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Chion-in Temple

Listed under Temples in Kyoto, Japan.

  • Photo of Chion-in Temple
  • Photo of Chion-in Temple
  • Photo of Chion-in Temple
  • Photo of Chion-in Temple
  • Photo of Chion-in Temple
  • Photo of Chion-in Temple
  • Photo of Chion-in Temple
Photo of Chion-in Temple
Photo by flickr user pokpok313
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Older people in Japan seem to have a more gung-ho attitude than I’m used to – steep stairs don’t seem to stop them, neither do hills with unfriendly inclines or inclement weather – which is the attitude you need to have to enjoy Chion-in Temple. To get to the huge wooden gate – which looks like a temple in its own right – you have to walk up a steep set of stairs and then it’s up more stairs up a hill to get to the main temple.

Rather than the bright reds and colourfully painted carvings you see in many temples and shrines, this one is more austere in dark wood, with simple gold decorations. To get up into the main temple you have to climb the steepest set of stairs yet – yet I still saw hoards of tiny old ladies heading up them like mountain goats. The building has a pointed roof with a long slope and a verandah all around it. Inside there is golden tatami on the floor, but the walls are dark wood so it’s quite dim. As you enter in front of you you’ll see the alter laid out with the main relics and offerings – obviously very valuable, but again more austere than in other temples and shrines. Some people approach the alter to perform their clapping prayers, but it’s fine to sit up the back and watch – some of the mountain goats were eating their lunch inside, so despite being quite a sincerely serene place it’s also thought of as a public space.

It turned out that I was there for a special occasion, a singing performance which all the hundreds of older ladies there were part of and eventually I was gently squeezed out of the temple to make way for them all so they could perform the songs and ceremonies they had gathered for. That’s ok – I went back outside and a bit further up the hill to admire the largest bell in Japan – it’s pretty impressive too.

This temple is the headquarters of the Jodo Buddhist sect, a group with simple teachings. The temple was founded in 1294 on the site where the sect’s founder Honen fasted to death. Honen’s teaching were very inclusive, especially of women who were excluded from other serious Buddhist practices, which could be why there are so many women in the group today. The most important behaviour for followers of Jodo is the reciting of the nembutsu, which is a mantra praising Amida Buddha.

Written by  Kat Mackintosh.

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