Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Hōsen-in – A Temple with Lovely Gardens and a Bloody Ceiling

Just a 5-minute walk from Kyoto Ōhara’s (大原) prime attraction, Sanzen-in, is the Hōsen-in Temple (宝泉院). While the scale of Hōsen-in is smaller than Sanzen-in, think twice if you are thinking of giving it a pass. Because in addition to two gorgeous gardens, the temple also has a historical element that can be traced back to 1600!

Hōsen-in was erected in the late Heian period (794 – 1185) as Shōrin-in Temple’s (勝林院) monks’ living quarters. In the 1230s, it was transformed into a Tendai sect training ground that focused on the chanting of Buddhist hymns by a monk named Sōkaihōin (宗快法印). Although it was once abandoned in the early 13th century, Hōsen-in was revived in the 1570s.

The Garden as Gorgeous as a Framed Painting

Ⓒ 寶泉院

Hōsen-in is most famous for its Gakubuchi Teien (額縁庭園). Gakubuchi Teien is a term describing the view of the garden from the interior of a building. From this angle, you can get a photo of the breathtaking garden sandwiched between the room’s ceiling and floor. In such a photo, the pillars, the ceiling, and the floorboard play the role of a picture frame, saving you the effort and cost of framing the astonishing view (≧▽≦).

The formal name of the garden in front of the Kyakuden Hall (客殿) is Bankan-en (盤桓園), meaning a garden that is hard to leave behind. The reason is obvious. With the Japanese white pine (五葉松) that is more than 700 years old, the bamboo grove and the stunning Ōhara’s nature at the far back, one just can’t help but be enchanted by this splendid view!

Ⓒ 寶泉院

What is even better, to make the experience more relaxing and enjoyable, a bowl of matcha tea and a Japanese sweet are served to all guests (which technically is included as a part of the admission fee)! So at the entrance of the Kyakuden Hall, remember to give the staff your tea + confectionery ticket to the staff. You can then find a good spot on the scarlet felt and wait to be served.

Ⓒ 寶泉院

On one side of the garden, there is a Shuikinkutsu (水琴窟). This Japanese garden feature is a buried earthen jar that makes sounds when water drips into it. Probably because of its rare double-barreled design, the sound produced by the Suikinkutsu is one of the most pleasant things we have heard.

The Bloody Ceiling (血天井)

When you enjoy your bowl of tea on the tatami mats covered by scarlet felt, if you happen to look up to the ceiling, you might wonder what the red-brownish stains scattered on the wooden boards are. As horrifying as it sounds, those are human bloodstains…

Ⓒ 寶泉院

The wooden boards originate from Fushimi Castle (伏見城). In the Siege of Fushimi Castle (伏見城の戦い), losing the war to Ishida Mitsunari (石田三成), Tokugawa Ieyasu’s force in the castle committed seppuku (Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment). The samurais’ blood is said to have dyed the castle’s floor red. The blood-stained floorboards of Fushimi Castle were later transformed into ceiling boards in temples in Kyoto to pray for peaceful afterlives for those who lost their lives.

Tsurukame Garden (鶴亀庭園)

Ⓒ 寶泉院

In addition to Bankan-en, there are another two gorgeous gardens in Hōsen-in. One of them is the Tsurukame Garden, made in the Edo period (1603 – 1867).

While we found it hard to tell, the garden just next to the entrance has a crane-shaped pond and a small artificial mountain designed in the shape of a turtle. This is why the garden is called Tsurukame. The sasanqua camellia represents Mt. Hōrai (蓬莱山), the home of the seven lucky gods in Japanese mythology.

Hōraku-en Garden (宝楽園)

At the entrance of Hōsen-in, you will see a directory sign. If you go left, you will soon arrive at Hōraku-en, a newly completed garden in 2005 at the temple’s south.

The garden was designed to imitate the world where Buddhas and Gods live. Garden features such as rock formations, greenery, and white sand are arranged to depict the earth’s primordial ocean.

Ⓒ 寶泉院

Hōsen-in’s Spring and Autumn Light-up Event

Ⓒ 寶泉院

From late April to early May and from November to December, nighttime light-up events will take place from sunset to 9 pm.

To confirm the exact event dates, please refer to the official website HERE and translate it with Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.

Important: Because roads are dark from the bus stop to Hōsen-in after sunset, it is best not to make your first trip to Ōhara at night. It is better to arrive in the village during the daytime and familiarize yourself with the township’s layout so you won’t get lost when it is pitch dark. Also, please note that the number of bus services is limited at night.

Tip: The fall foliage usually peaks from mid to late November.

Hōsen-in’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information

  • The temple is open from 9 am to 5 pm
    • The last admission is at 4:30 pm
  • The admission fee, including a bowl of matcha tea and a Japanese sweet, is
    • 800 yen for adults
    • 700 yen for high school students
    • 600 yen for elementary school students
  • From Ōhara bus stop (大原), it is around a 15-minute walk

Discover Other Fascinating Attractions in Ōhara

Click the photo to find out more information about Ōhara!

In addition to Hōsen-in, a couple more temples in Ōhara are worth your time.

In our Ōhara article, we have also included a couple of dining options for lunch or dinner and general information about the spiritual village. You will also find a recommended itinerary that you can follow for a day in Ōhara!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *