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

August 30, 2011

Nishi Honganji (Kyoto Guide)

What is now known as Nishi Honganji was the original Honganji temple built in 1591 under the patronage of Hideyoshi. It traces its origins to the mausoleum set up in 1272 for the founder of the sect, Shinran.

Like its eastern counterpart, the accessible part of Nishi Honganji is characterized by two enormous halls, to the right the Amida Hall and to left the large Goeido or Daishido. "Goei" means "holy image" and this hall is the spiritual center of the temple as it is dedicated to Shinran, whose 85 cm high statue is placed on the altar. It is said to be coated by lacquer through which part of Shinran's ashes were mixed, so it is very sacred.

The Goeido Hall dates from 1636 - in recent years the huge roof was restored, partly with new tiles. The hall is 62 meters wide and 48 deep. Height of the roof is 29 meters. There are in all 227 pillars and the hall can hold 3,000 people.

[Higurashimon of Nishi Honganji. Photo Ad Blankestijn]

Amida is of course the central Buddha in Pure Land Buddhism, but he comes in second place after Shinran as the Honganji originated in a funeral temple dedicated to the sect's founder. The Amida Hall is therefore in both Hongaji temples smaller than the hall dedicated to Shinran. In Nishi Honganji it is 45 meters wide and 42 deep and contains 492 tatami mats. The heavy roof is supported by 132 pillars. It can hold a congregation of 1,500 persons. This building dates from 1760. The position of both halls is switched compared with Higashi Honganji.

While these huge halls are more or less the same as those of the temple's counterpart, Higashi Honganji, Nishi Honganji owns some precious architectural treasures, representative of the showy and gorgeous artistic style of the Momoyama-period. Unfortunately, these are not open to the general public (they were in the past, but apparently the temple's policies have changed).
  1. In the SE corner of the temple grounds is an enclosure hiding the delicate Hiunkaku or Pavilion of Flying Clouds (National Treasure). Its complicated roof style is perhaps a bit mannered, but it can compete in importance with the Golden and Silver Pavilions. It has three stories, the first one with Karahafu / Irimoya roof style, the second one with Karahafu / Yosemune roof style and the third one with Hogyo roof style. The pavilion stands at the Soro Pond and at the time it was built, the only means of access was by boat. On the pond side the pavilion has a Funairi where boats could be moored. The windows of the pavilion, called Katomado, are covered by a fine lattice. 
  2. To the SW of the Goeido Hall stands the Shoin (National Treasure), the largest shoin-style structure in Japan. Lavishly decorated, it consists of two halls: the Taimenjo or Audience Hall, which is 330 square meters large, and has been gorgeously decorated by Hasegawa Tohaku. The room is divided into an upper and a lower part; between the pillars separating these two parts is an openwork screen depicting swans in the clouds (therefore the room is also called Otori no Ma, or Swan Room). Also note the secret chamber (musakakushi) at the back of the upper part, where guards could hide, and the Katomado to the right with behind it an alcove with chigaidana staggered shelves. The Shiro Shoin contains three chambers: Jodan no Ma (the First Room, also called Shimyo no Ma or Purple Room), the Ni no Ma (Second Room) and the San no Ma (Third Room, also called Kujaku no Ma or Peacock Room). Note the coffered ceiling with its sunken panels; the mural on the rear wall depicting legendary Chinese Emperors and the Kugikakushi or carvings designed to conceal nails, often depicting shishi, Chinese lions, or peonies.There is also a classical garden, Kokei no Niwa
  3. Northern Noh Stage (1581, National Treasure)
  4. Kuro Shoin (National Treasure). 
  5. Karamon, also called Higurashimon, as one can keep looking at it for a whole day (National Treasure). This magnificent four-legges gate features a roof in Irimoya style with a Karahafu decorated with brilliantly colored ornamental carvings, depicting persons from Chinese legend and history. On the front of the gate one also sees carvings of Chinese lions (karajishi ). 
The temple possesses other treasures as well, such as the Sanjurokunin-kashu, calligraphy of poetry on decorated paper.

Access: 15 min walk from Kyoto Station. The temple stands to the northwest from the station and faces the broad Horikawa Ave. Or take bus 9. 28 or 75 from Kyoto St to Nishi Hongaji-mae. You can also walk here from Higashi Honganji, through the district selling religious items. Grounds free.  
The mausoleum of Shinran that belongs to Nishi Honganji is called Otani Honbyo and stands at Gojo, next to the entrance to Pottery Slope leading to the Kiyomizu Temple. 
In the vicinity: Shimabara. Also explore the Buddhist shops in Honganji Jinaicho, the area between both Honganji temples.