(GERMANY OUT) The bell at the Chion-inTemple in the Gion district of Kyoto, Japan  (Photo by Forster/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

ullstein bild via Getty Images


Top choice in Southern Higashiyama

A collection of soaring buildings, spacious courtyards and gardens, Chion-in serves as the headquarters of the Jōdo sect, the largest school of Buddhism in Japan. It's the most popular pilgrimage temple in Kyoto and it's always a hive of activity. For visitors with a taste for the grand, this temple is sure to satisfy.

Chion-in was established in 1234 on the site where Hōnen, one of the most famous figures in Japanese Buddhism, taught his brand of Buddhism (Jōdo – or Pure Land – Buddhism) and eventually fasted to death.

The oldest of the present buildings date to the 17th century. The two-storey San-mon temple gate is the largest in Japan. The immense Miei-dō Hall (Main Hall) contains an image of Hōnen. It's connected to another hall, the Dai Hōjō, by a 'nightingale' floor (that sings and squeaks at every move, making it difficult for intruders to move about quietly). Miei-dō Hall is currently under restoration and closed to the public. It's expected to be finished by 2020.

Up a flight of steps southeast of the main hall is the temple's giant bell, which was cast in 1633 and weighs 70 tonnes. It is the largest bell in Japan. The bell is rung by the temple's monks 108 times on New Year's Eve each year.

The temple has two gardens – the Hōjō garden designed around a pond in the chisen kaiyūshiki style, and the Yuzen-en featuring a karesansui (dry landscape garden).