred Star King (Myoken Sonjo-o) or North-pole Myoken Bodhisattva (Hokushin Myoken Bosatsu).
The “Dhāraṇī Jinju Sutra Preached by Seven Buddhas and Eight Bodhisattvas, Part 2” expounds that the Myoken Bodhisattva is the most eminent among all revered figures, and is thus regarded as a Sonjo, or sacred star, that protects the whole country. The sacred star is further said to vanquish death, enhance vital forces and increase one’s balance-sheet of happiness.
Since the Heian period (794-1192), the Myoken Bodhisattva has been greatly respected as the chief of the stars, who presides over the fortune of all things in the universe. There are a number of temples which enshrine Myoken Bodhisattva in Kyoto and the nearby prefectures. In the Middle Ages, the Myoken Bodhisattva was embraced by powerful regional clans as their guardian deity.
In early modern times, following the lead of several local lords who took refuge in Myoken Bodhisattva, many commoners also became believers. With the growth of the wealthy merchant class, the Myoken Bodhisattva turned into a god of commerce. It also came to attain widespread respect as a Bodhisattva who has beneficial power for easy births, prosperity and good marriages.
Since the middle of the Edo period (1603-1868), the twelve temples which enshrine Myoken Bodhisattva, situated in the twelve directions from the Imperial Palace of Kyoto, have been designated as Rakuyo Junishi Myoken (Myoken of the Twelve Chinese Zodiac Temples in Kyoto) and considered to be especially powerful. Jojakko-ji temple is one of them, located in the direction of the Rooster (west).
The Myoken Bodhisattva statue in this temple was found during the Keicho era (1596-1610) by a boatman living in Sumikura-cho, when the Hozu River flooded and the statue was mysteriously washed ashore. For years it was enshrined in the public assembly hall of Sumikura-cho district. It was transferred to this temple at the time of the 22nd priest (also named Nippo), at the beginning of the 19th century. Since then, it has been called “Tori-no-Myoken Bosatsu (the Myoken Bodhisattva in the direction of the Rooster).” Over the years from the end of the Edo period to the beginning of the Showa (1925-1987), the temple was bustling with worshippers, not only from Kyoto but also from the whole of Western Japan, who prayed for good luck and to ward off evil.
In the time of the 26th chief priest, Nissen (?-1857), Myoken-do hall was constructed. During the time of the 28th priest, Nichigyo (?-1860), the torii gate in front of Myoken-do was donated by Hayata Sahichi, one of the followers, and four stone lanterns placed inside and outside the torii gate were donated in 1845 by the believers’ groups, Myoshinko and the Tenjinko. The names of individual and shop donors are engraved on the lanterns, including old establishments like Daikokuya, Matsuya, Ebisuya, Chojiya, Momenya and Owariya.
As the name “Myoken” can also be interpreted to mean “beautiful features,” actors and actresses as well as women working in the entertainment quarters worship this deity. An exquisite table, placed before the altar in the hall, was donated by kabuki actors. The popularity of Tori-no-Myoken soared during the Bunsei, Tenpo and Koka eras (1818-1846) and greatly contributed to the protection of Jojakko-ji temple. In the time of the 42th priest, Nikken (1878 -1942), the Myoshin-kai group and a women’s association were formed by the followers and local merchant families. The Myoken-do Worship Hall was added in 1928 and the fence around it was donated in 1933 by believers. In the time of the 44th priest, Nitto, in 1974, the main hall and the Myoken-do Worship Hall were entirely refurbished with donations from devotees and supporters as well as income from the admission fee. In 2006 their roof tiles were renewed and the lattice-ceilings were restored. In this way Myoken-do hall has been maintained and refined along with the history of Jojakko-ji temple. When you come to the temple, you really must visit Myoken-do.