This week I visited Higashi Honganji (東本願寺), which translates as The Eastern Temple of the Original Vow. It’s located just a stone’s throw away from the bustling Kyoto Station. I visited on a quiet, cold Monday afternoon, and there were perhaps twenty other people on the temple grounds. The temple is going through some construction, which seems to have deterred some visitors as well.
The Eastern Temple is the head temple of a sect of Shin Buddhism, which is a school of Pure Land Buddhism. This sect had before been much larger until it became too powerful for some in the 16th century. The newly formed government of Japan was ruled by a shogun named Tokugawa Ieyasu, who forced the sect to split into two to try to suppress its power. It was split into East and West, forming the still standing sects that are headed by the Higashi Honganji and Nishi Hongangji temples, respectively. If you haven’t caught on yet, higashi (東) means “East” while nishi (西) means “West” in Japanese. Shin Buddhism is still a very popular form of Buddhism in Japan, with the Higashi and Nishi sects as the two largest of ten sects.
You can read more on the history of the temple here.
And now for a picture tour of the temple!
During my visit, there seemed to be only one entrance. From the looks of it, there may be more, but perhaps once construction is completed or only during peak times. Either way, this entrance was very beautiful to go through!
After walking through the doors, I was shocked that we didn’t have to pay to get in. I thought it was some kind of mistake! Many temples in Kyoto, both big and small, require a small admission fee to enter.
Pictured here is the incredibly massive Founder’s Hall, which is apparently one of the biggest wooden structures in the world at 250 feet (76 m) in length, 190 feet (58 m) in width, and 125 feet (38 m) in height. This is obviously the most important part of the temple as Shinran, the Buddhist monk who founded Shin Buddhism, is enshrined here.
As you can see, there is still much construction going on at the temple. Although it made for less than perfect pictures, it was nice to keep some tourists away! And of course, the temple will likely look even more stunning once renovations are complete.
Here is a typical purifying fountain found at every temple and shrine in Japan. This is the largest one I’ve seen yet!
This is the entrance to The Founder’s Hall. As is the case with most temples and shrines in Japan, it’s forbidden to take pictures on the inside, especially of the altar. We had to take our shoes off here to go inside, which isn’t exactly fun to do in freezing cold weather!
Unfortunately, the altar itself wasn’t open to public view when we visited. The inside of the hall is rather large, and of course beautiful, but it’s also pretty boring if you can’t see the altar. The large lamps dangling from the massive wooden ceilings were the highlights on the inside.
This is the Founder’s Hall Gate from the view of the steps of the Founder’s Hall. This area was closed due to construction.
Next we have the Amida Hall, which is where the image of Amida Buddha is enshrined. Unfortunately, this was also closed due to construction…
Although it was closed, I was amazed at the beauty of its roof. Hopefully when construction is complete, I can visit again to get a better look.
Another view of the inaccessible Founder’s Gate due to construction.
The aerial view of the temple grounds show many other buildings, but they were all blocked off. The only other building that was accessible was this, which I believe is the reception office.
This is one of my favorite pictures which unfortunately didn’t come out well due to the sun. It was fascinating to see an old style Japanese bell tower with the more modern Kyoto Tower in the background.
Trust me- this looks much better in person!
Overall, I’d say that Higashi Hoganji is definitely worth the visit. I will say though that, after looking at some other pictures, it seems much more beautiful in the spring and summer. And of course, without all the construction!
After we left the temple and headed back to Kyoto Station, I noticed this on the side of the temple walls:
At first, I thought it was perhaps just some mangled Google Translate translation, which is quite typical in Japan. But after confirming that it was in fact supposed to be written this way, I came to truly appreciate its meaning. This is a great phrase to get you through any tough times. Thank you, Higashi Honganji!