Mountains, rivers, and other parts of nature were indispensable in the lives of ancient people, and were respected and worshipped as the source of all life — nature itself was considered a god. The people respected everything, including grass, trees, and even soil, where spirits were believed to dwell, and revered everything invisible and mysterious. Being aware that they were unable to live by their own unaided efforts, all the people offered thanks to their god, nature, for the bounties.
Since the Jomon (ca. 14,000–300 BCE) and Yayoi (ca. 300 BCE to 250 CE) eras, Natadera Temple has been considered a sacred place to pray to deities. The people of the Jomon period believed in reincarnation. From ancient times, the caves at Natadera Temple were compared to wombs of mothers and considered to be the places of Umarekiyomaru, the cycle of death,
purification, and rebirth. People believed that, by passing through these caves, spirits could be cleansed of the sins of this world to be born again from their mothers’ wombs, and they would then pray for a fresh start.
Being one with natural beauty throughout the year, Natadera Temple is a temple of worship of nature. The forest surrounding the temple provides a place for healing. During the Edo era (1603–1868), the master haiku poet Matsuo Basho visited this place and left a haiku saying “Ishiyama no ishi yori shiroshi aki no kaze” (“The autumn wind is whiter than the white cliffs of the stony mountain”) in admiration of this place. Natadera Temple treasures the time-honored ceremony of Iwaya-tainai-kuguri (“passing through the cave-wombs”), and is known as a sacred place for Umarekiyomaru.
Mt. Hakusan has been revered as a sacred mountain where a pure, white goddess lives. Mt. Hakusan is considered one of the three greatest mountains of Japan, along with Mt. Fuji and Mt. Tateyama, all of which have been the objects of worship. Because of its beautiful, pure appearance, Mt. Hakusan has been worshiped as a sacred mountain to which all spirits return, where they are purified and become white before being reborn.
The great monk Taicho, who first climbed Mt. Hakusan in 717, built Natadera Temple in the same year. The temple was named Iwaya-dera Temple because of the natural caves in this
Resurrection from death within the Hakusan Faith corresponds to the Iwaya-tainai-kuguri ceremony of Natadera Temple, and the white rocks and the Umarekiyomaru sites of the caves at Natadera Temple overlap with the Umarekiyomaru Faith of Mt. Hakusan. The nature worship that deifies Mt. Hakusan and Taicho’s teachings of Jinenchi (being embraced by and becoming one with nature) reinforce each other, deepening the faith of Natadera Temple: it is simultaneously a temple of nature worship and a temple of the Hakusan faith.
It is said that the temple was renamed Natadera in 986 by the retired Emperor Kazan, who stayed at Natadera Temple, constructed the temple buildings, and made the temple prosper. After that, the temple was destroyed in three wars; however, in 1640, it was reconstructed by Maeda Toshitsune, the third lord of the Kaga
Domain. Seven of its buildings have been designated as important cultural properties, and two locations as places of scenic beauty. The temple has also been awarded a Michelin star for the beautiful scenery within its grounds. The year 2017 marks 1,300 years since Taicho founded Natadera Temple in 717.