The Artistic Temple in Kyoto
Honen-in is a temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism, located near the Philosopher’s path, in the north-east of Kyoto. First a wooden hut built at the end of the 12th century for monk Honen and his disciples, it acquired its status as a temple in 1680 with monk Nincho. The visit is particularly popular during the autumnal season of koyo.
From the Ginkaku-ji, take the road on the left to enter one of Kyoto’s typical residential area. The road follows a course parallel to the Philosopher’s path, and after a ten minutes’ walk, reaches paved stairways on the left that mark the starting point to Honen-in temple’s visit. Its gardens feature several contemporary artworks contrasting with the usual Buddhist atmosphere.
A tribute to contemporary art and modern literature
The first sculpture encountered is a black, ovoid silhouette called Yoshikoi, made in 2007 by artist Masayuki Nagare (1923-2018). In front of the artwork, open the stairway to the countless gravestones of the temple’s cemetery, where famous Japanese authors and intellectuals rest, such as Tanizaki Junichiro (1886-1965), Kuki Shuzo (1888-1941) and Kawakami Hajime (1879-1946).
Soon, the highlight of the visit is in sight: Honen-in’s traditional gate. The wooden structure topped by a lovely, thatched roof covered with moss, is immersed in a bright light that seems to vanish among the surrounding maple trees. Visitors who came out from the dark neighboring forest feel the vivid contrast: it is a literal passage from darkness to light. A couple of minutes are necessary to adjust, enjoy and immortalize the view in pictures. Then, it is time to enter inside the temple’s enclosure.
Grounds combining traditional and modern
The paved walk crosses between two rectangular-shaped white sand mounds, that are decorated with patterns changing according to seasons. In the vicinity, a little pavilion is used as an eclectic and temporary exhibition gallery for paintings, sculptures, and photography.
The main hall is accessible thanks to a stone bridge over a pond. You must be lucky to have a look inside as it is opened to the public only two weeks per year in spring 🌸 and in autumn 🍁. During the rest of the year, it shelters artistic activities, and it is not unusual to hear some electronic music or other kind of modern sound oozing from the temple.
Honen-in is a peaceful yet lively haven of art, where classical and contemporary arts blend in harmony.