Sendai is a very nice place to live in if you are a history maniac. Especially if you like to search for things from long ago and if you find some special value in what Japanese call mono-no-aware, the beauty and gentle sadness of impermanence.
Mount Dainenji is very suitable for searching for this mono-no-aware. In 1695, a huge temple complex was built here by 4th ruler of Sendai, Date Tsunamura. The complex belonged to Obaku-shu sect of Japanese Zen buddhism. Obaku-shu is quite rare in Tohoku, compared to Soto-shu, but it’s influence on Japanese culture, especially that part of it associated with Zen, can’t be overestimated. Nowadays, only two Obaku-shu temples are left in Sendai, one of them being Dainenji.
If the whole temple complex of Dainenji had been preserved as it was, I’m sure it would have been one of the greatest tourist destinations in Tohoku, comparable to Hiraizumi in Iwate. But, unfortunately, after Meiji restoration it has lost the support of Date family and eventually declined. All the temple buildings were ruined. All that we can see today, are gates, 280 stone stairs leading to the present site of the main temple buildings and one minor temple building operating under the name of Dainenji.
And still, it is a nice place to visit. You can challenge yourself by walking 280 stairs up the hill, then sit at a bench, eat some bento and try to imagine how this place looked like when more than 200 monks were living here, when there were temples all around, when it flourished.
Then you can go and see the burial place of Date Feudal lords...
and enjoy the magnificent view of Sendai city.
Finally, you should pay a visit to remaining Dainenji temple. The main worship hall was damaged during the 3.11 Earthquake, but some unique statues can be seen at a temporary worship hall. The temple’s honzon (main statue) is Buddha Shakyamuni, accompanied by his disciples Anan (skt. Ananda) and Mahakasho (skt. Mahakasyapa).
Next to them sits an unusual Daruma (skt. Bodhidharma), that, according to the priest, is "neither a man, nor a woman".
Another statue is a very rare in Japan Kako-bosatsu, that is believed to protect buildings from disasters. The abbot of Dainenji says, that Kako-bosatsu protected the temple during 3.11 so that it can be restored.
The priests of Dainenji are ready to show the temple’s treasures and tell some fascinating facts about the history of Dainenji and Obaku-shu to those who are interested, but if you don’t speak Japanese, maybe it is better to have someone Japanese-speaking with you.
You can visit the previous temple’s site anytime you like, but if you want to visit the existing temple, probably it would be better to call beforehands.