Japan | Kyoto

Chion-in Temple Kyoto

Japan Winter 2024

Kyoto | Japan

26 Feb 2024 | Mon

Day 07 of 17

  • Yasaka Shrine Kyoto
  • Maruyama Park
  • Chion-in Temple Kyoto
  • Mausoleum Emperor Hanazono Kyoto
  • Shorenin Monzeki
  • Hatsune Sushi Kyoto
  • Walk to Nanzen-ji Temple
  • Nanzenji Temple Kyoto

Chion-in Temple Kyoto

On our trip to Japan, we embarked on a short walk from Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park to the Chion-in Temple in Kyoto. The first sight that greeted us was the magnificent Chion-in Samnon Gate, its grand structure standing tall amidst the trees.

Our knowledge about the temple’s history and the expanse of its compound was limited during our visit. Yet, we set out to explore the temple complex, eager to soak in its beauty and tranquility. As we wandered through the temple grounds, we were captivated by the serene atmosphere and the architectural splendor of the place.

Despite our best efforts, we discovered later that we had missed exploring some parts of the temple complex. However, this realization didn’t dampen our spirits. Instead, it gave us a reason to plan a future visit. We are excited about the prospect of returning to the Chion-in Temple, ready to uncover its hidden corners and learn more about its rich history. Our journey to the Chion-in Temple is far from over, and we can’t wait to continue it.

Located in the Higashiyama district of Kyoto, Chion-in is connected to Hōnen (1133-1212), the founder of the Jōdo Shū (Pure Land Sect) of Buddhism. It was here at Chion-in that Hōnen taught chanting the name of Amida (Sanskrit: Amitabha) to attain salvation, and it was here that he spent his final years. Today, with over 7,000 temples, the teachings of Hōnen have spread throughout Japan. Since 1523, Chion-in has been the head temple of the Jōdo Shū.

Also, Chion-in is highly appealing from a cultural standpoint, since it received donations from the Tokugawa shogun (supreme military commander) during the early Edo (1600-1867) period, and was built by the master artisans of the day.

– Jōdo-Shū Head Temple Chion-In > Website

Chion-in (知恩院, Monastery of Gratitude) in Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Japan is the headquarters of the Jōdo-shū (Pure Land Sect) founded by Hōnen (1133–1212), who proclaimed that sentient beings are reborn in Amida Buddha’s Western Paradise (Pure Land) by reciting the nembutsu, Amida Buddha’s name.

The vast compounds of Chion-in include the site where Hōnen settled to disseminate his teachings and the site where he died.

The Seven Wonders of Chion-in

Uguisubari-no-rōka | The Nightingale Hallway (Buddha’s Vow)
This 550m long hallway connects Mieidō and Shūedō. The Nightingale hallway was equipped with flooring that make the sound of the Nightingale when someone walks on them. It acts as a type of security system as the lighter someone tries to walk the more sound it makes. They say that the sound of the nightingale bird is meant to be a reminder to listen to Buddha’s teachings.

Shiraki-no-hitsugi | The Plainwood Coffin (A symbol of Nonattachment to One’s Life and Body)
In the Sanmon, the bodies of Gomi Kin’uemon and his wife lie in plain coffins. These people built the gate and carved wooden statues of themselves. After the gate was completed, both Gomi Kin’uemon and his wife committed suicide. People still to this day who visit Chion-in cry for them.

Wasuregasa | The Forgotten Umbrella (A Symbol of Gratitude)
This umbrella holds many different meanings, it is in Mieidō between the eaves on the southeast section. It is said to be a symbol of gratitude delivered by a white fox, promising to protect Chion-in. Another said it was simply forgotten by master carpenter, Hidari Jingorō. Lasty, it is said to protect Chion-in from fires because it has a connected relationship to water.

Nukesuzume | The Sparrows that Flew Away (A Symbol of Polishing One’s Mind)
The fusuma-e, or a painting on sliding doors, done by Kanō Nobumasa a painting featuring white Chrysanthemum flowers. According to legend sparrows were painted on but the birds look so real that they came to life and flew away.

Sanpō Shōmen Mamuki-no-Neko | The Cat That Sees in Three Directions (A Symbol of a Parent’s Heart)
Located in Ōhōjō, the large guest house. This painting of a cat represents compassion of the Buddha and the heart of a parent. This cat seems to be looking at you at anywhere you may be look at it.

Ōshakushi | Large Rice Paddle (A Symbol of the Buddha’s Salvation)
This was a larger than average paddle, meant to serve a lot of people at once. This rice paddle, according to legend, was meant to save all of mankind. “Scoop” and “Save/rescue” are both pronounced Sukuu. This play on words was meant to symbolize Amida’s compassion.

– Chion-in Temple Kyoto > Wikipedia

Chion-in Samnon Gate

Impressive Chion-in Samnon Gate

The Sanmon was erected in 1621 by Tokugawa Hidetada, the second Tokugawa shogun and it has a height of about 24 meters, a width of about 50 meters, and about 70,000 roof tiles. This is one of the largest wooden tower gates in existence in Japan. The atmosphere in this tower gate is one of solemn magnificence, as it houses a Buddhist worship hall and images of Shakamuni Buddha and sixteen of his disciples. Also, the ceiling, beams, and pillars have images of heavenly maidens and flying dragons depicted in brilliant colors.

Normally, the inside of the gate is not open to the general public, but when it is opened for special viewings, visitors can see the Shiraki-no-hitsugi (the Plain wood coffins), one of Chion-in’s seven wonders and the glorious adornments in their brilliant colors.

– Jōdo-Shū Head Temple Chion-In > Website

Chion-in Otokozaka Slope for Gentleman

Chion-in Otokozaka Slope for Gentleman

The Otokozaka Slope for Gentleman (like found at Chion-in Temple), often found in Japanese temples and shrines, is a path characterized by its steepness. The name “Otokozaka” translates to “Man’s Slope”, suggesting it’s a path for the energetic or those seeking a challenge.

This slope is typically contrasted with the “Onnazaka” or “Woman’s Slope” (also found at Chion-in Temple), which is known for its gentler incline. The Otokozaka Slope is not just a physical path, but also a symbolic journey, with each step representing overcoming life’s challenges1. Despite its steepness, the journey up the Otokozaka Slope is rewarding, offering a sense of accomplishment and often, beautiful views.

Chion-in Tahoto Pagoda

Chion-in Tahoto Pagoda

A Tahōtō (多宝塔, lit. many-jewelled pagoda) is a form of Japanese pagoda found primarily at Esoteric Shingon and Tendai school Buddhist temples. It is unique among pagodas because it has an even number of stories (two). (The second story has a balustrade and seems habitable, but is nonetheless inaccessible and offers no usable space.) Its name alludes to Tahō Nyorai, who appears seated in a many-jewelled pagoda in the eleventh chapter of the Lotus Sutra. With square lower and cylindrical upper parts, a mokoshi ‘skirt roof’, a pyramidal roof, and a finial, the tahōtō or the larger daitō was one of the seven halls of a Shingon temple. After the Heian period, the construction of pagodas in general declined, and new tahōtō became rare. Six examples, of which that at Ishiyama-dera (1194) is the earliest, have been designated National Treasures.

– Tahoto Pagoda > Wikipedia

Chion-in Amida-dō

Chion-in Amida-dō

The Amida-dō was originally built by Genchi, the second chief high priest of the Chion-in, in front of the Seishidō, but it was moved to its present location in 1710. Afterward, the building fell into disrepair, but was rebuilt as the present Amida-dō in 1910.

The primary image is a 2.7 meter tall statue of Amida. Those who worship Amida, who faces the east, send their prayers to the faraway Saihō Jōdo (Western Pure Land). This building exudes a tranquil air and today is used for all types of ceremonies, such as ordinations and Buddhist weddings.

– Jōdo-Shū Head Temple Chion-In > Website

Chion-in Mieidō

Chion-in Mieidō

After passing through the Sanmon (main gate) and climbing to the top of the stone steps, a magnificent structure with an enormous roof on the left hand side will come into view. Since this building houses the miei (sacred image) of the founder, Hōnen, this building is called the Mieidō (hall that houses the image of Hōnen). This hall serves as the center of the Chion-in temple complex. This hall was rebuilt in 1639 by the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu.

The architectural style of the building is Japanese with some Chinese elements. The building is of a massive scale, with a length of 35 meters and a width of 45 meters, and a three meter wide verandah encircling the entire structure. This magnificent hall is fitting as the center for the nembutsu teachings and has welcomed many worshippers since long ago.

To this day, many can be seen worshipping here, and especially during the services for Bon-e (services held during the summer for the benefit of deceased relatives), Higan-e (Buddhist services performed during the equinox), and Gyoki daie (services held in memorial of Hōnen) as well as the O-minugui-shiki (ceremony in which the image of Hōnen is purified) the Mieidō becomes alive with worshippers.

– Jōdo-Shū Head Temple Chion-In > Website

Chion-in Kyōzō

Chion-in Kyōzō

Located southeast of the Mieidō, the Kyōzō was constructed in 1621, the same year as the Sanmon. The architecture is a mixture of Japanese and Chinese styles and presents a unique stylistic beauty. In contrast to the subdued exterior, the interior is alive with color and the ceiling and wall paintings by the Kanō School are precious. Also, in the middle is an octagonal sutra wheel which contains the Sung Chinese edition of the entire Buddhist scriptural canon in six thousand volumes, donated by the second Tokugawa shogun, Hidetada. It is said that if you turn the sutra wheel once, you can gain the same benefits as if you actually read all of the sutras.

– Jōdo-Shū Head Temple Chion-In > Website

Chion-in Nokotsudo

Chion-in Nokotsudo

Chion-in Saint Honen Statue

Chion-in Saint Honen Statue (founder of the Jōdo Shū)

Chion-in Rengedo

Chion-in Rengedo

Chion-in Seishidō

Monk Chanting at Chion-in Seishidō

Originally, this site was the location of Hōnen’s Ōtani meditation chamber, where he propagated the teaching of the nembutsu during his final days. The present Seishidō was rebuilt in 1530 in the irimoya (hip gable roof) style, with 21 meter long beams and 20 meter long crossbeams.

This is the oldest building on the Chion-in grounds. At the time, the primary image housed in this building was that of Hōnen, but it was moved when the present Mieidō was constructed. Therefore, in its place, an image of the bodhisattva (one who has taken a pledge to save sentient beings) Seishi (Mahāsthāmaprāpta in Sanskrit) was enshrined here, which is the reason this building is called the Seishidō. Seishi is said to be the honjishin (original form) of Hōnen, so this building is also known as the Honjidō (Hall of the Original Form).

The image of Seishi has been designated an Important Cultural Property. The placard hanging in the front interior of the Seishidō, which reads “Chionkyōin,” was written by Emperor Go-Nara and is said to be the origins of the temple’s name, Chion-in.

– Jōdo-Shū Head Temple Chion-In > Website

Chion-in Gobyo Mausoleum of Honen

Chion-in Gobyo Mausoleum of Honen

This is where Hōnen’s remains are interred. The mausoleum is a rectangular building with an area of six meters square and a tiled roof. In the front, there is a Chinese-style gate, and the mausoleum is surrounded by a sacred hedge.

After Hōnen died in his meditation hermitage, which was located near this site, in 1212, his disciples built a mausoleum and interred his remains. The current mausoleum was rebuilt in 1613 with a donation from Matsudaira Izu-no-kami, the lord of the Tsuchiura Castle in Hitachi Province (present-day Ibaraki Prefecture).

The mausoleum is a stylish building, and the railings have magnificent Momoyama period carvings with themes such as “dragon in the clouds,” “phoenix in the paulownia,” “nightingale in the plums,” “kirin (animal from Chinese mythology) in the clouds,” and “peacock in the peonies.”

– Jōdo-Shū Head Temple Chion-In > Website

Chion-in Onnazaka Slope for Ladies

Chion-in Otokozaka Slope for Ladies

Chion-in Yūzen’en Garden

Chion-in Yūzen’en Garden

The Yūzen’en Garden was redesigned in 1954 in commemoration of the 300th birthday of Miyazaki Yūzen, the founder of the Yūzen style of dyeing. This is a famous modern garden which consists of two gardens: one that draws water from a Higashiyama spring and one in the karesansui (dry rock garden) style.

Inside the garden, there are two teahouses: the first is Karoku-an, which is modeled after an Urasenke-style teahouse, and the Hakuju-an, which was built in commemoration of the 99th birthday of Nakamura Kōryū, the 86th chief high priest of the Chion-in. These teahouses add a touch of taste fitting of a famous garden that represents the heart of Japan.

– Jōdo-Shū Head Temple Chion-In > Website

Map | Chion-in Temple Kyoto

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