The name “Hanazono,” which means “flower garden,” began being used because generations of emperors had been planting rare, beautiful flowers in Hōkongō-in Temple’s garden. According to the current temple priests, the flowers that were rare in that era are unknown to us today. Among the beautiful plants you can admire in the temple’s garden at various points in the year are maple trees, Japanese red pine trees, cherry blossoms, Japanese camellia, hydrangeas, Japanese irises, and the Sarcandra glabra herb. Different types of Japanese water irises and lotus flowers bloom year-round in the pond, making Hōkongō-in Temple a true flower oasis. You’ll find more than just flowers in the temple garden: you can see rocks with waterfalls painted on them and a pond in the surrounding area.
What Do the Priests of a Temple Do?
Writing official seals in calligraphy for visitors of the temple to keep as mementos in a special journal, talking about the temple to various people, and protecting the temple are some of the daily tasks entrusted to the head priest and vice priest. But what does it mean to “protect” the temple? What kinds of responsibilities come with that duty? Daily rituals like keeping the temple clean and maintaining your own healthy diet are some of the responsibilities the priests of the temple must undertake. When the head priest was young, he would also have to maintain the lotus garden. In fact, the lotus flowers in the garden at Hōkongō-in Temple were all brought and planted by the current head priest in his youth. Thanks to him, there are presently 90 different types of lotus flowers in the temple’s garden.
Affairs in Which the Head Priest is Currently Involved
The current head priest is 96 years young and still participates in necessary events and services. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to meet with him when we went to visit for this interview, but we were able to talk to a person who frequently goes to pray at
this temple. They told us that the head priest’s secret to a long, healthy life is eating rice porridge made from boiled-down tea.
Hōkongō-in Temple: The History, Garden, and Flowers
Originally an area with villas for aristocrats in the early Heian Period (794-1185), the villas were converted to temples and called Sokokuji (also known as Oganadera) or Tenan-ji Temple. The original temple was destroyed in a fire in the late 10th century, but Hōkongō-in Temple was built in its place about 150 years later.
Inside the temple garden are many varieties of cherry blossoms which were planted
in connection to Taikenmon’in, an empress who was one of Emperor Toba’s wives in
the late Heian Period and considered extremely beautiful her entire life. Traditional
varieties of lotus flowers were also planted, so anyone who’s familiar with modern
lotus flowers may be in for a surprise to see what these older blossoms, which are
vivid remnants of a past era, look like!
The current temple building was built during the Edo Period (1603-1868) and enshrines the souls of many important deities.
The Hōkongō-in Temple garden is a great place to get an isolated view of what the
landscape looked like during the Heian Period of Japan. In particular, there are
stones placed together in a two-tier formation to make a waterfall, a site which is
called “Seijo no Taki,” or the “blue/green woman’s waterfall.” They’re said to be a
natural work of art, just one more artistic remnant from the Heian Period. This
artform using large rocks was advanced for the Heian Period and reflects the height
of gardening technology at that time. This site is also a valuable reflection of the era
to Japanese history buffs because it was built by two of the greatest stone-arranging
monks of the Heian Period, Rin Ken (林賢) and Jo’i (静意).
Caring for the Garden
There is a designated caretaker of the garden who works on it occasionally in each of the four seasons. In the past, the head priest also used to help maintain the garden.
The Temple Atmosphere
We heard that as the number of foreign visitors has been increasing of late,
Hōkongō-in Temple has been getting coverage by different media outlets within Japan, such as onerun by Japan Rail (JR), as well as others from outside of Japan who’ve come to do features on the temple. Hōkongō-in Temple is especially popular within other Asian countries, where visitors love to come, dress up in a kimono, and take pictures among the natural splendor of the temple garden.
What Is the Vice Priest’s Favorite Flower?
The vice priest enjoys the flowers of each season, allowing him to enjoy each season to its fullest beauty.
What Changes Does the Vice Priest Feel in Hanazono Today Versus the Hanazono of the Past?
He doesn’t feel that anything in particular is different. The temple has been in its current
location and visitor numbers have remained steady over the years. Surrounding areas likeEnmachi Station and Uzumasa Station have grown a little more populated over the years, but that doesn’t mean that less people have been visiting Hanazono. On the contrary, the media coverage lately has helped to increase foreign visitors.
When is the Best Time to See Hōkongō-in Temple’s Lotus Flowers?
The Japanese irises and hydrangeas begin to bloom during the first week of May and fully bloom around the beginning of July, before the rainy season in Japan. Because the lotus flowers bloom early in the morning and scatter in the early evening hours, visitors can come during special hours from 7am.
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