Honen-in Temple

December 10, 2008

by Ayako Senju

If you want to spend a leisurely hour, you ought to visit Honen-in Temple in Kyoto. Once you step into this temple, you will feel time slow down.

Basic Information

The temple gate is open from 6:00 to 16:00, and we can enter the temple precincts for free. The main building is open to the public twice a year, from April 1st to 7th and November 1st to 7th, and requires a small offering of money. This is an independent Jodo-shu temple.

There is a small spring in the garden which is called “Zenki-sui (善気水),” and is one of the famous springs in Kyoto. A legend tells that this spring originated when priest Nincho speared the ground and water then flowed out continuously.


Honen-in was built in 1680 by the priest Nincho (忍澂).

Honen is the name of the priest who founded the Pure Land Sect of Buddhism (浄土真宗, Jodo-shin-shu) and lived from 1133 to 1212. He made a thatched hut for Buddhist training, but after he passed away, that place fell into ruin. About 400 years later, priest Bambu (萬無) decided to build a temple at the site to remind people of Honen. Bambu commended his pupil Nincho to complete Honen-in. That’s how this temple came to be built. In 1953, the temple became independent of the Jodo-shu (浄土宗) sect.


Byakusadan-Terrace of White Sand (白砂壇)

Passing through the entry gate, which is covered with moss, you’ll see two small mounds of sand on both sides of the path. These sand mounds purify one’s body and soul. Usually temples or shrines have a basin to wash hands at their entrance, but this temple has these sand mounds instead. Every three or four days a monk draws a new pattern on the mounds in the early morning. One day they look like waves on water, while on another day they may look like the shapes of flowers or the shapes of maple leaves, and so on.

Lecture Hall (講堂)

Behind the white sand mounds is the store house. Sometimes concerts or exhibitions are held here.

Entrance to the Main Hall

As you cross the bridge over the pond, you will see an entrance straight ahead. Usually the entrance of the main temple building is closed. Sometimes the priest holds lectures, so if you get a chance, take off your shoes and enter to listen.

Main Hall

A statue of this temple’s main deity, Amida-nyorai (阿弥陀如来坐像), is displayed in the main hall. The wooden statues of the priest Honen and the priest Bambu are also enshrined here.

Visitors can relax and enjoy looking at books and picture books that are on shelves at the front of the main hall.

On the other side of the hall, there is a statue of the priest Nincho as an image of the Jizo Bodhisattva.

Shishiodoshi (しし脅し, a deer scare)

If you listen carefully around the main hall, a single knocking sound comes from somewhere every one or two minutes. It is the sound of a shishiodoshi. This device is made from a short, hollow bamboo pole.

The bamboo is placed above a basin so that it gets filled with water little by little. As the bamboo tube fills with water, it becomes too heavy and falls down. Then the empty bamboo pole falls right back to its previous position, and hits a stone with a “thud.” That is how the sound is made.

It was invented to scare deer or wild pigs in order to keep them out of the garden, but now it is mostly enjoyed for its gracious sound, Japanese style garden.


Many historic Japanese persons are buried in the graveyard next to Honenin. Why did they choose this temple? Because Honen-in is quiet and has a local feeling, and it is in this area where they might have developed their ideas for novels on philosophy. Among the famous Japanese buried here are:

Literary scholar and novelist Junichiro Tanizaki (谷崎潤一郎)

Japanese-style painter Heihachiro Fukuda (福田平八郎)

Economist Hajime Kawakami (河上肇)

Philosopher Shuzo Kuki (九鬼周造)

Many other scholar and writer tombs are here.

This graveyard is south from the entrance gate, so it is a little distant from the grounds of the temple.

Events as “Sangha”

Sangha means a “community,” and is originally sanskrit.

Occasionally the head priest of Honen-in, Shinsho Kajita (梶田真章), holds forums for people who like this templeKajita often gives a sermon, and also many artists or musicians hold concerts or exhibitions in this temple.These events are called Honen-in Sangha, which means means collective.They are not only about Buddhism, but also about the arts, environmental problems, seasonal stories, tea, and so on.Some events need reservations, so if you have interest, please check the temple’s website.

Honen-in’s appeal

You can enjoy each season at Honen-in, especially the beginning of April and the beginning of November. Usually this temple is quiet; most colors here are the greens of leaves and moss.Even in the wintertime, some trees don’t lose their leaves, and the trunks of trees are covered with moss.I was mystified, because I felt relaxed and didn’t think about time when I walked through the grounds of this temple. The reason may be the harmony that exists between nature and the temple buildings.Honen-in has another charming side to it. When camellias blossom, the temple grounds look very colorful. The dark entry way becomes a path full of pink splashes. Also, the green leaves turn red in autumn.As I mentioned before, they are special open days, from April 1st to 7th and November 1st to 7th, so you can enjoy cherry blossoms or red maple leaves at these times.

How to get to Honen-in Temple

Honen-in temple is surrounded by several famous tourist attractions, including Ginkaku-ji temple, Mt. Daimonji, and the Philosopher’s Path.After touring Ginkaku-ji temple, just follow the road to the south, and then you’ll find Honen-in at the base of the mountains.This temple is close to the “Philosopher’s Path (哲学の道),” so you can also come to Honen-in via this famous walkway.Honen-in is easy to get to. You can enjoy not only the temple itself, but also sites along the way. Both ways, from Ginkaku-ji or from the Philosopher’s Path, are unusually quiet and beautiful, and reflect the four seasons.


Official site of Honen-in (Japanese only)


Honen-in event schedule (Japanese only)













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