Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Sōan-ji: The Must-Visit Temple Close to Hikone Castle

Towards the end of the Kyōbashi Castle Road, there is a temple with an unusual red gate. Sōan-ji Temple’s (宗安寺) gate stands out from its surroundings because it was moved from Sawayama castle’s (佐和山城) Ōtemon Gate (大手門). With the gate relocated in 1603, it was the only castle structure that survived the enormous fire of 1701.

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

When you get there, you will find that the gate is taller and wider than normal temples. This is to allow horses to pass through!

So why was the gate colored red? It is because the Hikone Domain held memorial services for Tokugawa Ieyasu at this temple each month. On the day, the lord of the Hikone Domain would parade out of the castle and join the memorial service.

The temple deeply connects with the Ii Clan that later ruled the Hikone Domain. When Ii Naomasa (井伊直政), who later became the first lord of the Hikone Domain, was still in Gunma Prefecture, he founded the temple to pray for his wife’s parents. Then, after he was relocated to Hikone, the temple was moved to the foot of Mt. Sawa (佐和山). While Hikone Castle was under construction, it was moved again to where it is now.

Sōan-ji’s Connection with the Toyotomi Clan

Another building on the precinct that was originally located somewhere else is its main worship hall which was a part of Nagahama Castle before the castle was dismantled. With the original main hall destroyed in the fires of 1701, a replacement from the Nagahama castle was reallocated to Sōan-ji.

In front of the worship hall, there is a large ridge‐end tile (鬼瓦). You will also find Tokugawa Clan’s family crest as a part of the magnificent tile to show that Nagahama Castle was under Tokugawa’s control.

Moreover, the main image of this Pure Land sect temple, an Amida Buddha’s statue, belonged to Yodo-dono (淀君), Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s second wife. It is said that the statue made in the Kamakura period (1192 – 1333) was secretly brought out of Osaka during the Summer Campaign of the Seige of Osaka (大坂夏の陣).

At the right of the main hall, the Shoin Hall (書院), is where Ishida Mitsunari’s Buddha statues are enshrined.

In the Edo period, the temple was where the Korean Diplomatic Mission stayed. So there is even a painting of a diplomat!

Byaku-dō Garden (彼岸白道の庭)

The Japanese garden surrounded by a couple of worship halls is called Higan Byaku-dō. Including the corridor crossing the garden, the view created here illustrates how one can be guided to the Pure Land.

The surface of the garden is covered by sand in two colors, white and reddish-brown.

The white sand represents the river filled with water, a metaphor for the thoughts that trap our minds, such as attachment. Sands in reddish-brown color represent the river filled with fire, representing anger and hatred.

The Shoin has a Gautama Buddha enshrined, whereas another Amida Buddha is located in the Ihai-dō Hall (位牌堂). So when you walk from the Shoin towards the Ihai-dō Hall on the other end, it is like you have crossed through the rivers of your worries and reached Amida Buddha’s Pure Land.

The Ihai-dō Hall is also where you can find Tokugawa Ieyasu’s memorial tablet. It is a worship hall built to hold services for him.

Sōan-ji’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information

  • The temple is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily.
  • To enter the garden, it will cost 200 yen.
  • It is around a 20-minute walk from JR Hikone Station (彦根駅).
  • If you are taking a bus, please get off at either Honmachi Castle Road (本町キャッスルロード) or Yonbanchō Square (四番町スクエア).

Discover Where Else to Visit in Hikone

Click the photo to find out more about other attractions in Hikone!

Want to find out more attractions close by that you might be interested in? Check out our article on Hikone!

In the article, you will be introduced to some delicious Japanese and Western sweets shops, interesting temples and shrines, and many more historical destinations you might not know!