What to Expect
I will take you to the tour of two well-known temples and a quiet garden in Kyoto, all of which located within the radius of one kilometer from JR Kyoto station and provided with the city bus services.
(1) Nishi-Honganji temple
Designated as the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1994, Nishi-Honganji Temple is the mother temple and headquarters of the Honganji faction of Jodo (Pure Land) Shinshu sect of Buddhism. The Jodo-Shinshu teaching was established by the Venerable "Shinran-shonin" (1173-1263) in the Kamakura period (1185 to 1333). He underwent austere training and hardships in various parts of the country before returning to Kyoto to complete his work, "Kyogyoshinsho", or The True teaching, Practice and Realization of the Pure Land Way on Buddhism. After his demise, his daughter erected a mausoleum at Higashiyama, Kyoto, which became the foundation of Nishi-Honganji Temple today. In the 16th century, it was moved to and re-established at the present location.
Followers of this sect, according to its doctrine, will be reborn in the Pure Land and attain Enlightenment. They will be able to live lives to the fullest, become aware of both potentials and limitations in this world, overcome difficulties and realize happiness within their lifetime.
There are many structures in the precincts, many of which have the status of National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties of Japan. They are: " Amidado" (Hall of "Amida" Buddha, built in 1760), "Goeido" (Founder`s Hall, completed in 1636), "Karamon" Gate, Shoin Hall, "Hiunkaku" House (believed to be part of Jurakudai Palace built by a ruler of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi) and others. There is also a 400-year-old huge ginkgo tree called the "upside-down ginkgo tree", because it looks as if its roots were spread into the sky.
(2) Higashi-Honganji temple
Originally built in 1604 but most recently rebuilt in 1895, this temple is officially called "Shinshu-Honbyo", or The Principal Mausoleum of the True Pure Land Teaching, consisting of the two gigantic halls of "Goeido", or the Founder`s Hall and "Amidado", or Amida Buddha Hall. This temple belongs to the same faction as its counterpart, Nishi-Honganji temple, so the doctrine is basically the same. However, what makes this temple distinguishable are the historical relics preserved there: "kezuna" hair rope consisting of women`s hair and hemp tissues, a sample of a sledge used to transport huge pieces of timber and the diorama reproducing the scene of the avalanche. There are a total of 156 huge pillars whose diameter is some 60 centimeters made of zelkova tree in the two halls. Important Buddhist ceremonies are occasionally held here, attracting a large number of followers.
(3) Shoseien Garden
Located some 500 meters east of and belonging to Higashi-Honganji temple, Shoseien Garden has been the place for the retired head priests of the temple to spend their latter days since the middle of the 17th century. There are many gardens, tea houses, along with the two ponds, but the present buildings were rebuilt after the civil war of 1864. After the Meiji Restoration of Japan took place in 1868, many dignitaries, including the consuls of Qing dynasty, Italy and Russia, as well as
the Japanese nobles visited there. Even Japanese Emperor Meiji and Russian Crown Prince Nicholas Ⅱ spent some time there.
You can enjoy strolling along the paths in the perfectly landscaped garden while watching the trees and hearing birds sing. You can immerse yourself in the quiet and serene atmosphere somewhat different from that of temples.