Hōnen-in is located just off the Philosopher’s Walk, a canal-flanked pedestrian path lined with cherry trees in east Kyoto’s Higashiyama district. After entering through a moss-covered gateway and passing between two purifying sand mounds, visitors will immediately notice a coziness not found at many of the city’s grander and more popular temples and shrines.
An unassuming dirt pathway through the trees leads to a wooded cemetery, which is even more serene than the temple itself. The graves are adorned with traditional flowers, incense, and water. Most have beautiful sotōba (offertory strips of wood) to examine. Lovers of Japanese literature will want to pay their respects to the illustrious Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, whose unique grave is set off on its own.
Tanizaki was one of Japan’s most popular novelists. His work, which was at times controversial for its frequent erotic themes, left a lingering mark on modern Japanese literature. Tanizaki also had a brief stint with silent films, where he was a pioneering figure in integrating modernist themes with Japanese filmmaking.
The Tanizaki Prize, one of the country’s most coveted literary awards, was named after the author. He was even shortlisted for a Nobel Prize in 1964, the year before he died of a heart attack. The author’s fans still visit his grave, decades after his death, to honor him.
In addition to Tanizaki and rest of the cemetery, be sure to explore the actual temple. Hōnen-in has just a modest main hall housing a little-seen black Buddha statue, a small storehouse featuring free art exhibits, and an intimate, almost unbelievably green garden. The temple is best experienced early in the morning, when dew covers the grounds and silence and stillness abound.