Choho-ji Temple (頂法寺)

Choho-ji Temple is an independent Tendai Sect temple located in Nakagyo-ku Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture. Its honorific mountain prefix is Shiunzan. The temple's principal image is Nyoirin Kannon. It is the 18th of the 33 temples that are visited during the Kansai Kannon Pilgrimage. The main hall is known as 'Rokkaku-do' (lit. hexagonal hall) due to its hexagonal shape.

According to temple legend, Choho-ji Temple was founded before the relocation of the capital city to Heiankyo in the year 794. When Prince Shotoku visited the temple site for materials of Shitenno-ji Temple to be built, his personal Buddha statue of Nyoirin Kannon, placed against a tree nearby while bathing in the pond, became stuck. A revelation appeared to him in a dream that the Kannon wished to remain in this place and guide the masses on the path to enlightenment, so he enshrined the Kannon statue in its current location and constructed a hexagonal hall which was to be the beginning of Choho-ji Temple. According to 'Genko Shakusho' (a history of Japanese Buddhism), the temple's halls stood in the middle of the streets and became a nuisance during the construction of the capital of Heiankyo, then black clouds appeared to shift them approximately 15 meters to the north. However, in 1976, a theory emerged that the temple was constructed during the mid-Heian period.

By the Heian period, Choho-ji Temple was already known for Taishi shinko (Prince Shotoku worship) and miraculous virtue of Nyoirin Kannon, with both men and women from all classes of society confining themselves to the temple for worship and the statue being made one of the seven Kannon of Kyoto.

A well known story tells that in 1201, at the beginning of the Kamakura period, 29-year-old Mt. Hiei temple priest Shinran descended Mt. Hiei each night to worship in the hexagonal main hall for 100 days when, on dawn of the 95th day, he received in a dream a 4-verse gatha poem by Prince Shotoku and became devoted to the exclusive nenbutsu (senju nenbutsu) teaching of Pure Land Sect founder Honen.

Shinran-do hall in the back of the right side of temple precinct houses 'Muso no zo', the statue depicting Shinran receiving his dream revelation, and 'Sokai no Miei', the statue believed to be carved Shinran himself to portray him confined within the hexagonal hall. In front of Shinran-do hall, a bronze statue of Shinran in backing to Mt. Hiei from his confinement, is placed.
Additionally, the honorific title of Shinran within the hexagonal main hall is not 'Shonin' as is used in other branches of the True Pure Land School, but 'Shinran Shonin.'

During the great famine of Yamashiro Province in 1461, 8th Shogun Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA constructed an aid hut in front of the hall and ordered Ji Sect monk Gana to distribute rice porridge to the needy who flooded into the city of Kyoto. As the temple site was located at the center of Shimogyo (southern Kyoto), it came to be a town temple and played a central role in the lives and culture of the people as well as self-governing activities, particularly following the Onin War. It also had an alarm bell that would be rung when Shimogyo was in danger. Additionally, the temple became a Shimogyo town society meeting place for the people of Shimogyo as well as a rendezvous point for troops heading out to fight in the various conflicts that afflicted Kyoto such as the peasant uprising and Tenbun Hokke War.

The description of the temple in early modern times as given in 'Kyoto Oyakushomuki Taigai Oboegaki' (a collection of official memoranda and reports) indicates that it became authorized an area of 0.278 cubic meters as the temple estate including Tamon-in Temple, Fudo-in Temple, Jushin-in Temple and Aizen-in Temple but none of these have survived. As a sacred temple of Kannon, Choho-ji Temple received the devotion of the masses and, during the early modern period, a town grew up around the temple and developed into the largest lodging district in Kyoto with its numerous inns for pilgrims. Legend has it that the keystone, known as 'Heso-ishi' (navel stone) in the eastern side of the main hall is from the foundation of the former main hall and it is said to be the center of Shimogyo.

Beginning with the fire of 1125, the temple can be confirmed to have met with disaster on at least 18 separate occasions by the end of the Edo period but its importance as a place of devotion for the masses and the hub of the community meant that it was rebuilt each time. The current main hall was reconstructed in 1875.


The hexagonal main hall is a sub-temple within the precinct and has been managed by successive generations of priests residing at Choho-ji Temple's main living quarters, named Ikenobo. The name Ikenobo (lit. 'pond hut') is connected to the pond (or well) in which Prince Shotoku was said to have bathed.

The priest residing at Ikenobo, as a chief priest, is responsible for offering flowers to Nyoirin Kannon, the principle image, and 15th century records tell of the priests' reputation for exceptional flower arranging skills. Flower arranging at Ikenobo originated during 1469 - 1486 with the 12th-generation Ikenobo priest Senkei, who was renowned as a master of flower arranging. During 1532 - 1555, 13th-generation Ikenobo priest Seno was regularly invited to the imperial court to arrange flowers and wrote 'Ikenobo Seno Kuden' (Ikenobo Seno's Book on Flower Arrangement) to comprehensively systemize the theory and technique of flower arranging.

The main hall has been called Rokkaku-do (lit. hexagonal hall) due to its hexagonal shape.

Hesho-ishi (Navel Stone)

The 'Heso-ishi' (navel stone) at the temple is said to be the center of Kyoto. Its shape is hexagonal as well.

Cultural Properties

Wooden standing statue of Vaisravana: Created during the latter part of the Heian period. Stands at 102 centimeters in height.

Neighboring Pilgrimage Sites
The 33 temples that are visited during the Kansai Kannon Pilgrimage
17. Rokuharamitsu-ji Temple; 18. Choho-ji Temple; 19. Gyogan-ji Temple

[Original Japanese]