Japan is chock full of temples and shrines and frankly, not all of them are worth adding to your itinerary. In some cases, they’re too old or run-down or out of the way to make the effort. In other instances, visiting in one season may leave a bland impression … while visiting at just that perfect time of year can make it one of the most memorable moments of your trip.
Hondo-ji, in Chiba, is one of those temples. About a 45 minute train ride from central Tokyo, Hondo-ji isn’t difficult to reach. It’s position in the leafy neighborhood of Kita-Kogane makes a nice break from the downtown crowds and the grounds of the temple are rarely crowded. But visit them in August or January or March, and you may not walk away very impressed. Visit in June or November, however, and you’ll be treated to the best Mother Nature has to offer.
This is no minor temple in the suburbs, mind you. Hondo-ji can trace its lineage back over 700 years, and its founder was a disciple of the famous wandering monk Nichiren. Yet with little information in English beyond the dry brochure, there’s not much to draw the casual tourist this far east of Tokyo.
In June, that all changes as over 10,000 hydrangea and 5,000 irises bloom around the grounds. They give a new and colorful perspective to the buildings they frame – the five story pagoda, the large entrance gate, the tomb of a concubine of first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and numerous small shrines on the grounds.
In autumn, the grounds are covered in maples and a handful of gingko trees that make it worth returning to see the different color palette.