Ishiteji ( 石手寺 ) literally means the Stone Hand Temple, is one of the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage. The Shikoku Pilgrimage (四国遍路 ) or Shikoku Junrei (四国巡礼) is a famous 88 temples pilgrimage to honor Buddhist monk Kuukai on the island of Shikoku, Japan. The Ishiteji is temple number 51.
While I was in Matsuyama, I visited this temple on my free time. Unfortunately, I couldn't explore the whole temple because I needed to go back to my Hotel to prepare for Shimanami Kaido trip. A shame, but I managed to explore quite a bit.
Yes, it is a really huge Temple.
Ishiteji is close to Dogo Onsen. You can catch a 5 minutes short bus ride or walk for about 20 minutes.
The temple was founded by Gyouki (行基), a Japanese Buddhist Priest of the Nara period. The temple was originally called Annoyouji and later was changed to Ishiteji because of Emon Saburou.
According to the legend (read: wikipedia), a mendicant visited the house of Emon Saburō, richest man in Shikoku, seeking alms. Emon refused, broke the pilgrim's begging bowl, and chased him away. After his eight sons fell ill and died, Emon realized that Kūkai was the affronted pilgrim and set out to seek his forgiveness. Having traveled round the island twenty times clockwise in vain, he undertook the route in reverse. Finally he collapsed exhausted and on his deathbed Kūkai appeared to grant absolution. Emon requested that he be reborn into a wealthy family in Matsuyama so that he might restore a neglected temple. Dying, he clasped a stone. Shortly afterwards a baby was born with his hand grasped tightly around a stone inscribed 'Emon Saburō is reborn'. When the baby grew up, he used his wealth to restore the Ishiteji (Stone Hand Temple), in which there is an inscription of 1567 recounting the tale.
Ishiteji is best known for its Hondo (the main hall), the three-storied pagoda and the Niomon Gate which are designated as National Treasure and Important Cultural Properties.
There are also tunnels, weird statues, carvings, and more buildings there. I couldn't explore all of it, but I'm quite satisfied to be able to look around more than half of it.