Behind Dōgo Onsen Honkan, a narrow road curves up the hill and another heads off steeply to the left. This is Neon Zaka, the old prostitution district that until recently was lined with brothels dating from the Meiji period. The red-light district of Dōgo is today found on the northwestern side of the area. Rather incongruously perhaps, at the top of the hill stands Hōgon-ji Temple.
The temple belongs to the Ji Buddhist sect. It’s known as the birthplace of Ippen, who founded the Ji (time) sect as an offshoot of the Jōdo or Pure Land sect in 1276. Disciples of Ippen sought enlightenment by chanting the name of Amida and dancing ecstatically. Ippen is depicted in statues as a skeletally thin ascetic, dressed in a short, thin robe. He was said to have been born at Hōgon-ji, but local historians associated with the Kōno clan suggest that he was probably born in nearby Hōjo where the clan was based at that time.
A fire in 2013 destroyed much of the buildings and today, only the tall gingko trees remain of the original temple. However, it was quickly rebuilt, although with a completely different layout. Of particular interest is the building on the left side of the compound with its exhibits about the life of Ippen.
According to temple records, the temple was founded in 668 by an ancestor of the Kōno clan at the behest of the abdicated Empress Saimei. At the time, it was affiliated with the Hossō sect and later changed to the Tendai sect. In 1292, three years after Ippen’s death, the temple was rebuilt as a Ji sect temple by Ippen’s disciple, Sen’a.
The temple grounds include a rock garden and several haiku monuments. There are haiku by Mokichi Saitō and Kawada Jun, including this haiku by Matsuyama poet Masaoka Shiki:
only ten steps away
Behind the temple is a large cemetery with many ancient-looking graves and some attractively carved stone Buddhas. Through the temple gate, you can glimpse Matsuyama Castle in the distance. The path to the left as you leave Hōgon-ji takes you up to Isaniwa Shrine.
Name in Japanese: 宝厳寺
Address: 5-4 Dogoyuzukicho, Matsuyama, Ehime 790-0837