Sanmon (Main Gate) (National Treasure)
The Sanmon was erected in 1621 by Tokugawa Hidetada, the second Tokugawa shogun and it has a height of about 24 meters, a width of about 50 meters, and about 70,000 roof tiles. This is one of the largest wooden tower gates in existence in Japan. The atmosphere in this tower gate is one of solemn magnificence, as it houses a Buddhist worship hall and images of Shakamuni Buddha and sixteen of his disciples. Also, the ceiling, beams, and pillars have images of heavenly maidens and flying dragons depicted in brilliant colors.
The inside of the Sanmon
(Seated image of Shakyamuni Buddha)
Normally, the inside of the gate is not open to the general public, but when it is opened for special viewings, visitors can see the Shiraki-no-hitsugi (the Plain wood coffins), one of Chion-in’s seven wonders and the glorious adornments in their brilliant colors.
After passing through the Sanmon (main gate) and climbing to the top of the stone steps, a magnificent structure with an enormous roof on the left hand side will come into view. Since this building houses the miei (sacred image) of the founder, Hōnen, this building is called the Mieidō (hall that houses the image of Hōnen). This hall serves as the center of the Chion-in temple complex. This hall was rebuilt in 1639 by the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu. The architectural style of the building is Japanese with some Chinese elements. The building is of a massive scale, with a length of 35 meters and a width of 45 meters, and a three meter wide verandah encircling the entire structure. This magnificent hall is fitting as the center for the nembutsu teachings and has welcomed many worshippers since long ago. To this day, many can be seen worshipping here, and especially during the services for Bon-e (services held during the summer for the benefit of deceased relatives), Higan-e (Buddhist services performed during the equinox), and Gyoki daie (services held in memorial of Hōnen) as well as the O-minugui-shiki (ceremony in which the image of Hōnen is purified) the Mieidō becomes alive with worshippers.
The inside of the Mieidō
Also, there are many things to see in this hall, such as the wasuregasa (the forgotten umbrella), one of the seven wonders of the Chion-in, the door stoppers shaped like a water imp, turtle, and cicada, along with the “leftover tiles” on the roof.
This building was reconstructed in 1635. The primary image housed in this building is a statue of Amida (Amitabha) said to be created by the bishop Eshin (also known as Genshin). In the front of the hall, there are images of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, and the fourth Tokugawa shogun, Ietsuna. With an area said to equal that of one thousand tatami mats, this hall also served as the site for the Great Kyoto Exhibition in 1872. For a long time, this building was used as a training area for monks, but it is currently closed for repairs in preparation for the memorial services to be held in 2011 marking the 800th anniversary of Hōnen’s death.
The Amida-dō was originally built by Genchi, the second chief high priest of the Chion-in, in front of the Seishidō, but it was moved to its present location in 1710. Afterward, the building fell into disrepair, but was rebuilt as the present Amida-dō in 1910.
The primary image is a 2.7 meter tall statue of Amida. Those who worship Amida, who faces the east, send their prayers to the faraway Saihō Jōdo (Western Pure Land). This building exudes a tranquil air and today is used for all types of ceremonies, such as ordinations and Buddhist weddings.