- A Buddhist Temple -
Hontokuji is a historically important temple that belongs to the
Honganji school of the Jodo Shinshu denomination of Buddhism. It was
founded by Rennyo, the eighth abbot of Honganji. Situated at
Kameyama, Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, the temple is formally known as
Hontokuji of Kameyama.
Hontokuji was originally a hall for Buddhist practice located at the
edge of the castle town of Aga, which was an important port in Harima
Province. In compliance with Rennyo's wishes, his close follower
Shimotsuma Kuzen established the hall in around 1475 when he was
engaged in propagating Buddhism in western Japan. In 1493, Honganji,
the head temple in Kyoto, gave the hall a statue of Amida Buddha as
the principal object of worship, and the hall was remodeled into a
temple under the direct jurisdiction of Honganji, and was named
Hontokuji, or "Temple of True Virtue". So Hontokuji has a history of
more than 500 years.
The main hall of the temple, called Aga Mido, was erected in 1515 and Hontokuji subsequently became the center of Jodo Shinshu in Harima. Its very existence was threatened when Toyotomi Hideyoshi captured Aga Castle in his western Honshu campaign, but fortunately Hideyoshi chose to patronize Jodo Shinshu. As a result, in 1580, Hontokuji was granted its present site at Kameyama as a temple estate with an annual income of 300 koku of rice. The main hall and other buildings from Hontokuji of Aga were dismantled and reconstructed at Kameyama, where the temple began to play its role as Hontokuji of Kameyama.
In 1602, by the cunning policy of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Honganji temple in Kyoto was split into two subschools: Otani (eastern) and Honganji (western). At that time Hontokuji was affiliated with the Honganji school. During the 260-year rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, Hontokuji served as its official headquarters for temple affairs in western Japan. At the same time, it played an important administrative role for Honganji as an intermediate head temple with more than 380 temples under its jurisdiction.
With the administrative reorganization of the Honganji order in the late nineteenth century, Hontokuji became a ”Ęspecial branch temple' in Harima Province. Following the enactment of the Religious Corporation Law after the Second World War, Hontokuji became independent and was designated as a historically important temple belonging to the Honganji school of Jodo Shinshu.
Although most of the temple buildings date from the Edo period (1603-1868), some that had been moved from the older site at Aga are still standing. The main hall was destroyed by fire in 1868. Because suitable materials for rebuilding were unavailable in the Harima region, the Nishi Honganji temple in Kyoto donated part of its building called " Kita-shuesho " (north assembly hall). It was dismantled and reassembled in Hontokuji. During the 1860's, a samurai police squad of the shogunate, the Shinsengumi, used this main hall as a garrison for a short period. The pillars still bear the scars of their swords.
In 1984, Himeji City designated nineteen of the temple buildings as important cultural properties. Four of them - Hondo (main hall), Kyodo (sutra repository), Ohiroma (main reception hall) and Kuri (facilities used as a dining room and lodging, etc., for members of the temple) - were further designated as important cultural assets by Hyogo Prefecture.
Shinshu Culture Study Group
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