Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Hōsen-in and Its Amazing Gardens and Blood-Stained 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 before 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!

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Hōsen-in’s History

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 later revived during the 1570s.

The Kago (駕籠) Hung from the Hallway Ceiling

The hallway connecting Hōsen-in’s entrance and the reception hall (Kyakuden, 客殿) holds something special. Instead of rushing to the Kyakuden to admire the picturesque garden, look up for the Kago from around 1750. The Kago was used by high priests when they visited the Imperial Palace.

The Japanese cypress framework is covered by lacquer with the sides completed using wickerwork. Instead of the usual materials such as willow, thinly shaved bamboo strips were used instead.

☛ Kago is a small basketwork palanquin strung from a pole at each end, which then rests on the shoulder of a bearer.
☛ Kyakuden is a place for the guests to enjoy tea and sweets while admiring the gorgeous garden.

Hōsen-in’s Sekiban (石盤)

The small room at the right of the entrance also has a rare item. There is a set of stone instrument in a wooden case. The instrument called Sekiban was made from a scarce stone called Sanukite (サヌカイト) from the Kagawa Prefecture. When tapped lightly, it produces a clear and pleasant sound.

The Sekiban was used by one of Hōsen-in’s monk to check the pitch when practicing Buddhist hymns.

Ⓒ 宝泉院

The Garden as Gorgeous as a Framed Painting

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.

As you can see, the pillars, the ceiling, and the floorboard play the role of a picture frame, saving you the effort and cost of framing this astonishing view!

Tip: The best spot for a photo of the Gakubuchi Teien is marked by a cushion placed in front of the Tokonoma (Japanese alcove) on the tatami mat in the room. Although the above photo doesn’t quite justify the perfect ratio between the flooring, the ceiling and the garden view, remember to sit on the cushion and snap a few photos. If you are tired, utilize the arm rest next to the cushion.

Ⓒ 宝泉院

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!

To make the experience even more relaxing and enjoyable, a large cup of matcha tea and a Japanese sweet are served to all guests (which technically is included as part of the admission fee)!

So at the entrance of the Kyakuden Hall, remember to give your Green Tea Ticket to a staff. You can then find a good spot on the scarlet felt and wait to be served.

On one side of the garden is a Suikinkutsu (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 in Hōsen-in is one of the nicest Suikinkutsu sound we have heard!

Because there were a lot of noise during the day, we went back to Hōsen-in at night and recorded the sound of Suikinkutsu.

Tip: To hear the sound produced by Suikinkutsu, place your ears against the two bamboo cylinders.

Hōsen-in’s Blood-Stained Ceiling (血天井)

When you enjoy your cup of tea on the tatami mats covered by scarlet felt, if you look up at the ceiling, you might wonder what the red-brownish stains scattered on the wooden boards are.

As horrifying as it sounds, those are actual human bloodstains…

The wooden boards were originated 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.

Hōsen-in’s Tsurukame Garden (鶴亀庭園)

Ⓒ 宝泉院

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

While it was difficult for us to recognise, 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 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.

Ⓒ 宝泉院

The Hearth Room (囲炉裏の部屋) and Rokuya-en Garden (鹿野園)

From the hallway, turn right for Hōsen-in’s hearth room. While nothing would be cooked using the hearth, it is quieter, and you can sit on the soft cushion to adore another temple’s garden, Rokuya-en.

The main feature of Rokuya-en is the old well. With various native plants, the waterfall, and the pond created using the mountain stream nearby, this space is perfect for meditation!

Hōsen-in’s Tea Room, Nisshin-an (日新庵)

At the back of Hōsen-in, there is a tea room. The small complex has its magnificence.

The 13th head of Urasenke supervised the design and construction of this tea room when it was first built in Osaka. Thanks to Hōsen-in, the precious tea room found its new home and escaped the fate of being demolished.

Urasenke (裏千家) is one of the main schools of Japanese tea ceremony.

The tea room was initially named Totsutotsusai (咄々斎). It was an 8-tatami-mat room. During its relocation, instead of reproducing the tea room, the building was renovated into a 4.5-tatami-mat room while maintaining the key elements of Totsutotsusai.

When you visit Nisshin-an, you might notice that a large part of the earthen walls has blackened. Don’t mistake the dark color as mold, as it is actually rust. The materials used to construct the wall contain metal elements. As time passes by, these elements naturally become rusted. So the darker the color of the wall is, the more valuable the building becomes!

Note that Nisshin-an is currently closed to the general public except when special events are on. But the good news is that the temple is planning to hold regular tea ceremony demonstrations for the public on weekends and public holidays starting in 2024. We will update this article once we have received further details!

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

Ⓒ 宝泉院

From late April to early May and from November to early December, nighttime light-up events will take place from sunset to 8:30 pm.

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

Important: Because the 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 that you won’t get lost when its pitch dark. Also, please note that bus services are limited at night.

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

Hōsen-in’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, 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:
    • 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.
    • Refer to our Ōhara article for more information on how to get to the bus stop.

Discover Other Fascinating Attractions in Ōhara

Click the photo to find out more information about Ōhara!

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

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

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