Sendai's Octopus Temple

Pray to heal your skin disease while viewing cute motifs

By Justin Velgus    - 3 min read

It seems everything in Japan from colors to customs has a deeper meaning which manifests into confusion and chaos, but also adventure and enlightenment for the foreign traveler or expat. I experience a similar sensation every time I visit an old shrine or temple. Each has its own history mixed with legends and myths—some which may actually be true! One oddly satisfying experience is the “Octopus Temple” in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture.

After an ancient tsunami believed to be caused by the powerful 1611 Keicho Oshu Earthquake, an octopus was found clinging tightly to a Buddhist statue which had washed ashore. The statue was a Goddess of Mercy “Kannon” statue, however it came to be venerated as Yakushi Nyorai, a popular deity known for its healing powers. The Tako Yakushi-do Temple (literally “Octopus Yakushi Hall”) was built in the modern-day Nagamachi neighborhood right alongside the Butai Hachiman Shrine. This is why you’ll see a tori gate associated with the Shinto religion on the left path which leads to the shrine. The path on the right leads to the Buddhist temple.

The base of the Octopus Temple
The base of the Octopus Temple

So why was the Kannon statue switched to a Yakushi Nyorai version? I imagine some had washed away or were damaged in the earthquake and tsunami. Or maybe it was decided there were not enough Yakushi Nyorai statues as Sendai City was just founded 12 years earlier in 1600. Years later the 4th head of the Date Clan would construct 33 Kannon temples, which may mean there was some deity balancing going on, but I’ll stop speculating. The most likely answer seems to be Japan’s love of wordplay.

The word “tako” in Japanese means both “octopus” and “callous” (toughened skin which leads to blisters if irritated). Yakushi Nyorai is said to ease the pain of sickness. Thus, praying here specifically is said to help cure skin diseases—in case the hot springs of nearby Akiu and Sakunami are not working for you.

Octopus design lantern in front of Buddhist statues
Octopus design lantern in front of Buddhist statues

Around the temple you’ll find octopus motifs on the lanterns, wooden votive tablets (“ema”), and even some “octo-omiyage souvenirs for sale at the temple/shrine office. This goes without saying, but to show your respect, I recommend not eating any takoyaki the day of your visit!

Looking for more animal fun? On the other side of Sendai is the cute and curious Bunny Shrine!

Getting there

Access: Take the JR train (5 minutes) or subway (8 minutes) from Sendai Station to Nagamachi Station, then walk 5 minutes.

Was this article helpful?

Suggest an edit

74
10
Justin Velgus

Justin Velgus @justin.velgus

Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is the Miyagi Prefecture Partner for Japan Travel and a longterm contributor since 2012 with a focus on the Tohoku region.  Justin has written extensively for JT, and other publications such as VisitMiyagi and Sake Today, amassing over 350 published articles introducing the travel and culture of the region. Justin's wealth of experience and knowledge comes from studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and promoting sake overseas for the government of Fukushima. Now Justin helps with inbound tourism and regional promotion while also enjoying his role as a volunteer tour guide in Sendai, the gyutan capital of the world.

Join the discussion

Jonathan Stimmer 4 days ago
Love your articles Justin! Always something new and fascinating to be learned.
Elena Lisina a week ago
Quite unusual story! Justin, I wonder how do you find the stories - ask people or read somewhere?
Elizabeth S 4 days ago
Like Justin, I learn about a lot of the cool places I visit and write about simply by exploring.

Pick a destination and check out Google maps for the lesser-known spots that you might miss if you simply walked by them.
Sleiman Azizi a week ago
Octo-omiyage...That sounds out there!
Bonson Lam a week ago
It is surprising how Octopus can be larger than life in Japan, from Ukiyo-e paintings, folk stories and now this temple.
Justin Velgus Author a week ago
Good point! I'll need to study this topic more. Japan places great importance on the sea, but I don't see too many fish shrines. In nearby Matsushima, there is a memorial connected to eels, to thank them for providing food to us humans.
Kim a week ago
Unique find! I've seen temples focused on a variety of animals, but this is definitely a new one!
Justin Velgus Author a week ago
Look hard enough and there is probably a shrine or temple for every animal. Let's go hunting!