Hokyo-ji, with the honorific mountain name of “Seizan,” is an independent Imperial Convent of the Rinzai Sect of Zen Buddhism. It has been called the “Dodo-no-Gosho (Dodo Imperial Palace),” because of its close connection with the Imperial Household. The Convent was founded by Abbess Karin Egon, the 6th Abbess of Keiai-ji, who was also a daughter of Emperor Kogon in the 14th century.
The principal image of worship is a statue of Sho Kannon (the sacred Bodhisattva of compassion) which was said to be caught in a fishing net off the coast of Ise. The statue held a sacred mirror, and was kept at the Imperial Palace during the Oan period (1368-1375). Later, Emperor Gokogon granted the statue to Abbess Karin Egon, who established Hokyo-ji with the Sho Kannon as its principal image. He also accorded her the temple name “Hokyo-ji (lit.,“Temple of the Sacred Mirror”),” in tribute to the statue’s origins.
Keiai-ji was established by Abbess Mugai Nyodai during the Koan period (1278-1287). After the Nanboku-cho period (1336-1392), it became the highest-ranked Rinzai Zen Convent among the “Five Great Zen Convents” in Kyoto and enjoyed great prosperity under the auspices of the Ashikaga Shogunate government. However, the temple became defunct because of the fires during the Onin Civil War (1467-77) and the decline of the Ashikaga family. Since the induction of the 6th Abbess Karin Egon, who was also founder of Hokyo-ji, the residing abbesses of Hokyo-ji served as abbesses of Keiai-ji. Thus, the elite linage of Keiai-ji was inherited by Hokyo-ji, and continues to this day.
Upon the occasion in 1644 of the induction of the 20th Abbess Kugon Risho, who was a daughter of Emperor Gomizuno-o, Hokyo-ji was accorded an imperial purple robe (“shi-e”) by the Emperor, and the relationship with the Imperial Household was reinforced. Since then, the temple became an Imperial Convent where Imperial princesses served as the successive generations of its abbesses.
Most of the original buildings were burned down during the “Great Kyoto Fire of Tenmei” in 1788. The six buildings such as the Shoin residential suites (reconstructed in 1798), the Main Hall, the Great Gate, the Amida-do (Amitabha Hall), the Grand Entrance and the Messengers’ Room were reconstructed later, all of which have been designated as tangible cultural properties of Kyoto City.
In particular, the Main Hall was reconstructed in a six-room-hojo (abbess quarters) style in 1827, and the sliding doors of the Shoin residential suites have paintings by noted painters of the Maruyama School, including Okyo Maruyama, Oshin Maruyama and Kokei Yoshimura.
- Framed tablet / Calligraphy by the 22nd Abbess Tokugon Riho (a.k.a. Honkakuin)
- Sliding door painting in the Shoin residential suites; “Painting of Cultivation in Four Seasons” by Oshin Maruyama
- Sliding door painting in the Main Hall; “Grapes and Deer” by Yukikazu Kawamata