Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

March 8, 2012

Hokyoji "Doll Temple" (Kyoto Guide)

The best place to see Hina dolls in Kyoto in March is without a doubt Hokyoji Temple in the Nishijin district. It is beautifully solemn and peaceful place.

The Imperial Convent Hokyoji carries on the teachings of Keiaiji, one of the great five Zen nunneries that prospered in Kyoto in medieval times. The sixth head priestess of Keiaiji was Karin no Miya Egon, a daughter of Emperor Kogon. In the period 1368-75 she set up Hokyoji as a subtemple of Keiaiji. After the civil wars in the 15th c., when Keiaiji was severly weakened, Hokyoji took over the "Light of the Law" from its former parent temple.

[Hokyoji Temple, Kyoto]

The link with the Imperial Family was once again stengthened in 1644 when Kugon Risho Zenni, a daughter of Emperor Gomizuno-o, came to live here. Hokyoji became a monzeki, a temple headed by a member of the Imperial Family. Ever since, Imperial Princesses have practiced Buddhism here - Hokyoji received the nickname "Dodo Gosho" or Dodo Palace, named after the nearby Dodo Bridge. The present buildings were reconstructed after a fire in the late 18th c. - famous painter Maruyama Okyo took care of the decorations in the Shoin.

[Hokyoji Temple, Kyoto]

Karin no Miya Egon brought a miraculous Kannon statue to the temple that had been kept in the Imperial Palace. Still the main image of the temple, it is a statue of Sho-kannon, caught off the coast of Futamigaura near Ise in the nets of fishermen. Miraculously, the Kannon carries a small round mirror in her lap which probably gave rise to the name of the temple, "Precious Mirror."

All those imperial princesses took their valuable Hina dolls with them to the convent and on top of that, they would every year receive new dolls as a present from the Imperial Palace. That is how a huge collection of priceless Hina dolls and ancient toys was formed. Therefore Hokyoji is now known as "Ningyo-dera" or "Temple of Dolls." These dolls were first shown to the general public in 1957, and since then the temple has been hosting bi-annual Hina doll exhibitions in Spring (March) and Autumn.

Old dolls should never be thrown away, so in the temple's courtyard there is also a burial mound for old dolls. Every year on October 14, old dolls that have ended their period of service are dedicated to this doll grave in a solemn ceremony in which also the Taiyu (top courtesan) of Shimabara takes part.

[Doll Monument in Hokyoji Temple, Kyoto]

A poem by the writer Mushanokoji Saneatsu that has been carved on the monument sums it all up:
oh dolls
I don't know
who made you
or who loved you
but let the fact that you were loved
be the proof that you attained Nirvana

ningyo yo | dare ga tsukurishi ka | dare ni aisareshi ka | shiranudomo | aisareta jijitsu koso | anata ga jobutsu no akashi nare

Access: City bus to Horikawa-Teranouchi
Hours: Not usually open to the public, but the temple holds special exhibitions of dolls in spring and autumn.
Official website (Japanese)