April 12, 2004
by Saori Shingu
Chion-in is a temple in Higashiyama, to the north of Maruyama Park. Chion-in was built by Seikanbogenchi in 1234 AD to honor the founder of the Jodo (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism, Honen. Before Honen died, he called the place Yoshimizu no Soan and preached the Namu Amida Butsu to the general public there. In those days, the people of Kyoto faced much uncertainty because two rival political authorities, Genji ans Heisei,had been at war in various districts for a long time. Residents wanted to ask for help from the prevalent religion, but they didn’t do so because understanding that form of Buddhism required a high level of education. The Jodo sect was more accessible, only preaching the need to chant Namu Amida Butsu wholeheartedly, so it became popular among average people and gave them relief. After the temple was built, the Emperor Shijo gave it the name Kachozan-Chionkyoin-otanidera, as a token of the Emperor’s gratitude for Honen’s efforts.
Chion-in is a rich repository of important cultural assets, including its biggest wooden gate which is famous. Also it has seven interesting wonders, and the following article will introduce them.
Wasure-Gasa (A forgotten umbrella)
Wasure-Gasa is in the southeast corner of the main temple, Mieido. You can’t miss it because there is a wooden sign. All that remains of the umbrella is a single rib, and it looks like someone forgot it there. There are two legends connected to the umbrella. One is that Hidari Jingoro, a carpenter, put it there to ward off evil spirits. Another legend is related to a white fox. A long time ago, a white fox lived there. One day, a saint planned to build Mieido in the spot, so he asked the fox to move to another place. The fox agreed to his wish but asked the saint to promise that he would build the fox a new house. The saint kept his promise, so the fox put the umbrella there as a reward. It’s not certain which legend is true, but umbrellas are connected to rain or water, so people believe that it will protect the temple from fire.
Uguisu-bari no Roka (A unique hallway)
Mieido is connected to Syukai-do, Ohojo, and Kohojo by a long corridor. The corridor’s floor planking was specially constructed to emit creaking noises when walked upon. If you walk more quietly, the noise will become louder. This unique device, also called Shinobi-gaeshi, is useful for protecting this temple from intruders.
Sanpo-shomen-mamuki-no-neko (A picture of a cat)
There is a big picture of a cat drawn on a Japanese cedar door, called Sanpo-shomen-makko-no-neko, in the corridor of Ohojo. The cat stares fixedly at you even if you look at this his eyes from not only the front but also the right and left sides. The actual picture is old and badly damaged, so you can only see a replica.
Nuke-suzume (A picture of sparrows)
This traditional picture of sparrows was painted on sliding doors by Karino Nobumasa. He painted some sparrows near the top of the doors, but you can’t see them. It said that his paintings of the sparrows were so splendid that they came to life and escaped from the sliding doors. Now you can see only traces of their flight. Also these doors can’t be viewed by the public, but you can see a replica in Kiku-no-ma, Oho-jo
Uryuseki (A big stone)
As you now know, this temple has many various legends. Please visit and see them for yourself!
There is a big stone called Uryuseki surrounded by a fence in front of Kuro-mon. This stone was there before Chion-in was built and also is connected to two legends. One is that some gourds sprang up from this stone, even though no one planted any seeds there. Another story is that one day the god of Yasaka Shrine visited this stone twice. After he left there the second time, many gourds sprang up after only one night.