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.
Chionin (知恩院) is the head temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism, which has millions of followers and is one the the most popular Buddhist sects in Japan. The temple has spacious grounds and large buildings. Visitors will surely notice the temple when they come across its massive Sanmon Gate.
The original temple was built in 1234 by Hōnen’s disciple, Genchi (1183–1238) in memory of his master and was named Chion-in. While the temple was affiliated more closely in the early years with the Seizan branch of Jodo Shu, its 8th head priest, Nyoichi (1262–1321) was deeply influenced by the priest Ryōkū, a disciple of Ryōchū who was the 3rd head of the Chinzei branch of Jōdo-shū Buddhism, and disciple of Benchō. Later Nyoichi’s successor Shunjō (1255–1355) advanced this further by citing a biography where Genchi’s disciple Renjaku-bo and Ryōchū agree that there existed no doctrinal differences between them:
Then Renjaku-bo said, “There is complete agreement between what Genchi and Bencho say in their basic teaching. So my disciples should from now on look at the Chinzei teaching as their own. There is no need to set up another school.”
By 1450, Chion-in had become fully under control of the Chinzei branch, but had little direct control, due to the outbreak of the Ōnin War. Numerous buildings in the complex were burnt down in 1633, but were entirely rebuilt by the third Tokugawa shōgun Iemitsu (1604–1651) with the palatial structures that stand today.
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.
Up a flight of steps southeast of the main hall is the temple’s giant bell, which was cast in 1633 and weighs 70 tonnes. It is the largest bell in Japan. The bell is rung by the temple’s monks 108 times on New Year’s Eve each year.
The temple has two gardens – the Hōjō garden designed around a pond in the chisen kaiyūshiki style, and the Yuzen-en featuring a karesansui (dry landscape garden).
Directly to the north of Chion-in (and abutting) is the much smaller temple of Shōren-in. Directly to the south (and abutting) is Maruyama Park, which itself connects to Yasaka Shrine and thence Gion.
The temple is also a ten minute walk from the nearest subway station, Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Line (15 minutes, 260 yen from Kyoto Station), or a five minute walk from the nearest bus stop, Chionin-mae bus stop (20 minutes, 230 yen from Kyoto Station by Kyoto City Bus 206).
400 Rinka-cho, Higashiyama-ku
9am-4:30pm, last entry 4pm
Inner buildings and gardens:
Junior and elementary school students: 150
(one of the two gardens not open since May 2011 due to major renovation work of the main temple building, but the admission has been discounted from 400 for that reason)
Non-smoking area: Yes
5min walk from Chion-in-mae Bus Stop, Kyoto City Bus 206 from Kyoto Station
15min walk from Higashiyama Station, Tozai subway line
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