As the head temple of the Jodo (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism, Chion-in (or Chionin) in Kyoto is one of the most important sacred sites in Japan.
History of Chionin
Pure Land Buddhism was founded in 1175 by the priest Honen, who taught that one could be reborn in the Pure Land (a heavenly paradise from which it is easy to attain nirvana), simply by calling on Amida Buddha in devotion and faith. Its simple teachings and applicability to common people helped Jodo Buddhism become the most popular sect in Japan.
Chionin Temple was built in 1234 on the site where Honen fasted to death in 1212. Due to earthquakes and fires, most of the present buildings date from the 17th century.
In October 2002, Chion-in Temple was used in the filming of the Tom Cruise movie The Last Samurai. It was standing in for Edo Castle.
What to See at Chionin
The entrance to Chionin is through the two-story San-mon (main gate) and then up a steep flight of stairs. Standing at 79 feet (24 meters) tall, this is Japan's largest temple gate. It was built in 1619 and has been designated a Japanese National Treasure.
The gate is a fitting introduction to the expansive temple complex of Chionin, one of the largest in Japan and an important religious headquarters. At one time, the complex had 21 buildings. Because of fires and earthquakes, the oldest standing buildings are the Hon-do (Main Hall, 1633) and the Daihojo (Abbots' Quarters, 1639).
Chionin's temple bell (cast in 1633) is the heaviest in Japan, at 74 tons. It takes 17 monks to ring it at the New Year ceremony.
The Main Hall is also huge; it can hold 3,000 people. The corridor behind the Main Hall, which leads to the Assembly Hall, is an uguisu-bari (nightingale floor). This type of floor is constructed to "sing" at every footstep to warn the monks of intruders. You can walk underneath the corridor to examine the way the boards and nails are placed to create this inventive burglar alarm.
Honen's statue, designated a National Treasure, is enshrined in the Miedo.
Quick Facts on Chionin
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|Coordinates:||35.006189° N, 135.783664° E|
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Map of Chionin, Kyoto
Below is a location map and aerial view of Chionin. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.