Honmyo-ji, the temple of one of Kumamoto's most famous ruling families, stands in a quiet suburb just behind the city's impressive castle. While few travelers venture to this hillside complex, those that do will be treated to a quiet atmosphere, beautiful blooms throughout the year and a mountain walk up to an amazing view over the city.
Honmyo-ji was originally built in the Osaka region by Kato Kiyomasa, a daimyo (feudal lord) who supported the Tokugawa clan, the family that later went on to rule Japan for nearly 250 years. After Tokugawa Ieyasu won the Battle of Sekigahara (and subsequently became shogun), he rewarded his followers with parcels of land; Kato was given dominion over the province of Higo, today's present-day Kumamoto prefecture. As a result, he moved the temple to his new digs at Kumamoto Castle. Kato died in 1611 and was buried on the hillside here, overlooking his fortress home. When the temple in the castle burned a few years later, it was relocated to its current spot, just below the grave site.
Most of the year, the temple is a place for quiet contemplation and popular with locals out for a stroll or jog. A large gate marks the start of a series of sub-temples, each with tiny gardens and small altars. A long set of stairs leads to the main hall, which visitors are free to enter. The hall itself dates from the late 1800s, and was rebuilt after its destruction in the Satsuma Rebellion.
If you take the path around the left side of the complex, another long staircase will lead you further up the hillside to a towering statue of Kato Kiyomasa. From here, you can also enjoy a stellar view over Kumamoto City, with the castle being a prominent feature on the skyline.
Honmyo-ji hosts several events throughout the year. The most popular festival occurs in late march, when thousands of bamboo luminaries line the temple walkways, casting flickering light on the flowering cherry trees above. In late July (around the 22nd or 23rd), a festival is also held to mark Kato's death.
Honmyo-ji is easily accessed by the city tram. The temple is a 10-15 minute walk due west of the Honmyo-ji Iriguchi tram stop.