Visiting the many temples of the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage can be a great and taxing journey, but not all of those temples are hard to visit. In fact, some are right in the middle of town. One such example is Kodo Temple [革堂], the 19th temple of the pilgrimage. Kodo Temple, a small but charming temple, is located right next to the former imperial palace in Kyoto City.
The History of Kodo Temple
Officially known Gyogan-ji, the people of Kyoto prefer the name Kodo meaning “leather temple”. This unusual nickname comes from the Heian Period and the reason why it is called leather temple dates back to Heian period.
Gyogen and the Deer
Once upon a time in Heian period, there was a hunter named Gyoen. One day, Gyogen snagged a deer. However, a deer gave birth to a fawn, just as she was dying. He immediately, regretted killing the deer Gyoen decided to be a monk. He tore off part of the deer’s hide that he tanned into leather. Gyogen wrote a chant on that piece of leather and always kept it near him, so as to never forget the deer earning himself the nickname, “leather monk”.
Originally located near Ichijo (near Seimei Shrine), after burning down numerous times, it moved its current location in the early 18th century. While it was unpopular after WWII, a nun revived this temple, making it the only convent among the temples of the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage.
Though this temple is part of the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage, not many people notice Kodo Temple and just pass by it.
Once you enter the temple gate, you will see the hondo, the main building.
The hondo enshrines a thousand armed statue of Senju Kannon that Gyoen made hoping to help everybody enter nirvana. He fashioned the statue out of wood from a tree from Kamigamo Shrine. The statue is open to public only on January 17th and 18th of every year.
Other points of Interest
There is one more interesting tale in this temple; a haunted ema. Once upon a time, there is a girl name Ofumi. Ofumi was a servant girl who often played with and her master’s son in Kodo. Eventually, because they often played together in the temple, the boy eventually memorized the monks’ chants by overhearing them. As he played in Kodo, he learned the chant he heard from the temple. By chance one day, the boy recited one of those chants in front of his father.
Since their family practiced a different school of Buddhism from the monks of Kodo, the father flew in to a fit a rage. In his anger, he killed Ofumi and his the girl’s body in the temple. Later, Ofumi’s dreamed their daughter came to them in a dream. Their daughter told them what happened and asked them to donate an ema with her hand mirror to Kodo. The ema is still kept in the temple and open to public only August 22nd to 24th every year.
Information: Kodo Temple (Gyogan-ji Temple)
17 Gyoganjimonzen-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
The closest station to Kodo Temple is Jingu Marutamachi Station [神宮丸太町駅]off the Keihan Main Line. Once you get off the station, go west and cross the Kamogawa River. After about 5 minutes turn left to walk along Teramachi Street.
Additionally, you can walk to the temple from the Kyoto Shiyakusho Station [京都市役所駅]off the subway Tozai Line and walk north along Teramachi Street. Though this is pretty straightforward way, Kodo Temple is small so don’t walk past it!