The site had formerly been a Fujiwara clan villa, but came into the hands of Emperor Shirakawa during the time of Shirakawa's father-in-law Fujiwara no Morozane (1042-1101). The villa thus came to be called the Shirakawa-in; Emperor Shirakawa built a temple on the grounds and called it Hosshô-ji. It included an 80 meter tall octagonal nine-story pagoda, the tallest building in the country at that time.
Many of the temple's buildings were destroyed in an earthquake in 1185; the pagoda survived the earthquake but was destroyed by lightning in 1208. Zen master Eisai, the daikanjin (head of donations collection), saw it rebuilt, but it was destroyed along with the rest of the temple in a fire in 1342. A few buildings were rebuilt, but the temple declined and eventually went defunct.
The grounds are today the home of a private school.
- Plaque on-site.