Thursday, June 10, 2010

Higashi-Hongan-ji... The New Formula

22nd October, 2006 - Just a short walk away from our mansion was the temple known as Higashi-Hongan-ji (or the Eastern Hongan-ji temple). This temple can be thought of as one side of the Hongan-ji coin (with Nishi-Hongan-ji, or the Western Hongan-ji temple, being the other side of the coin).

Higashi-Hongan-ji is the easiest of the Kyoto temples to visit from Kyoto Station. The buildings are impressive, but the grounds that are readily visible to the public (as far as we could see) were uninspiring and mostly gravel and concrete... not that there's anything wrong with that! ?;^)

The original temple (Nishi-Hongan-ji) was split back in the turn of the Tokugawa period (around 1604 AD) - which I'll discuss in a later post. Needless to say, that the original temple was broken up and has remained separate to this day.

The current Founder’s Hall is one of the largest wooden buildings in the world, and contains a giant statue of the foundermonk, Shinran. Unfortunately at the time we visited in 2006, the grand Founders Hall was undergoing substantial renovation, and as such the main building was covered in a giant structure to protect it whilst it was being worked on.... That also happened to obscure it!

 The temple, and all it’s treasures, were all but destroyed in 1864, during the upheavals at the end of the Tokugawa era (and the start of the Meiji era). This was the fourth time the temple had been destroyed since 1783. The present buildings date from between 1879 to 1911. 

The newly created Meiji government was highly pro-Shinto in orientation, and therefore it was a difficult time to re-establish the temple. Indeed the history of both Hongan-ji temples is that of the gradually increasing control of the temples by the state.

One of the more interesting stories relating to the Higashi-Hongan-ji is that of the re-construction of the Founder’s Hall. So the story goes, the difficulties in building the Hall due to the weight of the timbers so inspired the female followers that they donated their hair to form 53 ropes, up to 110 metres long and weighing up to 1 tonne. One such rope, known as the kezuna, is still on display.

Some might say that's incredibly gross! Others might say that's an uplifting display of faith and support. My own view... normal rope became popular for a reason...

Both Nishi and Higashi Honganji are free and open daily from around 6am, closing either 4:30 pm in winter to around 6pm otherwise. My feeling is that these are two of the big temples in Kyoto - and two of the easiest to get to... however, they are unfortunately not two of my favourites.
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  1. *note to self*

    If you ever get rich build yourself a Japanese style compound complete with a temple, castle and moat!

    *end note to self*

  2. Hmmm... own castle... would hate to have to do the up-keep by myself however. A lot of work... and the insurance must be a nightmare (what with the frequency with which they burnt down).