Chion-in Temple – Home of the Jodo Sect
Chion-in Temple is a large complex of great architecture, gardens and curiosities. Use our guide to make the most of your visit.
Built as the head temple for the Jodo Sect of Buddhism, Chion-in Temple in Kyoto’s popular Higashiyama district is a joy at any time of the year. A huge complex of temples, pavilions and gardens, it is well worth dedicating a chunk of your Kyoto itinerary to. Learn more with our guide.
Chion-in Temple, perched in the hills of Higashiyama, has a lot to offer. It does, however, require a degree of stamina, as to reach the temple’s main buildings visitors must first ascend a significant flight of stairs. To reach the foot of the stairs simply keep an eye out for the impressive Sanmon entrance gate which looms at almost 25 meters in height. It is the largest of its kind and considered the most beautiful in Japan.
Chion-in was founded by the monk Honen in the 13th century but was at its peak during the Edo period when Shogun Tokugawa gave his support to the Jodo Sect, leading to the temple’s enlargement. Meido Hall, the temple’s main building, was built to house a statue of Honen, which is now the most revered object in the complex. Honen’s ashes are still to be found in the temple’s mausoleum which is close to a 70-tonne bell which was, for two centuries, the largest bell in the world.
The paths around the complex are known as uguisu-bari, said to make a grinding sound similar to the sound of a nightingale’s whistle when stepped upon, used, originally, as a rudimentary security measure to detect unwanted intruders.
Chion-in Temple possesses two gardens: The Hojo Garden and the Yuzu Garden.
The Hojo Garden contains two old pavilions and, further up the slope, a mini-forest which marks the entrance to a large cemetery of old samurai tombs. On clear days the views over Kyoto from the pavilions are hard to beat.
The Yuzen Garden is a traditional Japanese garden complete with a pond full of carp and a modern statue representing Buddhist divinity. Head uphill and you’ll find tea rooms, whilst downhill lies a rock garden, which, in late spring, is packed with wonderful blooming rhododendrons.
In the fall, the gardens at Chion-in Temple are illuminated in the evening and close later than usual. There is an 800 yen fee but combine your trip with some of the other illuminations events in the area and you’ll have a complete evening.
New Year’s Eve Bell Ringing
Joya-no-kane or bell ringing is an event held to welcome the New Year on, predictably, December 31st. The bell is struck 108 times to represent the washing away of 108 desires. Due to its size, it takes the effort of seventeen monks to strike the bell!
Memorial Service for Honen
This is the largest and most important service held at Chion-in: the Gyoki Daie or Memorial Service held between the 18th and 25th of April. The memorial pays respects to the temple’s founder, Honen. Made up of several different events and ceremonies, including those involving music, flowers and the freeing of wildlife, it is a great period in which to see the temple.
09.00am – 4.00pm
Due to major works on the main building, it is closed to the public until March 2019.
¥ 500 yen for the temple and gardens combined.
Chion-in is best accessed via Higashiyama Station or Keage Station. From either, take bus 12, 46, 201, 203 or 206 for five minutes or on foot the journey is just 10 minutes.