Recently we took the time to visit the Gion district in Kyoto. Although we had been there several times before, we never had the opportunity to take video footage of the different sights. After going through the Yasaka shrine and Moriyama Park we found ourselves in front of the majestic gate of Chion-in, looming in front of us impressively. If you enter from Higashiyama Street, there is a broad entrance to the shrine.
The colossal main gate, the Sanmon, was built in 1619
The main entrance gate, or Sanmon, is made of massive slabs of wood, and the whole building is very spacious; big heavy doors guard the entrance. As you leave the Sanmon, there are a flight of steep, wide stairs leading up to the main temple area, called the Mieidō (hall that houses the image of Hōnen). In this wide open space there is a souvenir shop and a few other buildings to both the left and right. If you are tired from climbing the stairs, there are some benches to take a little rest and enjoy the quiet surroundings.
The main temple area
On your right you will see the The Amida-dō and the Kyōzō; on the left is the Shūedō, which is an Assembly Hall. Currently the Shūedō is under renovation and will be open sometime this year in time for the memorial services to be held in 2011, marking the 800th anniversary of Hōnen’s death. Next to the Kyōzō are steep stairs leading up to a shrine where one can pray. At the bottom of the stairs is a small pond surrounded by tall trees.
The Hōjō Garden!
From here one can go and visit the Hōjō Garden which is in the chisen kaiyūshiki style (a garden which is designed around a pond). You do have to pay a small entrance fee, though the tranquility there is quite worth it. There is a small pond, called the Shinji-ike (Heart Character) Pond and also the Aoi-an Teahouse and the Gongendō Hall. A small mountain path leads up to another small building, where there are some benches to rest. From here you have a magnificent view of Kyoto. On a fine day you can see quite a distance into the landscape of the city.
As you leave the garden there are more stairs to be climbed – they lead up to the Gobyō, or the Mausoleum, where Hōnen’s remains are interred. The building is very nice and there is a little area with tatami mats were you can pray and meditate.
The Ōgane (Large Bell) and the Daishōrō (Great Bell Tower)
By this time you are quite tired, having climbed high up on the mountain, and its time to rest and reflect on all the steps you just traversed. You will not regret the exercise the climbing provided, though. Before leaving, don’t forget to pay a visit to the Ōgane (a large bell) and the Daishōrō (Great Bell Tower). Once you reach the main gate you will find another garden that is well worth visiting, too. Again you will need to pay a small entrance fee, but its well worth. Of course the prime time to visit the Yūzen’en Garden is during the sakura or fall season. It’s a favorite spot for taking pictures, so don’t forget your camera. Japanese people will offer to take your picture in front of your chosen landscape.
Enjoy, and if you are hungry after all this, if you go back to the Gion area you’ll find many shops and restaurants that for sure will satisfy your hunger!