If you are a Japanese history buff or love to examine Japan’s cultural properties, the temple you have to stop by when you get to Kawagoe is Kita-in (喜多院). The temple that has a deep connection with the Tokugawa clan not only houses the most cultural properties in Kawagoe, but it is also the last place in Japan to examine the original architecture of the Edo Castle!
Kawagoe Kita-in Temple is also known as the Kawagoe Daishi (川越大師). Under the order of Emperor Junna (淳和天皇), the temple was erected in 830 by Jie Daishi (慈恵大師), the 18th head monk of Mt. Hiei’s Enryaku-ji Temple in Kyoto.
Initially, the temple that enshrines Amida Buddha, Acala (不動明王), and Vaiśravaṇa (毘沙門天) was named Hoshinoyama Muryōju-ji (星野山無量寿寺).
The establishment of Muryōju-ji is important to Kawagoe. Why? Because when the temple was under construction, Ennin (Jie Daishi) brought Kyoto’s tea tree seedlings to Kawagoe. These tea trees were then accustomed to Kawagoe’s weather, and the tea leaves produced in the area are now known as Sayama Tea (狭山茶).
However, in 1205, it became a victim of civil war and was desecrated. When it was revived in 1296 under Emperor Fushimi’s (伏見天皇) order, the temple became a Tendai sect’s training ground, with Jie Daishi enshrined.
In 1537, the temple was damaged by another civil war. When a part of the temple was rebuilt again in 1599 by Tokugawa Ieyasu’s brain trust, Tenkai (天海僧正), the temple was renamed Kita-in.
Kita-in’s Cultural Properties
Most of the existing buildings in the precinct were rebuilt or relocated after the Kawagoe Great Fire in 1638. In particular, the Kyakuden Hall (客殿), Shoin Hall (書院), and monastery kitchen (Kuri, 庫裏) were originally parts of the Edo Castle.
The Kyakuden Hall was where the third lord of the Tokugawa shogunate, Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光), was born. The Shoin Hall used to belong to Iemitsu’s nursing mother, Lady Kasuga (春日局). Because these halls were from Edo Castle, they are splendidly decorated with gorgeous murals and ink paintings. They are also the only architectures of the Edo Castle that weren’t affected by earthquakes and wars.
In addition, many of Kita-in’s buildings have been designated Important Cultural Properties, which house many valuable cultural artworks. For example, the statues of 538 Rakan, the disciples of the Buddha, took around 50 years to complete. The 538 stone statues include Gautama Buddha (釈迦如来), Amida Buddha (阿弥陀如来), Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva (文殊菩薩), Samantabhadra (普賢菩薩), and Jizō Bodhisattva (地蔵菩薩).
The initial 40 statues were made by a potter, Uchida Zenemon (内田善右衛門), to pray for his parents’ afterlife. After the potter named Shijō (志誠) passed away, the monks trained at Kita-in continued making the Rakan statues until 1825.
The statues’ facial expressions capture human emotions. So don’t forget to pay your way into the monastery kitchen!
The set ticket includes access to the Rakans. We are sure you will be startled to see all these solemn statues spread across one side of the temple. And it is said that if you look at them one by one, you will meet the Rakan that looks just like you!
Before you encounter the Rakan statues, you will most likely visit Kita-in’s main worship hall, Jie-dō (慈恵堂). It is where Jie Daishi is enshrined. Next to the temple’s office, there is a statue of the Venerable Pindola Bharadvaja (賓頭盧尊者). If any part of your body is unwell, stroke the same body part of Pindola Bharajvaja. It is said that by doing so, that part of your body will get better.
Furthermore, because the five lords of the Kawagoe Domain from 1767 to the end of the Edo period were descendants of Tokugawa Ieyasu, they were all buried at Kita-in.
The Festivals at Kita-in
Throughout the year, events are held at Kita-in.
On the 3rd of January each year, a Daruma Doll Market is held. Initially, it was a day to commemorate Jie Daishi, as it was the day that he passed away. But at the beginning of the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), the Daruma market was first introduced, and now the event has more than 100,000 participants!
On the day, hundreds of Daruma Dolls, big and small, are placed across the temple for you to bring home.
The Tendai sect temple is also a great spot for cherry blossom and autumn foliage hunting. With around 100 Yoshino cherry trees on the precinct, it is another spot in Kawagoe that becomes extra lively from late March to early April.
From mid-November to early December, Kita-in is also known as a nice spot for the vivid fall colors.
Senba Tōshō-gū (仙波東照宮)
Next to Kita-in, Senba Tōshō-gū is one of Japan’s Three Great Tōshōgū Shrines. The shrine that was erected in 1633 was unfortunately burnt down in 1638. So Ieyasu’s grandson, Iemitsu, ordered the shrine to be reconstructed, not at its original location, but to replace one of the Hoshinoyama Muryōju-ji’s destroyed buildings.
The complex completed in 1640 is a designated important national cultural property.
In addition, the shrine is a famous spot for firefly viewing in late June, and a Firefly Festival (ホタル祭り) is usually held around that time.
Kita-in’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information
- Kita-in is open from
- 9 am to 4:30 pm from March to the 23rd of November
- 9 am to 4 pm from the 24th of November to February
- On weekends and public holidays, the temple opens for an extra 20 minutes in the afternoon.
- The last admission is 30 minutes before the temple closes.
- The admission fee to Shoin, Kyakuden, and Kuri is
- 400 yen for adults
- 200 yen for elementary and junior high school students
- Kita-in temple is around a 10-minute walk from Honkawagoe Station and around a 20-minute walk from Kawagoe Station.
- If you take the CO-EDO Loop Bus (小江戸巡回バス), get off at Kitain (喜多院).
Exploring Taishō Roman Yume-dōri Street
On the way to Kawagoe‘s old township, you might walk past Taishō Roman Yume-dōri Street. The street is a great spot in Kawagoe to visit first for a vibe of the different periods in Japan, from the present to the Taishō period, then to the Edo period. So how about visiting a few shops and cafés on the street that are filled with the Taishō era vibe?
If that sounds like a good idea, refer to our Guide to the Taishō Roman Yume-dōri Street!
The Must-Visit Spots on Kura no Machi Ichibangai Street
When you visit Kawagoe, what you can’t miss out on is the shops and restaurants on the old township’s main street Kura no Machi Ichibangai.
While sweet potato might sound boring for some, the locals have their way of turning the ordinary ingredient into something extremely yummy!
For more information, refer to our Kura no Machi Ichibangai Street article!
Other Attractions in Kawagoe
Besides the religious spots, Kawagoe also has historical attractions, shops and restaurants, workshops, and museums that might interest you.
So refer to our Guide to the Little Edo, Kawagoe, for more travel ideas!