Bunny Shrine in Sendai

Shinto, Buddha, and some funny bunnies

By Justin Velgus    - 4 min read

Those who traveled or lived in Japan more than a few days sometimes come to the thinking that “If you have seen one shrine or temple, you have seen them all.” While many shrines and temples have common characteristics, it is the little extras that add a sense of charm. For me, the best shrines or temples need to have a balance of: easy access yet not well-known, an interesting history, and some fun things to see. Matching and exceeding my own standards, the Bunny Shrine in Sendai hops to the top of my favorites list.

What I call the Bunny Shrine, is officially called Jyusozan-Monjyubosatsudo (鷲巣山文殊菩薩堂). This magical place is about a 15 minute walk away from the famous Hachiman Shrine. Just walk upstream of the Hirose River on the Sakunami Highway, then look for stairs that lead up into a cluster of towering cedar trees (see picture). Go up and you will find a mix of Shinto, Buddha, and funny bunny images abound. There is so much going on at this shrine that it is even hard to begin to explain.

In 1603, founder of Sendai feudal lord Date Masamune built Jyusozan-Mojyubosatsudo. This was just two years after he built the city's castle. You'll see a mix of Buddhist temple and Shinto shrine connections here. It was a simpler time, regarding religions as more similar than different. This idea was commonplace nationwide until shortly after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 when regulations enforced separations. However, in fact, this place is neither shrine, nor temple. It is a place to worship, or at least give thanks and gratitude to, the spirit of the rabbit. Why? Why not? The real reason would be because Date Masamune was born in the year of the rabbit, according to the Chinese lunar calendar. As such, there are several rabbit images including pictures, wooden votive tablets, a statue at the second set of stairs, and the massive bunny ready to scare any unknowing visitor that walks through the front gate and glimpses to the right! Look closely at the roof on the main shrine building and from the right angle you can see some rabbit decorations doing handstands! Sadly, there are no live rabbits running around...unless they were hiding when I visited.

Several minor shrines and some Buddhist symbols can be found around the rest of the compound. Most obvious are 33 Kannon statues flanking an edge from the top of the first staircase to the main shrine. Kannon is a goddess of mercy, said to be able to transform itself into 33 forms. These were constructed relatively recently in the four century history of the Bunny Shrine. The statues were erected in 2003 to mark the 400th anniversary of the shrine. I am puzzled why the statues wear white bibs. Usually only Jizo statues wear bibs, and they are almost always red. Perhaps it is a color to match with the rabbit theme? 

Upon a little more research, I learned this is one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animal pilgrimage sites in Sendai. I actually already went to a few of the other locations with other animal spirits by coincidence, such as the dragon, horse, and monkey locations. I did not realize their significance at the time. The animal motifs at other locations seem to be something just added onto a regular temple in most cases. Meanwhile the Bunny Shrine seems to have the most to see by far if judging by its representative animal. Also because of its interesting history, I would recommend this location above all others. The Bunny Shrine makes for a few fun photos, is not crowded, and is full of mystery. Hopefully after reading some of its secrets, you can enjoy your visit even more.

Looking for more pilgrimage trekking adventures in Sendai? Try the 33 Kannon pilgrimage or the Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimage.

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Justin Velgus

Justin Velgus @justin.velgus

Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is a long-term resident and promoter in the Tohoku region. He has been a content producer for JapanTravel.com since 2012 and was the Miyagi Prefecture Regional Partner 2013-2015. Justin’s over 300 published travel and culture articles come from a background of studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and working for the government in Fukushima. He lives in the gyutan capital of the world, Sendai.   Justin is an expert in local culture and history. He was the first foreign volunteer at Sendai City Museum and regularly advises the local volunteer guide group GOZAIN , which he is a veteran member, on guiding techniques and hidden locations in the city even locals don't know about. In his free time he enjoys delivering original walking tours, such as his Dark Sendai Tour (ghost tour) or Kokubuncho Mystery Tour (redlight district tour). Justin is also a Certified Sake Professional.

Join the discussion

Elena Lisina 8 months ago
I regret that I missed this shrine visiting Sendai!
Renee Puzio 3 years ago
Justin,
Thank you so much for this article. I am currently writing a novel about Japan and was wondering if I could use the information you provided about this place that was so near and dear to Date Masamune's heart and soul.
Also, your comment about the white bibs intrigued me, so I did some looking. I found a great article about Jizou at http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/jizo1.shtml
It's quite long and full of wonderful information. In reads, in part, "In the Muromachi period, images of the Life-Prolonging Jizō (Enmei Jizō 延命地蔵) began appearing along with two youthful acolytes-servants known as Shōzen 掌善 (white in color, holding a white lotus, master of good, standing to the left of Jizō), and Shōaku 掌悪 (red in color, holding a vajra club, master of evil, standing to the right of Jizō). These two are seldom represented in artwork, but rather symbolized by white and red cloth attached to many Jizō statues. This Pure-Land symbolism obviously borrowed from similar iconography associated with the esoteric Shingon deity Fudō Myō-ō, who is often accompanied by two youthful acolytes-servants known as the white-skinned Kongara Dōji 矜羯羅童子 (who personifies obedience) and the red-colored Seitaka Dōji 制姙迦童子 (who personifies expedient action). "
Perhaps, Masamune meant to signify that the kami and bodhisattva surrounding Jyusozan-Mojyubosatsudo were protective and good?
Again, thank you so much for your great articles on Sendai! Please keep writing!
Justin Velgus Author 3 years ago
Thank you for the great comment and useful info. You can of course use this info, but I am just a hobby historian and far from an expert--so you may want a second opinion. The website you linked is one of my favorites. But I have not read this article. Cheers!
Victoria Vlisides 3 years ago
"Bunny Shrine" -- Cute!
Bonson Lam 3 years ago
In ancient times the hours of the day were named after animals, so the hour of the rabbit is between 0500 and 0700. So morning people must be quick like the rabbit! Thank you for your fascinating article, Justin, this is the first time I saw a rabbit shrine.
Bonson Lam 3 years ago
Wow Justin, that is amazing. You were destined to be part of Sendai!
This is interesting place and you were right. I guessed that shrines is pretty same but they have their own characteristic. It must be another chinese zodiac shrines we could find around Japan.