Nishi Hongan-ji

Kyoto Station & South Kyoto

KYOTO, JAPAN - 2012/04/09: Nishi Hongan-ji or the "Western Temple of the Original Vow" is one of two temple complexes of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism in Kyoto, the other being Higashi Honganji (or "The Eastern Temple of the Original Vow". Today it serves as the head temple of the Jodo Shinshu sect.  Nish Honganji is older than the Higashi Honganji and has more integral architecture. Together they are listed as Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto as also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.. (Photo by John S. Lander/LightRocket via Getty Images)

LightRocket via Getty Images

A vast temple complex, Nishi Hongan-ji comprises several buildings that feature some of the finest examples of architecture and artistic achievement from the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568–1603). The Goei-dō is a marvellous sight. Another must-see building is the Daisho-in hall, which has sumptuous paintings, carvings and metal ornamentation. A small garden and two (stylised Japanese dance-drama) stages are connected with the hall. The dazzling Kara-mon has intricate ornamental carvings.

In 1591 Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered the building of this temple to serve as the new headquarters for the Jōdo Shin-shū (True Pure Land) school of Buddhism. It was originally called Hongan-ji (Temple of the True Vow). Later Tokugawa Ieyasu saw the power of this sect as a threat to his power and sought to weaken it by encouraging a breakaway faction of this sect to found Higashi Hongan-ji (higashi means ‘east’) in 1602. This temple, the original Hongan-ji, then became known as Nishi Hongan-ji (nishi means ‘west’).

Nishi Hongan-ji now functions as the headquarters of the Hongan-ji branch of the Jōdo Shin-shū school, with over 10,000 temples and more than 12 million followers worldwide.