The headquarters of the Jodo sect of Buddhism, Chion-in is impressive enough to have been cast in the film The Last Samurai as a stand-in for Edo Castle. Everything here is on a massive scale. The imposing tiered gateway is the largest in the country, and the bell inside the temple grounds, cast in 1633, is the heaviest in all Japan, requiring 17 monks to ring it. (They don't do it every day, but at least you can understand why.) If you're lucky enough to be in
Kyoto over New Year's you can hear the progression of 108 booming gongs meant to release temple goers from the worldly desires of the old year and welcome in the clarity of a new one (it's also nationally televised). The temple buildings are fun to explore, especially since you can take a good look at the exposed uguisu-bari (nightingale floor), constructed to "sing" unexpectedly in order to expose intruders. Walk underneath the corridor to examine the way the boards and nails are placed to create this inventive burglar alarm. Like most Kyoto temples, Chion-in's history includes a litany of fires and earthquakes, and most of the buildings you see date from the early 1600s. From Kyoto Station, take Bus 206 to the Gion stop. The temple is adjacent to Maruyama Koen to the north.