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Chion-in's main hall "Mieido" (御影堂)

Chion-in (知恩院, Chion-in) in Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Japan is the headquarters of the Jōdo-shū (Pure Land Sect) founded by Hōnen (1133–1212), who proclaimed that sentient beings are reborn in Amida Buddha's Western Paradise (Pure Land) by reciting the nembutsu, Amida Buddha's name.

The vast compounds of Chion-in include the site where Hōnen settled to disseminate his teachings and the site where he died.


Sanmon (National Treasure of Japan)

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:[1][2]

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.[1] 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.


The Tokugawa family kamon (crest) can be seen in the ends of the roof tiles, honoring their patronage of the temple.

The colossal main gate, the Sanmon, was built in 1619 and is the largest surviving structure of its kind in Japan. Chion-in has a large and a small guest house in the irimoya roof style called Ohojo and Kohojo that are designated Important Cultural Heritages. Both guest houses were built in 1641.

Chion-in is home to Japan's largest temple bell, which was commissioned in 1633 and weighs 74 tons. It used to require a 25 man team to sound it.[3] But now the temple website says 17 are needed.

There are two interesting features to note about Chion-in. First, all roof beams are carved with the family crest of the Tokugawa family: three hollyhock leaves.

Another feature is the umbrella found stashed in the rafters outside the main temple. One of the architects who helped rebuild the temple placed the umbrella in the rafters to help bring rain (and thereby ward off fire).

The pond behind Chion-in

Lastly, an interesting feature inside the temple is the very squeaky boards, an example of a nightingale floor. The wooden boards were built with metal ends that would rub against the metal joints they were attached to, created a piercing noise as people step on them. This was intentionally done so that when the Tokugawa family stayed at the temple, they could detect unwanted intruders at night.


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.


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Dobbins, James C. (2002). Jodo Shinshu: Shin Buddhism in Medieval Japan. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 103–104. ISBN 0-8248-2620-5.
  2. ^ Jonathan Watts; Yoshiharu Tomatsu (2005). Traversing the Pure Land Path: A Lifetime of Encounters with Honen Shonin. Jodo Shu Press. pp. 152–153. ISBN 4-88363-342-X.
  3. ^ Hearn, Lafcadio. Lafcadio Hearn Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan Vol 1. Brighthouse. pp. 61 (footnote). GGKEY:94BGWZS0H8R.


External linksEdit