A temple that was developed with support from the Tokugawas
Chion-in is the headquarters for the Jodo sect in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto. In 1175, the founder of the sect, Honen, first established the temple as a thatched hut to perform Buddhist practices. The construction of the current grand temple was done during the Edo Era. Receiving strong protection from Ieyasu, Hidetada and Iemitsu Tokugawa, 106 halls were built on the grounds to develop this big temple. From the Tokugawas to the common people, it is said that the temple attracted a wide faith.
The Sanmon gate is Japan’s largest wooden structure.
Chion-in is separated into 3 parts: the lower level with the Sanmon gate, the middle level with the main buildings and the upper level where Honen’s mausoleum is located. This upper level was the first area of the temple to be built at that time. The large temple structures of the middle and lower levels were newly built wholly under the aegis of the Tokugawa shogunate. The highlight of these two areas is the Sanmon gate built in 1621. It is the largest two-storey gate made of wood whose construction and scale have lasted to the present day. The upper part of the gate has been made into a Buddhist temple, and in the center, a statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha along with statues of the 16 Arhats off to the side are enshrined there. Heavenly maidens and other figures are brilliantly painted on the ceiling, pillars and walls evoking a solemn atmosphere. Usually not open to the public, these can only be seen on special viewing days.
The Seven Wonders of Chion-in
At Chion-in, there are the ancient Seven Wonders. One of them is the Nightingale Hallway which spans from Goei-do Hall to the chief priest’s quarters. When walking through this corridor, a sound resembling that of a nightingale is made which gave the corridor its name. It makes such a noise that one has to walk quietly so it had a role of alerting residents of any invaders. The Seven Wonders include the painting of a cat which seems to stare at you no matter from which angle you view it, and the forgotten umbrella to protect the temple from fire. Some of the wonders are not available for viewing due to restoration work on Goei-do Hall. At the east end of the assembly hall, those are displayed on panels so you will want to see them there.