Unveiling Chion-in Temple: Ultimate Guide to the Jodo Sect’s Main Site & Higashiyama’s Enchanting Natural Treasures

Located in the Higashiyama district of Kyoto City, “Chion-in Temple” is one of Kyoto’s representative tourist spots.

This historic temple, which serves as the head temple of the Jodo sect founded by Honen Shonin, boasts numerous attractions such as national treasures and Japanese gardens. The sprawling 73,000-square-meter grounds are surrounded by the natural beauty of Higashiyama, offering a landscape that feels far removed from the bustling center of Kyoto.

As someone who has visited Kyoto multiple times, the author will introduce selected highlights of Chion-in Temple. Along with recommended sightseeing and dining spots in the area, this guide will serve as a handy reference for your outings.

What’s Chion-in Temple like?

Chion-in, located in the popular tourist area of Higashiyama in Kyoto City, is a significant temple of the Jodo sect of Buddhism, founded by Honen Shonin. Its official name is “Kaizando Chion Kyoin Ohtaiji.” With the protection of the Tokugawa shoguns Ieyasu, Hidetada, and Iemitsu, it has evolved into the magnificent temple that stands today.

Within its spacious grounds, you’ll find notable architectural structures like the “Sanmon” (Main Gate) and the “Miei-do” (Founder’s Hall), designated as national treasures. Other attractions include the important cultural property “Seishido” and a lineup of designated cultural heritage buildings, making it a popular tourist destination. Surrounded by the natural beauty of Higashiyama, Chion-in offers a serene landscape that shields visitors from the hustle and bustle of the urban environment.

Let’s Explore the History of Chion-in Temple!

The origins of Chion-in Temple trace back to the founding of the Jodo sect by Honen Shonin in 1175 (during the Shouan era), when he established a hermitage in Yoshimizu. At that time, the Jodo sect was a new and controversial belief system, and Honen faced criticism and persecution from the established Buddhist order, even being exiled at one point due to accusations of spreading false teachings. Despite his exile, Honen’s sentence was eventually lifted, and he spent his final days in a Zen meditation hall that corresponds to the present-day Seishido within Chion-in Temple.

Following Honen’s passing, the second head priest, Genchi Shonin, laid the foundation of Chion-in Temple. During the Edo period, significant structures like the Sanmon (Main Gate) and Hon-do (Main Hall) were constructed under the patronage of Tokugawa shoguns Ieyasu, Hidetada, and Iemitsu. Although the Sanmon and Seishido were destroyed by fire in 1633, they were rebuilt by 1641 and still stand today. These structures, along with others, were designated as national treasures in 2002.

Exploring Chion-in Temple: Visitor’s Guide

  • Address: 400 Higashiyama Shichijo-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Phone Number: 075-531-2111
  • Closed: Open daily (As of June 2019, Miedo is under repair)
  • Opening Hours: 5:00 AM – 4:30 PM (May vary depending on the season)
  • Admission Fee: Free (But there’s an admission fee for the Hojo Garden: Adults 400 yen, Children 200 yen, and for the Zuishin’en Garden: Adults 300 yen, Children 150 yen)
  • Official Website: Chion-in Temple

Chion-in Temple is open year-round with free admission. The opening and closing times vary depending on the season and may shift month to month. Opening as early as 5:00 AM, it’s perfect for those who want to explore Kyoto in the morning.

The Miedo, designated as a national treasure, has been undergoing restoration work since 2011. Although the completion was expected by the end of 2019, as of June 2019, restoration efforts are still ongoing.

Separate admission fees apply for visiting the Zuishin’en Garden and the Hojo Garden. A combined ticket for both gardens costs 500 yen for adults and 250 yen for children. Adults are considered high school age and above, children are considered elementary and middle school age, and younger children are admitted for free.

Access Information for Chion-in Temple

Accessing Chion-in Temple is convenient in Kyoto, where buses and trains are plentiful. From Kyoto Station, the central hub for tourism, you can take a limousine bus from the airport or JR trains from other prefectures like Osaka or Tokyo.

For those with a sightseeing pass, using city buses or the Tozai subway line is convenient. You can also access it on foot from the nearest stations of the Keihan and Hankyu railways. Chion-in Temple has a spacious compound with many stairs and slopes, so wearing comfortable shoes is recommended for your visit.

For train travelers:

  • 14-minute walk from Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Electric Railway.
  • 15-minute walk from Shijo-Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Railway.
  • 8-minute walk from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai subway line.

If you’re taking the bus:

  • 1-minute walk from the Chion-in-mae bus stop served by Kyoto City Bus routes 12, 31, 46, 86, 201, 202, 203, and 206.
  • 1-minute walk from the Chion-in-mae bus stop served by Kyoto Okazaki and City Center Circulator Buses (Kyoto Okazaki Loop).
  • 7-minute walk from the Jingu-mae bus stop served by Keihan Bus routes 17 and 19.

Discovering the Charms of Chion-in Temple!

Within its vast grounds spanning 73,000 square meters, Chion-in Temple boasts not only national treasures but also two Japanese gardens, offering enchanting views and a sense of historical ambiance throughout the seasons. From the imposing “Sanmon” gate that welcomes visitors with its grand presence to the various highlights within the compound, there’s plenty to discover as you wander around.

Must-See Sights During Your Visit to Chion-in Temple: “Two National Treasures”

When visiting Chion-in Temple, make sure to head to the main hall, known as the “Miedo,” for your prayers first Welcoming visitors to Chion-in is the imposing “Sanmon” gate, standing at 24 meters tall and 50 meters wide. Built in 1621 under the orders of Tokugawa Hidetada, the second shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty, this gate is one of the largest wooden gates in Japan.

While temple gates are commonly referred to as “Sanmon” (Mountain Gate), the gate at Chion-in is specifically called “Sanmon” because it represents three stages of enlightenment: “Ku” (Void), “Musou” (Non-differentiation), and “Mugan” (Non-aspiration). The interior, not open to the public, serves as a Buddha hall housing important cultural properties such as the “Rokurokkanzo” statues.

Looking up at the Sanmon from below, it appears to reach the sky, leaving visitors in awe of its grandeur. As you climb the stairs towards the main hall, you’ll notice fewer tourists, allowing you to truly appreciate the temple’s serene atmosphere.

The Sanmon gate is designated as a national treasure and surrounded by lush greenery, making it a picturesque spot that changes with the seasons The area around the large gate provides shade, and during hot weather, you’ll often see people taking breaks there.

Beyond the gate, there are two staircases. The “Otokozaka” (Men’s Slope) directly in front is the shortest route to the Miedo, while the “Onnazaka” (Women’s Slope) offers a gentler incline, making it easier to walk.

For those who find it challenging to climb the slopes, there’s a free shuttle service available from the Sanmon gate to the Miedo. The shuttle operates from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM (except from 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM).

Once you reach the top of the slope, you’ll arrive at a large square where the Miedo is located. The spacious square offers an expansive view surrounded by the natural beauty of Higashiyama, creating a serene atmosphere that feels far removed from the bustling streets of Kyoto, yet still within walking distance. The sound of footsteps on the gravel beneath your feet echoes pleasantly in the serene compound filled with greenery, providing a relaxing ambiance for visitors.

The Miedo, also known as the main hall of Chion-in Temple, enshrines Honen Shonin’s sacred image. Constructed under the patronage of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty, the current Miedo has undergone extensive restoration work since 2011. As a place where many worshippers gather for Buddhist practices, the Miedo holds significant architectural value and has been designated as a national treasure.

The corridor extending from the Miedo to the Shueto and Daiojo areas is known for producing sounds resembling the calls of Japanese bush warblers when walked upon. These sounds, termed “Ninjikaeshi,” even occur with stealthy footsteps, serving both as a security measure and a charming feature of the temple. Additionally, the bone-like structure found beneath the eaves of the Miedo, known as the “Forgotten Umbrella,” is believed to ward off evil spirits.

Exploring the Serene Beauty of Two Gardens: Hojo Garden and Zuishin’en Garden

Chion-in Temple boasts two exquisite gardens: the Hojo Garden and the Zuishin’en Garden. Both gardens are beloved spots known for their scenic beauty throughout the seasons.

The Hojo Garden, located behind the Miedo, is said to have been designed by the monk Gyokuen, with influences from the early Edo period landscape artist Kobori Enshu. Here, visitors can enjoy the harmonious blend of the Hojo architecture, the natural backdrop of Higashiyama, and the serene Japanese garden. Trees planted around the pond burst into vibrant colors in autumn, offering a unique and captivating view.

Nearby the Sanmon gate, designated as a national treasure, lies the Zuishin’en Garden. Established in 1954 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Miyazaki Yuzen, the founder of Yuzen dyeing, the garden underwent renovations. Comprising two sections—a dry landscape garden primarily featuring sand and rocks, and a garden incorporating the natural springs of Higashiyama—the Zuishin’en Garden offers a serene setting.

Within the garden, you’ll find two tea houses, Hakkoro-an and Shukujoro-an, nestled amidst lush greenery, evoking a sense of traditional Japanese elegance. Visitors can appreciate the changing scenery around the pond in the Zuishin’en Garden as the seasons shift.

Exploring the Vast Grounds: Highlights of the Temple Grounds

Within the grounds of Chion-in Temple stands a towering structure known as the “Tahoto Pagoda,” which commands attention with its impressive height. Also referred to as the “750,000 Souls Pagoda,” this grand pagoda was erected in 1958. Surrounded by lush foliage, the area around the Tahoto Pagoda offers a picturesque setting, with vibrant greenery in the summer and stunning autumn foliage in the fall.

Situated on the western side when facing the Goeido Hall, the Amida Hall is the sole building within the temple grounds and dates back to the Meiji period. Due to deterioration, the previous Amida Hall was reconstructed in 1910, resulting in the present-day structure. Inside the hall stands a large 2.7-meter tall statue of Amida Buddha.

It is said that by praying to the resplendent and elegant Amida Buddha statue, one can connect with the Pure Land and attain peace of mind. In spring, cherry blossoms bloom gloriously near the Amida Hall, offering a splendid view to enjoy.

The “Karado” or Chinese-style gate within the temple grounds is a hidden gem often overlooked by visitors. Also known as the “Chokushimon” or Imperial Messenger Gate, this grand structure evokes a sense of history, believed to have been built in 1641.

Upon closer inspection, intricate carvings of peony arabesques and elderly figures riding on carp can be observed adorning the gate. These distinctive carvings are based on legends and stories popular during the Momoyama period, predating the construction of the gate.

On the way from the main hall of the Goeido to the scripture repository, you’ll encounter a statue of Honen Shonin, the founder of Jodo Buddhism. Jodo Buddhism, established by Honen Shonin at the age of 43, remains a revered Buddhist sect even as of 2019. Continuing down the path beside the statue of Honen Shonin, you’ll eventually reach the Seishido Hall, where Honen Shonin spent his later years.

On the eastern side of the Goeido hall stands the Kyozo, a structure built in the same year as the Sanmon gate, in 1621. Designated as an Important Cultural Property, the interior of the Kyozo is adorned with splendid Kano school paintings on its walls and ceilings. Additionally, it houses the “Song Edition Tripitaka,” donated by Tokugawa Hidetada, the second shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, and an octagonal revolving bookshelf.

The octagonal revolving bookshelf is said to accumulate the same merits as reading a whole sutra when turned around completely. As the interior is usually closed to the public, admire the architecture from the outside.

Recommended Sightseeing Spots Around Chion-in Temple

Higashiyama, home to Chion-in Temple, is a bustling area in Kyoto where tourists flock to explore. Despite being in the heart of the city, Higashiyama offers a plethora of charming spots like temples, shrines, and parks, all nestled amidst lush greenery. Take a step back in time and marvel at the architecture reminiscent of the Heian period at places like Heian Shrine. Adjacent to Chion-in, don’t miss out on a visit to Maruyama Park, where tourists and locals alike gather to relax and enjoy the serene atmosphere. It feels like a journey to ancient Kyoto within the city limits!

Exploring the Beauty of Heian Jingu Shrine

Located just a 5-minute walk from Okazaki Park, Art Museum, and Heian Jingu-mae bus stop, Heian Jingu Shrine offers a breathtaking view reminiscent of the ancient capital, Heian-kyo. Built in 1895 to honor Emperor Kammu and Emperor Komei on the occasion of the 1,100th anniversary of the establishment of Heian-kyo, Heian Jingu Shrine stands as a symbol of Kyoto’s rich history and cultural heritage. During the Meiji Restoration, when Tokyo became the new capital, efforts to revitalize Kyoto led to the establishment of Heian Jingu Shrine.

The shrine features two iconic structures known as the “Blue Dragon Tower” and the “White Tiger Tower” on either side of the main hall. Designated as important cultural properties by the Japanese government, these towers contribute to the distinctive architectural landscape that defines Heian Jingu Shrine.

Nestled within the grounds of Heian Jingu Shrine lies the Heian Jingu Shin’en Gardens, a masterpiece of traditional Japanese landscaping that dates back to the Meiji era. Crafted by the renowned landscape architect, Ogawa Jihei VII, these gardens hold a special designation as a nationally designated place of scenic beauty. Divided into four sections—East, Central, West, and South—the gardens encircle the shrine’s main hall, offering visitors a leisurely stroll that takes approximately 30 minutes to complete. One of the highlights of the gardens is the irises, which bloom beautifully just before the rainy season. When in full bloom, these irises blanket the ponds with vibrant colors, creating a mesmerizing sight to behold.

Heian Jingu Shrine Visitor Information

  • Address: 97 Okazaki Nishitennocho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: A 5-minute walk from the “Okazaki Koen Bijutsukan/Heian Jingu-mae” bus stop served by City Bus Route 5 and Kyoto City Bus Routes 100 and 110, or a 10-minute walk from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Subway Line.
  • Phone Number: 075-761-0221
  • Closed: Open every day of the year
  • Hours: 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM (may vary slightly depending on the season)
  • Admission: Free (Admission to Heian Jingu Shin’en Garden: Adults 600 yen, Children 300 yen)
  • Official Website: Heian Jingu Shrine

Discovering Tranquility in Eastern Kyoto: Maruyama Park

Just a 5-minute walk from Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Railway, Maruyama Park stands as one of the oldest and most historically rich parks in Kyoto. Renowned for its picturesque scenery throughout the seasons, including weeping cherry blossoms in spring and vibrant autumn foliage, it’s a beloved destination for nature enthusiasts. One of the unique features of Maruyama Park is its adjacency to other popular attractions such as Yasaka Shrine, Kodai-ji Temple, and Chion-in Temple, offering visitors a seamless exploration experience.

Within Maruyama Park, you’ll find a beautiful Japanese garden, meticulously designed to utilize the natural terrain. On sunny days, the serene pond reflects the sky’s azure hue and the surrounding foliage, creating a stunning vista. Whether you’re a tourist or a family with children, Maruyama Park promises an enjoyable experience for all. Take a leisurely stroll and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature.

Maruyama Park Visitor Information

  • Address: Various locations in Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: A 10-minute walk from Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Railway, or a 5-minute walk from the “Gion” bus stop served by City Bus Routes 206 and 207.
  • Phone Number: 075-643-5405
  • Closed: Open every day of the year
  • Hours: Open for public access at all times
  • Admission: Free
  • Official Website: Maruyama Park

Discovering Gion’s Iconic Landmark: Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine, a historic shrine established over 1,000 years ago, is conveniently located just a short walk from Gion bus stops like “Gion” served by City Bus Routes 206 and 100. Facing Shijo-dori, the vermilion-lacquered “Nishi-roumon” (West Gate) is celebrated as one of the iconic architectural marvels of Higashiyama.

Passing through the designated Important Cultural Property, the Nishi-roumon, let’s head towards the main hall of Yasaka Shrine. Legend has it that beneath the main hall of Yasaka Shrine sleeps a blue dragon, guarding the Higashiyama district of Kyoto.

Near the main hall stands Omiya Shrine, which enshrines the deity Amaterasu-Omikami. Close to Omiya Shrine, there is a spring called “Chikara-mizu” or “Power Water,” which you can collect in a bottle to take home. However, please note that this water is not drinkable as it is, so make sure to boil it before consumption.

Yasaka Shrine Visitor Information

  • Address: 625 Gionmachi Kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: Just a short walk from the “Gion” bus stop served by City Bus Routes 206 and 100, or a 5-minute walk from Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Railway.
  • Phone Number: 075-561-6155
  • Closed: Open every day of the year
  • Hours: Open for visitation at all times
  • Admission: Free
  • Official Website: Yasaka Shrine

Recommended Dining Spots around Chion-in Temple

From the charming streets of Gion to bustling Shijo-dori, the area surrounding Chion-in Temple offers a wealth of dining options ranging from restaurants to cafes. You can enjoy a variety of culinary delights, including the crescent-shaped pizzas featured in the Michelin Guide and Sichuan cuisine made with fresh seasonal ingredients.

Michelin Guide-Listed Pizzeria: “Pizzeria Napoletana Da Yuuki”

Located just a 5-minute walk from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Subway Line, this renowned pizzeria is featured in the prestigious Michelin Guide. Using carefully selected domestic ingredients, including fresh cheese from Hokkaido, the chef, who trained in Italy, ensures an authentic taste experience.

Indulge in a variety of pizzas, including the famous “Calzone” priced at 1,836 yen (tax included), which boasts the familiar crescent shape found in Naples. Enjoy the chewy texture of the dough and explore the diverse flavors offered by their pizza menu.

  • Address: 36-3 Okazaki Enshoji-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: Just a 5-minute walk from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Subway Line
  • Phone Number: 075-761-6765
  • Closed: Mondays
  • Hours:
    • Lunch: 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM (Last Order: 2:30 PM)
    • Dinner: 6:00 PM to 10:30 PM (Last Order: 10:00 PM)
  • Budget:
    • Dinner: ¥4,000 to ¥4,999
    • Lunch: ¥2,000 to ¥2,999

Indulge in Seasonal Sichuan Cuisine at “Ryumon Okazaki”

Located a 9-minute walk from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Subway Line, this restaurant offers Sichuan cuisine made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Situated near tourist spots such as Heian Jingu Shrine, Nanzen-ji Temple, and Chion-in Temple, it’s a convenient stop for travelers. During dinner, indulge in a variety of dishes with their course menu.

The “¥4,000 Course” includes 8 dishes, ranging from appetizers to desserts, providing a comprehensive Chinese dining experience. Try spicy dishes characteristic of Sichuan cuisine, such as the flavorful “Shrimp in Chili Sauce,” known for its bold chili flavor.

Basic Information about Ryumon Okazaki Store

  • Address: 22-10 Okazaki Minamigoshocho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: A 9-minute walk from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Subway Line
  • Phone Number: 075-752-8181
  • Closed: Open every day of the year
  • Hours:
    • Lunch: 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM
    • Dinner: 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM
  • Price Range:
    • Dinner: ¥3,000 to ¥3,999
    • Lunch: ¥1,000 to ¥1,999

“Gion Emon”: Traditional Sushi Restaurant Serving Chef’s Selection Sushi for Over 30 Years

Located just a 3-minute walk from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Subway Line, this sushi restaurant is renowned for its long-standing history. The owner ensures that only the freshest and highest quality fish is served, as anything less wouldn’t meet their standards. With over 40 types of sushi available at all times, guests can enjoy individual pieces starting from as low as ¥250 or opt for a set.

For lunch, try the “Chef’s Selection Sushi” priced at ¥2,700 (tax included), which comes with a miso soup. The contents of the sushi vary depending on the day’s catch, ensuring you enjoy seasonal delicacies. During dinner, indulge in a variety of dishes including sushi and grilled fish, paired perfectly with sake.

Store Information for Gion Emon

  • Address: 296-3 Ishibashi-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: Just a 3-minute walk from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Subway Line
  • Phone Number: 075-551-5585
  • Closed: Irregular holidays
  • Hours:
    • Lunch: 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM
    • Dinner: 6:00 PM to 11:00 PM (Last Order: 10:30 PM)
  • Price Range:
    • Dinner: ¥6,000 to ¥7,999
    • Lunch: ¥2,000 to ¥2,999

One of the iconic tourist spots in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district is “Chion-in Temple.” Both the “Sanmon Gate” welcoming visitors and the “Miedo Hall” dedicated to Honen, the founder of the Jodo sect, are designated as national treasures. We hope this introduction to Chion-in Temple serves as a helpful reference for your Kyoto travels.

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