Beautiful Arashiyama is easily one of Kyoto’s biggest destinations, attracting swarms of tourist throughout the year. However, in the middle of the Arashiyama, is the small and often ignored Horin-ji Temple [法輪寺]. While this temple is not popular at all with tourists, it is extremely popular with Kyoto natives. In fact, a true Kyotoite must visit Horin-ji at least once in their life, especially for Jusan Mairi.
What is Jusan Mairi?
Before talking about Horin-ji, let’s talk about Jusan Mairi the primary reason why anyone from Kyoto goes to Horin-ji. Jusan Mairi is a ceremony for 13 year old children where they visit a temple that enshrines Kokuzo Bosastu [虚空蔵菩薩], the Buddhist deity of intelligence. Jusan Mairi is not exclusive to Kyoto, and once people all over Japan participate in this ancient tradition. In the Kansai region, people still participate in Jusan Mairi, where it is arguably as popular as another big childhood ceremony, Shichigosan. For example, in Osaka most people visit Taihei-ji for Jusan Mairi. However, it is not common anymore in Kanto.
There are many theories as to why the ceremony is for 13 year old and not 11 or 12. One convincing theory states that the reason is because this was once more like a coming of age ceremony. This would explain why for Jusan Mairi children get to wear their first adult style kimono. Though 13 years old seems extremely young to us now, let us not forget that a number of Western cultures at some point in time held similar views.
For children who participate in Jusan Mairi at Horin-ji, there is one important rule they must follow. After the ritual is done, they must look back until they cross the Togetsu Bridge. If they do, it is believed that their blessings will be resent to Horin-ji.
Getting to Horin-ji Temple
The closest station to Horin-ji is Hankyu Arashiyama Station. From Hankyu Arashiyama Station turn left at the corner with the Mini Stop (right next to the station) and walk straight and then turn right. It only takes 5 minutes to get to the temple from the station, but it is surprisingly a quiet temple, especially if you compare it to other temples in Arashiyama.
The very famous Buddhist monk, Gyoki, built Horin-ji dates back to 713 when Gyoki built it. In 829, another high rank monk, Dosho, who studied under the extremely prominent Kukai, enshrined at statue of Kokuzo Bososatsu here and expanded the temple’s land. Unofrtunatly, the Onin War (15th century) and the Kinmon War (19th century) left the temple decimated. As a consequence, most of the temple’s building was built in 20th century.
As you climb the stairs on the way to the hondo is a very unique shrine, Denden-gu. A legend says that long ago on a starry night Kokuzo Bososatsu came down to reside in Horin-ji. Since he came from the sky people view him like another god, the god of light/lightening Denden. Though the details of this legend are shroud in mystery. In any case, this god later became worshiped as the god of electricity and many electrical companies pay respect to this temple.
By the way, since the temple has such a strong connection to electricity the temple has microSD charms with a picture of the main deity on it. I have never seen another temple that sells microSD chips in any capacity.
Once you climb up the stairs, you will see the hondo
Unfortunately, you cannot go into the hondo, let alone seeing the main deity.