The temple is the head temple (Honzan) of the Honganji branch of Jodo-Shinshu.
Its complete name is Jodo-Shinshu Honganji-ha
Honganji (Honganji of the Honganji branch of Jodo-Shinshu), shortened to Hompa-Honganji.
It is populary called Nishi-Honganji
(West Honganji) to distinguish it from its neighbour, Higashi-Honganji (East Honganji), the seat of the Otani branch (Otani-ha)
The name Honganji means Temple of the Original Vow, a reference to the vows of the Buddha Amida.
The main buildings of the Hompa-Honganji, which have miraculously escaped the great fires which devastated Kyoto over
the centuries, form a remarkable ensemble of Japanese architecture dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Several of
the buildings have been classified as national treasures or as important cultural property.
The site as a whole has
been listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
The origins of the Honganji are to be traced to the mausoleum
of Shinran, built in 1272 at Otani (east of Kyoto) by his youngest daughter, Kakushin-ni.
Forty years later, the mausoleum
was transformed into a temple, first called Senjuji (Temple of Exclusive Practice). The name was changed to Honganji (Temple
of the Original Vow) by 1321 at the latest.
Destroyed in 1465 by troops of the Tendai school, the Honganji was
then moved several times around the province before being established in 1591 at its present site, within the lower district
of Kyoto, thanks to Hideyoshi Toyotomi's liberality.
Three years previously, the mausoleum with Shinran's tomb
at Otani had been restored. From then on, the head temple (Honzan) was therefore composed of two main sites:
itself (Honsetsu), which houses the statue of Shinran, and the mausoleum at Otani (Otani-hombyo) with his tomb, populary known
The abbots of the Honganji temple, the direct descendants of Shinran, pass their title on to
the first-born son; their position includes that of patriarch (Gomonshu) of the Honganji branch of Jodo-Shinshu.
(The Goeido is currently undergoing a renovation that is slated to last till 2008, in preparation for Shinran Shonin's 750th
Memorial Commemoration Services in 2011.)
The above pictures are taken with the permission of Rev Jerome Ducor and are copyright of Nishi Honganji.
HISTORY OF THE HONGANJI
Jodo Shinshu Honganji-ha Official English website