February 12, 2005
by Naomi Kawahara and Kasane Kondo
Within this beautiful temple complex there are many buildings that were established in the Edo era. The Jodo (Land of the Pure) sect was established here by the High Priest, Honen. Here you can see trees with stunning red leaves lit up at night in the fall, and the delicate beauty of cherry blossoms in spring. Due to the idyllic setting, many people decide to hold their wedding ceremony here, too. Are you familiar with the seven wonders of Chion-in? Let’s look around and find them!
Chion-in Online Tour
Sanmon GateAt first, a huge gate Sanmon welcomes you into Chion-in. It’s 24 meters high and 27 meters long, which makes it the biggest gate in Japan. The master builder of this gate, Gomi Kinuemon, also made the wooden statue, which is set upon the roof. There is also a coffin constructed of plain wood, Shiraki-no-kan, beneath the statue, which symbolizes the burial place for Gomi Kinuemon and his wife, who killed themselves by the sword to take responsibility of the soaring costs of building such an enormous gate. Unfortunately, you can’t see the coffin from outside, though. Sanmon express three (San) things, emptiness, innocence, and selflessness. If you pass through the gate, it is said that you are on the path to Jodo (Land of the Pure).
Upon passing through, you will see immediately Otoko-zaka. This is called the “slope of men” but it is actually a set of steep steps, which lead to the main temple.
At the top of the steps, you can see the map of the Chion-in complex on your left. And if you walk a little further, there is a kind of water trough that you make use of to purify your hands before you worship. You can also drink this water. Next, there is a resting place with an information desk.
Now, you should head over to Kemuri-Kaburi, a giant incense burner which gives out clouds of sweet smelling smoke. It is said that if you waft the smoke around your head, you will become smarter and your body will be healthy.
The belfry – Shoro – is located a little far from Miei-do. The bell itself weighs 70 tons. It is struck every year on the anniversary of Honen’s death, in April, and on New Year’s Eve, by 17 monks.
Kyozo is located near Miei-do. It is a storehouse for sutras, the sacred books of Buddhism. It has a sutra storage case and it was once believed that if people walked around it, they could gain edification without actually reading the real sutras.
After a short stroll, you will come to the main hall, Miei-do. It has the capacity to hold four thousand people, and is a famous but commonly used temple that people like to visit. The high priest Honen is enshrined here, and it was established by Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1639. One of the seven wonders is the forgotten umbrella, Wasure-gasa, which is located inside the southeast eaves, and which has two stories behind its existence. One is that a skillful craftsman, Hidari-Jingoro, left it as an amulet to avoid misfortune. Another is that a white fox left it as thanks to a high priest who made a house for him. In any case, the umbrella is connected with water, so it is believed that it helps protect against fire.
When you walk along the passage between Miei-do and Daihojo, Uguisubari-no- roka, your footsteps make a sound similar to birdsong. It is said that even Ninja could not avoid making the sound when they walked the same path.
There are several of the seven wonders in Daihojo. A multi-dimensional cat picture, Sanpou-shoumen-neko, which was drawn by Kano Nobumasa, gives the impression that you are viewing the same image, when viewed from all sides. The sparrow in flight, Nuke-suzume, is a picture of a sparrow, set on the Kiku-no-ma of the building. The sparrow gives the illusion of being real in the picture, as if it is actually taking flight.
Kohojo is located next to Daihojo. The large wooden ladle resting here, Dai-Shakushi, symbolizes that everyone in the world can be saved. It is 3 meters long, and weighs 30 kilograms.
High priest Honen passed away at the age of 80 in Chion-in. Therefore, there are 80 steps to ascend to Seishi-do. In the inner part of Seishi-do, you will find a shrine to Honen.
On your return to the main gate, we recommend you pass along the Onna-zaka ‘the slope of women’. These are the opposite steps to Otoko-zaka and the least steep steps between the shrine and the gate.
The unusually named “melon” or “squash” stone, Uryuseki, can be found near the black gate, Kuro-mon. A melon/squash was grown on this stone by the black gate. The plant that grew here did so without human intervention, totally of its own accord. Perhaps, this is typical of the wonderful things that seem to surround this beautiful, historic and spiritual place, Chion-in.