Hongan-ji, also known as Nishi Hongan-ji, is the head temple of the Hongan-ji school of the Jodo-shin Buddhism. Hongan-ji was situated in Yamashina from 1483 and then Ishiyama (central Osaka) from 1533, but after the temple was defeated in the war with Oda Nobunaga, a powerful lord who came close to unifying war-torn Japan, in 1580, it was removed from there.
It was in 1591 that Hongan-ji was reconstructed in the present situation, and it stands here for more than four centuries ever since. Of the many buildings designated as National Treasures in the precincts, Goeido, Amidado, and Karamon are most renowned.
Goeido, or the Founder’s Hall, was rebuilt in 1636. It is where the statue of sect founder Shinran is placed, together with portraits of successive head monks.
Amidado, or the Hall of Amida Buddha, was completed in 1760. It is primarily dedicated to the figure of Amida Buddha. There are portraits of other historic religious figures as well.
Amidado and Goeido are the central pieces of this temple, but Karamon is also well-known.
It’s a magnificent gate which is said to have been a gate of Fushimi-jo, the main castle of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the lord who at last unified Japan in the late 16th century. It’s no wonder it’s so gorgeous if you consider his liking, though it’s not academically confirmed the gate is really from the castle.
The buildings designated as National Treasures other than these are Hiunkaku, Shoin, Kuro-shoin, Kita-nobutai, and Denro, though these are not open to the public except for special occasions.
Hongan-ji is a component of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto” and it deserves the honor. Admission is free, unlike temples such as Kinkaku-ji.
Where to eat around Hongan-ji
Kyo Chabana Kyoto-ekimae-ten
Kyo Chabana is a chain of okonomiyaki restaurants headquartered in Kyoto City, and there’s a branch near Hongan-ji.
Unlike ordinary okonomiyaki, it mixes vegetable ingredients like tomato and avocado, making its okonomiyaki a little lighter than usual ones. There are Caesar salad, yakisoba and the like on the menu, so even if you don’t like okonomiyaki, it’s no problem.
Where to stay around Hongan-ji
A hotel or inn we recommend around Hongan-ji is Ryokan Shimizu.
First, its accessibility is excellent. It’s a 3-minute walk from Hongan-ji, and 10 minutes from Kyoto Station, which means that it’s a very convenient place to go not only to (Nishi) Hongan-ji, but also to Higashi Hongan-ji, Kyoto Tower, and To-ji. Adding to this, each of its rooms has a bathtub. You can also book a family-sized bathtub if you want.
Its room rates are around 12,000 to 18,000 yen for rooms for two to three guests, which means its pretty reasonable if you are going to stay here with such numbers of people.
Hongan-ji is, in our opinion, one of the top five Buddhist temples in Kyoto from the perspective of historic architecture.
Owing to the influence of Momoyama culture Toyotomi Hideyoshi created, this temple is unusually gorgeous for a Buddhist temple, but that’s one of the distinctive features this temple has.
This is especially true for its Karamon, and Hongan-ji has a notable temple complex with many National Treasures like this. If you’re going to visit Kyoto, Hongan-ji is a must-see site.