Chion-in Temple (知恩院)

Chion-in Temple, situated in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture, is the headquarters of the Pure Land sect of Buddhism. Its honorific mountain prefix is Kachozan. The temple's formal name is Kachozan Chion-kyo-in Otani-dera. It was founded by kaiki (patron of a temple in its founding) Honen and the enshrined objects of veneration are statues of Honen Shonin (within the main hall) and Amida Nyorai (within the Amida hall).

The temple was constructed on the site on which Pure Land sect founder Honen spent the latter half of his life and passed away, with the current large monastery being built after the Edo period.
It attracted a broad range of worshippers from Shogun family members to common masses and even today the people of Kyoto refer to it affectionately as 'Chiyoin-san.'

The name 'Kachozan Chion-kyo-in Otani-dera' bestowed upon the temple by Emperor Shijo is long but, except when describing the temple's history, is not ordinarily used and this section uses the name 'Chion-in Temple' derived from the temple's legal name of 'Chion-in Temple Religious Corporation.'

Origin and History

The origins of Chion-in Temple lie in a thatched hut built by Pure Land sect founder Honenbo Genku (Honen) in the Yoshimizu area of Higashiyama in vicinity of where the temple's Seishi Hall now stands. Honen was born in 1133 during the late Heian period in Mimasaka Province (modern day Okayama Prefecture). At age 13, he left to study at Mt. Hiei-zan and, at age 15 he entered the priesthood under the guidance of monk Genko. When he was 18, he studied under Eiku at Kurodani Valley in the Saito precinct deep within Mt. Hiei-zan, where he took one character from the names of each of his teachers Genko and Eiku to create the name Honenbo Genku. Honen read the work "Guan Jing Shu" (Commentary on the Meditation Sutra) by eminent Chinese Tang Dynasty monk Shandao, which awakened him to the ideas of 'Senju-nembutsu' (Single-Minded Recitation of the Nembutsu) and led to him departing Mt. Hiei-zan determined to disseminate the teachings of the Pure Land sect. He achieved this in 1175 at age 43. Senju-nembutsu' is the idea that all sentient beings can be reborn in Amida's Paradise by reciting the name of Mida (Amida Nyorai) intently. This concept met with violent condemnation from followers of traditional schools of Buddhism and became the object of attack. In 1207, Honen was exiled to Sanuki Province (modern day Kagawa Prefecture) but was pardoned 4 years later in 1211 and returned to Kyoto where he died the following January aged 80.

Honen's residence stood in the vicinity of where Chion-in Temple's Seishi Hall now stands and was called both 'Yoshimizu-gobo' and 'Otani-zenbo' after the name of the area at the time. With the exception of the later years spent in exile, Honen's teaching took place on this site from his establishment of the Pure Land Sect at age 43 to his death at age 80; making a Pure Land sect center. Honen's tomb was constructed here and protected by his disciples but was destroyed in 1227 by monks from Enryaku-ji Temple. In 1234, it was restored by Honen's disciple Seikambo Genchi and bestowed the name 'Kachozan Chion-kyo-in Otani-dera Temple' by Emperor Shijo. Following this, the temple was burnt down repeatedly including in the fire of 1431 and during the Onin War, but was restored each time.

The grand monastery including the surviving Sammon gate and main hall (Mieido) was constructed during the Edo period. Pure Land sect follower Ieyasu TOKUGAWA expanded the temple grounds from 1608 and built numerous halls. This construction work was continued by second generation Shogun Hidetada TOKUGAWA and the surviving Sammon gate was built in 1621. With the exception of the Sammon gate, the Kyozo (sutra repository) and Seishi Hall, the temple complex was almost entirely destroyed by the fire of 1633 but reconstruction was soon initiated by the third generation Shogun Iemitsu TOKUGAWA and completed in 1641. The temple is said to have served as a political backdrop and that the reasons why the Tokugawa family put so much effort into its construction include that they were followers of the Pure Land sect, the 25th generation head-priest Choyo Zongyu was the brother of Nagachika MATSUDAIRA, it was a focal point of the Tokugawa family in Kyoto and demonstrated their power as well as keeping the Imperial Court in check.


The grounds of Chion-in Temple are divided into a lower section that includes the Sammon gate and sub-temples, a middle section where the central monastery such as the main hall (Miei-do) is located, and an upper section in which structures such as the Seishi Hall and Honen's tomb are situated. The upper section is the original precinct of the time of the temple's founding and the monastery of the middle and lower sections was newly constructed during the Edo period as a result of the full support of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Sammon gate (National Treasure)

Stands facing west midway along the stone staircase on the steep hill leading to the main hall. It was constructed in 1621 (contemporary india-ink writings were discovered within during the Large Scale Heisei Era Renovation). It is two-storey gate with five bays and three entrances. (Five bays and three entrances means that, of the five front bays, the middle three serve as entrances.
Two-storey means that the gate is on two levels with overhanging eaves on both the upper and lower levels.)
At 24 meter tall, it stands taller than Todai-ji Temple's Nandai-mon gate and is said to be the largest temple sammon gate in Japan. The gate has the look of a Zen temple sammon gate with Zen style detailing such as the dense arrangement of the structure supporting the eave overhangs. The gate is highly representative of the Zen style with a statue of Shaka Nyorai and the 16 Arhats housed in the upper storey and an image of a dragon adorning the roof. One theory puts it as one of Japan's three great gates.

Main Hall (National Treasure)

Passing through sammon gate and ascending a steep stone staircase leads to the main hall which stands facing south atop a plateau. It was constructed in 1639 by the third generation Shogun Iemitsu TOKUGAWA. The statue of sect founder Honen enshrined within has led to the building being called Miei-do. The grand building displays the majesty of Buddhist temples constructed by Edo Shogunate with its formal tile hip-and-gable roof, a frontage measuring 44.8 m and a depth of 34.5 m. Although the exterior maintains a conservative Japanese style tone, the interior incorporates Zen style (Chinese Tang Dynasty style) elements. The building has a layout of 11 bays (distance between pillars) across the front by a depth of 9 bays, of which the front 11 x 3 bay worship area is tatami-matted and the internal 5 by 5 bay area makes up the inner sanctuary. Within the inner sanctuary are four pillars, in the middle of which stands a palace-shaped miniature shrine housing a wooden statue of the sect founder Honen. Constructed during the Tokugawa Shogunate, the headquarters of the Pure Land sect is highly representative of modern authentic large-scale Buddhist architecture and is highly significant from a cultural history perspective for the great influence that it has had on Japanese culture, which led the monastery to be designated a National Treasure in 2002 along with the sammon gate. The tiles on the center of the roof are slightly stacked as a metaphor for imperfection. The roof has been undergoing repair work since 2007.

Amida Hall

When facing the main hall, this east-facing building stands on the left and houses the sitting statue of the principal deity Amida Nyora. It was rebuilt during the Meiji period but the imperial scroll on the front reading 'Otani-dera Temple' was written by Emperor Go-Nara.

Kyozo (sutra repository) (Important Cultural Property)

The building stands on the eastern side of the main hall is topped by a Hogyo-zukuri (square-styled) formal tile pent roof. It was built in 1621 at the same time as the sammon gate and contains a rotating sutra wheel which contains the Song Chinese edition of the entire Buddhist scriptural canon in six thousand volumes, donated by the second Tokugawa Shogun, Hidetada.


This north-facing yosemune-zukuri (a square or rectangular building, covered with a hipped roof) building stands to the south of the main hall. It was constructed in 1992 and houses statues of Amida Nyorai and the Four Heavenly Kings.

Daishoro (Great Bell Tower) (Important Cultural Property)

Stands on a slightly elevated area atop a stone staircase behind the hobutsuden. It was built in 1678. The bell (Important Cultural Property) housed within is very well known in Japan and was cast in 1636. The striking of the bell on New Year's Eve is often shown on television at the end of the year.

Ohojo (Large Guest House) (Important Cultural Property)

Stands to the back right of the main hall. A magnificent Shoin-style building constructed in 1641 with a hip-and-gable cypress bark roof centered around the 54 mat-sized Tsuru-no-ma (Crane Room) and featuring numerous rooms adorned with extravagant sliding screen paintings by artists of the Kano School.

Kohojo (Small Guest House) (Important Cultural Property)

Stands behind the Ohojo (Large Guest House). The building was constructed in 1641, the same year as the Ohojo (Large Guest House), and has rooms decorated with sliding screen paintings done by artists of the Kano School but, compared to the Ohojo, these are lighter and more tranquil. The eastern garden is known as the 'Nijugo Bosatsu-no-niwa' (Garden of the 25 Bodhisattva) with rocks and shrubbery representing the coming of Amida Nyorai and the 25 Bodhisattva to lead the souls of the deceased from the Western Pure Land Paradise.

Gongendo Hall

A small Buddha hall behind the grounds of the Kohojo (Small Guest House). Housed inside are the memorial tablets and portraits of the three generations of Tokugawa Shoguns (Ieyasu, Hidetada and Iemitsu) who were instrumental in the construction of Chion-in Temple.

Santei Garden

The location on a hillside reached by stone steps leading from the front of the Ohojo offers a panoramic view of the city of Kyoto. The dry landscape garden was created during the late Edo period. The Santei building itself was the palace of Emperor Reigen's 10th Princess Jorinin-no-miya Yoshiko, which was bestowed in 1759 and underwent large-scale reconstruction during the Meiji Period.

Seishi-do (Seishi Hall) (Important Cultural Property)

Also known as Honji-do (Hall of the Original Form), it sits on a slightly elevated position in the east of the grounds atop a steep stone staircase. It was originally the site of Honen's residence. Topped by a formal tile hip-and-gable roof. It is the oldest of all the buildings in the temple complex and was built in 1530 during the Muromachi period. At the time of its construction it served as the main hall (Mie-do). The principal image of the seated statue of the bodhisattva Seishi housed within the miniature shrine in the inner sanctuary was created during the Kamakura period and designated an Important Cultural Property in 2003. There are very few temples devoted to the bodhisattva Seishi, but followers of the Pure Land sect believe Honen to be the reincarnation of Seishi (Honen's childhood name was Seishimaru) and is thought to have been created as Honen's true Buddha form. The previously mentioned Santei was constructed to serve as the kyakuden (guest hall) of Seishi-do.

Honen Shonin Gobyo (Honen's Mausoleum)

After Honen Shonin's death, his disciples constructed this building east of Seishi-do in order to house his remains. It is a place of prayer isolated from the hustle and bustle of the Chion-in Temple, which has a large monastery as Pure Land sect headquarters.

In addition to the buildings given above, the Kara-mon gate, Shuedo (Assembly Hall), Oguri (also called Sekkoden) and Koguri have also been designated Important Cultural Properties. All of these were constructed during the reconstruction period of the Kanei era.

National Treasures

Main Hall (Miei-do) (including corridor)

Sammon gate

48 volume color on paper Honen Shonin Eden (Illustrated Biography of Honen) (National Treasure) - Kamakura period picture scrolls

Color on silk Amida Nijugo Bosatsu Raigozu (Descent of Amida and Twenty-Five Attendants) (National Treasure) - Kamakura period Buddhist picture
Commonly known as 'Hayaraigo.'

Bosatsu Shotaikyo (The Bodhisattva Womb Sutra) - Transcribed in Western Wei Dynasty China in the year 550.

Daloutanjing (Sutra of the Great Conflagration) - Transcribed in Tang Dynasty China in the year 673.

Jogu Shotoku Hooteisetsu (Biography of Shotoku Taishi) - This is the only surviving copy of the biography of Prince Shotoku. It dates from the late Heian period.

The three items above beginning with the Bosatsu Shotaikyo (The Bodhisattva Womb Sutra) were collected by Ugai Tetsujo (1814-1891) who served as a head priest from the end of the Edo period into to the Meiji period. The items designated National Treasures, the paintings and writings have been deposited at Kyoto National Museum and Nara National Museum.

Important Cultural Properties

Ohojo (Large Guest House) (including entrance hall and corridor)
Kohojo (Small Guest House) (including corridor)
Shuedo (Assembly Hall) (including entrance hall)
Oguri (including corridor and entrance hall) - Also known as Sekkoden.

Koguri (including corridor)
Kara-mon gate
Daishoro (Great Bell Tower)
Kyozo (sutra repository)

Arts and Crafts
Color on cloth portrait of Bishamonten
Color on silk Sukhavati sutra and Mandala illustration
Color on silk Kangyo Mandala illustration
Color on silk red crystal color portrait of Amida Nyorai
Color on silk portrait of the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha
1 color on paper portrait of Honen with Shakkogan behind
Color on silk Amida Jodozu (Illustration of the Pure Land of Amida) in 1183
2 color on silk Torien Kinkokuen zu (Taoli-yuan Garden and Jingu-yuan Garden illustration)
2 color on silk Renka zu (illustration of lotus flowers)
Color on silk Botan zu (Illustration of peonies)
2 plated images of the three honorable ones
Mokuzo Amida Nyorai Ritsuzo (wooden standing statue of Amida Nyorai) (enshrined within the main hall)
Mokuzo Zendo-daishi Ritsuzo (wooden standing statue of Shan-tao) (enshrined within the main hall)
Mokuzo Seishi Bosatsu Zazo (seated statue of Seishi Bosatsu)
Embroidered Mt. Sumeru sun and moon ninth rank of the patch-robe, folding screen configuration
4 volume Kairyuokyo (Ocean Dragon King Sutra)
Amida sutra written in gold letters on dark blue paper by Emperor Go-Nara
Datang-Sancang Xuanzang-Fashi Biaoqi
3 volume Jujiron kankichi
Junji ojo koshiki
2nd Daitsu hokokyo
29th Chu-Agonkyo
5th Chu Ryogakyo
1st Chonichimyo sammaikyo
10 volume Pusa Dichilun
3rd Fa Lianhua Jing Xuan Zan/2nd Fa Lianhua Jing Xuan Zan/7th/10th
1st, 81 volume Discourse on the Stages of Concentration Practice
5,969 volumes of Soban Issaikyo (Song Dynasty Edition of the Buddhist Canon)
1st, 2nd and final volumes of Three tactics of Huang Shigong
Tempyo Nenkan Shagyo Ikuhi-ki

The Seven Wonders of Chion-in Temple

Uguisubari-no-roka (Nightingale Hallway: The Buddha's Vow)

This approximately 550 meter long corridor connects the Mie-do to the Ohoji and Kohojo and is called the 'Nightingale Floor Corridor' because when walked upon, makes a sound similar to that of a nightingale and, the more lightly one tries to tread, the more the floorboards creak.

Shiraki-no-hitsugi (Plain wood Coffin: A Symbol of Nonattachment to One's Life and Body)

Atop the sammon gate lie the two plain wood coffins with wooden statues carved by master carpenter Kinuemon GOMI and his wife who it is said poured all of their energies into the construction of the gate at the order of the Shogun and, after its completion, took responsibility for the work exceeding the budget by taking their own lives.

Wasuregasa (The Forgotten Umbrella: A Symbol of Gratitude)

This umbrella is thought to protect Chion-in Temple from fires and is said to have been placed between the front eaves of the Miei-do by master craftsman Jingoro HIDARI to ward off evil spirits or left by the white fox form of Nuregami-Doji.

Nukesuzume (The Sparrows that Flew Away: A Symbol of Polishing One's Mind)

The sliding screen paintings in the Kiku-no-ma (Chrysanthemum Room) of the Ohojo (Large Guest House) were done by Nobumasa KANO and it is said that originally sparrows were painted above the white chrysanthemum but were so lifelike that they came to life and flew away.

Sampo Shomen Mamuki-no-Neko (The Cat That Sees in Three Directions: A Symbol of a Parent's Heart)

This picture of a cat was painted on the cedar doors in the hallway in the Ohojo (Large Guest House) by Nobumasa KANO and is called 'The Cat That Sees in Three Directions' because it appears to be looking at you from whichever angle you look at it.

Oshakushi (Large Rice Paddle: A Symbol of the Buddha's Salvation)

This rice paddle on the beams of the Ohojo entrance corridor is 2.5 meter long, weighs about 30 kilograms and symbolizes the depth of Amida's compassion in saving all sentient beings.

Uryuseki (the Cucumber Rock: A Symbol of Encouragement)

This large rock located in front of the Kuro-mon gate is said to have been there since before the building of Chion-in Temple and that, in just one night, a vine grew out of it, flowered and bore gourds.


High Priest: Hogan HATTORI
Deacon: Taigaku SATO


400 Rinka-cho, 3 Cho-me Yamato-oji Higashi-iru, Shinbashi-dori, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City, Zip code 605-0062
Bus: Take the Kyoto City Bus to Chion-in-mae Bus Stop or take the Keihan Bus to Jingudo Bus Stop and walk for 7-8 minutes. Train: Either take the Kyoto City Subway Tozai Line to Higashiyama Station (Kyoto Prefecture) and walk for 10 minutes from exit 1 (stairs only) or take the Keihan Electric Railway Keihan Main Line to Shijo Station (Keihan) or the Hankyu Railway Hankyu Kyoto Line to Kawaramachi Station (Kyoto Prefecture) and walk for approximately 20 minutes. Car: Approximately 30 minutes from the Meishin Expressway Kyoto Higashi Interchange or Kyoto Minami Interchange.

[Original Japanese]