Daitoku-ji Temple (大徳寺)

Daitoku-ji Temple is the head temple of the Rinzai sect's Daitokuji school of Japanese Zen Buddhism and is located in Daitokuji-cho Murasakino, Kita Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture. Its honorific mountain prefix is Ryuhozan. The temple was formally founded in 1325 with the principal image Shaka Nyorai and Daito-kokushi Shuho Myocho serving as kaiki (patron of a temple in its founding).

The Zen temple contains within its precinct many structures that are of prominence within Kyoto such as a central monastery, including Butsu-den (Buddha hall), Hatto (lecture hall), and also over 20 Tatchu (sub-temples), and remains the atmosphere of the early-modern times. Daitoku-ji Temple has played a great part in Japanese culture; having produced many eminent monks and becoming closely linked to the Japanese tea ceremony. The main temple and sub-temples represent a wealth of cultural property such as architecture, gardens, partition paintings, tea utensils, and Chinese influenced works of calligraphy.

Origin and History

Daitoku-ji Temple's founder Zen priest Shuho Myocho was born in Harima Province (present day Hyogo Prefecture) in 1282 into the Uranoe clan which served as retainers to the Shugo Akamatsu clan. At age 11, he entered the local large Shoshazan Engyo-ji Temple and began to study the ways of the Tendai sect, but after awakening to Zen Buddhism, he travelled to consult with Koho Kennichi of Kamakura and Nampo Jomin of Kyoto. When Nampo Jomin was transferred to Kencho-ji Temple in Kamakura, Shuho also entered Kamakura and received formal confirmation of his awakening (dharma transmission) from his master in 1307.

After serving at Kyoto's Higashiyama for several years, Shuho Myocho earned the devotion of Norimura AKAMATSU (Enshin) in 1315 and established a small temple in the Murasakino area of Rakuhoku. This was the origin of Daitoku-ji Temple. Emperor Hanazono became devoted to Shuho and, in 1325, decreed that Daitoku-ji Temple be converted to a supplication hall. It is believed that it was around this time when the site took on the form of a temple. Emperor Go-Daigo also patronized Daitoku-ji Temple and commanded that it be further elevated to the top of the Kyoto-Gozan in 1334.

However, when the Kemmu Restoration ended and the Ashikaga clan gained control of the nation, temples that held a deep relationship with Emperor Go-Daigo were looked down upon by the Ashikaga clan and this led to Daitoku-ji Temple being excluded from the Gozan-Jissetsu. In 1386, the temple was reinstated near the very bottom of the Gozan-Jissetsu as number 9. For this reason, Daitoku-ji Temple withdrew from the government patronage, control and increasing secularization of the Gozan-Jissetsu and pursued its own path by engaging in ascetic practices through Zen meditation.
Temples, including those of the Rinzai sect, outside the system such as Daitoku-ji Temple and Myoshin-ji Temple are known as 'Rinka' in contrast to Gozan-Jissetsu temples which are called 'Sorin.'

Following this, Daitoku-ji Temple enjoyed the patronage and support of a wide range of people including aristocrats, Daimyo, business people and cultural figures and, from the Muromachi period, produced a string of eminent monks including Ikkyu Shojun. After Higashiyama culture proponents such as wabi-cha tea ceremony creator Juko MURATA began consulting with Ikkyu, Daitoku-ji Temple came to be closely linked with the world of the tea ceremony and tea ceremony masters such as Joo TAKENO and Rikyu SEN.

The first monastery was completely destroyed by the fire of 1453 and the Onin War (1467-1477) but Ikkyu Shojun reconstructed it with the cooperation of wealthy merchants from the city of Sakai. He continued to receive the devotion of Daimyo such as Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI. In the early Edo period, the temple fell under the control of the Shogunate and the former chief priest Takuan Soho was forced into exile in what is known as The Purple Robe Incident, but relations with the Shoganate subsequently recovered. Temple activities continue to flourish until today.


Chokushi-mon gate (the Gate for the Imperial Envoys), Sam-mon gate, Butsu-den and Hatto (lecture hall) are arranged in almost a straight line and the monastery around which these are centered is surrounded by over 20 sub-temples.

Chokushi-mon gate (Important Cultural Property) - The imperial palace gate constructed between 1596 and 1614 was bestowed to the temple where it was relocated in 1640.

Sam-mon gate (Important Cultural Property) - A two storey gate. The lower storey alone was completed in 1529 using funds donated by renga poet Shocho and the upper storey was completed in 1589 by Rikyu SEN. Rikyu installed a wooden statue of himself in the upper storey (so that those who pass through the gate must pass below Rikyu), but this enraged Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI who used this as a pretext for pressuring Rikyu to commit suicide.

Butsu-den (Buddha hall) (Important Cultural Property) - Constructed in 1665 using a donation from wealthy Kyoto merchant Joyu NAWA.

Hatto (lecture hall) (Important Cultural Property) - Constructed in 1636 by Masanori INABA in order to fulfill the dying wish of his father Odawara Castle lord Masakatsu INABA.

Hojo and entranceway (Abbot's quarters) (National treasure) - Constructed in 1635 using funds donated by wealthy merchant Masukatsu GOTO in order to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the death of founder Daito-kokushi (Shuho Myocho), with the entranceway being built in the following year. The word 'hojo' originally referred to the main priest's living quarters but in Japanese Zen Buddhist temples, hojo have more of a significance as spaces for receiving visitors or holding rituals. Conventional hojo architecture often consists of a total of 6 rooms arranged in a 2x3 arrangement but that of Daitoku-ji Temple is different in that consists of a 2x4 arrangement of 8 rooms with two rooms of the second row on the right serving as the tassho (burial place) of founder Daito-kokushi (Shuho Myocho), Unmonan.
This is because Shuho stated in his will, 'After I pass away, I am not worthy of having another temple built simply to serve as my burial place.'
The hojo partition paintings are the work of Tanyu KANO. The dry landscape garden has been nationally designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty and a Special Historic Site.

Kara-mon Gate (National treasure) - Said to be a remnant of Jurakudai. It is a Momoyama period architectural piece featuring lavish carvings and paintwork.

Tatchu (sub-temples)

Visitors must take care as some of the sub-temples can be visited and some can not. Currently, the majority of the sub-temples do not allow general worship and those which are open to visitors are Ryogen-in Temple, Zuiho-in Temple, Daisen-in Temple and Koto-in Temple (as of 2007).

Tokuzen-ji Temple

Yotoku-in Temple

Ryogen-in Temple - The oldest of all Daitoku-ji Temple's sub-temples was founded by Bukkei Daien-kokushi and established by Yoshimoto HATAKEYAMA of Noto Province, Yoshioki OUCHI of Suo Province and Yoshichika OTOMO of Bungo Province. Known for the Ryugin [Ryogin]-tei garden, Totekiko garden and the Stone Garden of Ahum. The stone garden in front of the hojo was created in the late Showa period under the supervision of High Priest Katsudo HOSOAI.

Obai-in Temple (Kyoto City) - Built by Nobunaga ODA. Contains the tomb of Ujisato GAMO.

Daiji-in Temple

Zuiho-in Temple - Built by Yoshishige OTOMO.
Contains the tomb of Ruikotsu MATANI, founder of the religious publication 'Chugai Nippo.'

Korin-in Temple

Seiju-in Temple

Sangen-in Temple - Built by Mitsunari ISHIDA, Yoshinaga ASANO and Yoshinari MORI

Shinju-an Temple - This temple connected to Ikkyu Shojun is known for its garden (Special Historic Site/Special Place of Scenic Beauty) believed to have been created by Juko MURATA and partition paintings by Jasoku [Dasoku] SOGA and Tohaku HASEGAWA.

Daisen-in Temple - Known for its main hall that has been designated a national treasure and the dry landscape garden which is both a Special Historic Site and a Special Place of Scenic Beauty.

Hoshun-in Temple (Kyoto City) - Tomb of the Maeda family of Kaga Province.

Ryosen-an Temple

Nyoi-an Temple

Juko-in Temple - Known for its partition paintings by Eitoku KANO which have been designated national treasures.

Soken-in Temple - Built by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI for the enlightenment of Nobunaga ODA.

Ryusho-ji Temple

Koto-in Temple - Connected to the Hosokawa Clan and contains the tombs of individuals including Tadaoki HOSOKAWA and his wife Gracia HOSOKAWA. It also includes a tomb that is considered to be that of Izumo no Okuni.

Gyokurinin Temple

Ryoko'in Temple (Kyoto City) - Built by Nagamasa KURODA.
Well-known for its tea room known as 'Mittan.'
Contains the burial place of the Arisugawa-no-miya family (from the 1st generation Imperial Prince Yoshihito to 7th generation Imperial Prince Tsunahito).

Daiko-in Temple

Koho-an Temple - Built by Enshu KOBORI.
Well-known for its tea room known as 'Bosen.'

Shogen-in Temple

Important Cultural Properties

The National Treasures/Important Cultural Properties in the possession of Daitoku-ji Temple's main temple are listed below.

National Treasures

Kara-mon gate

Hojo (Abbot's quarters) and entranceway

Ink and light color on silk Kannon Enkaku zu (image of the white-robed Guanyin) - Southern Song period, painted by Muxi

Color on silk portrait of Daito-kokushi inscribed with the first year of the Kemmu era (1334).

Xutang Zhiyu bokseki - Southern Song period
The Chinese monk Xutang was the master of Shuho Myocho's own master Nampo Jomin. The word 'bokuseki' means writing, especially that of an eminent Zen monk.

Shinkan Will and Testament of Emperor Go-Daigo dated the 24th day of the 8th month of the 3rd year of the Genko era (1333). The word 'shinkan' means the emperor's own writing. Zen Buddhism originally recruited widely under the Jippo-Jujisei system of succession to the abbacy in Zen temples, but Daitoku-ji Temple was not involved in the system and this letter recognizes that only those monks who were followers of Shuho Myocho could be installed into the role of abbot.

Important Cultural Properties


Chokushi-mon gate (the Gate for the Imperial Envoys)

Butsu-den (Buddha hall) (including Meigetsu-bashi Bridge)

Hatto (lecture hall) (including hallway)

Sam-mon gate

Yokushitsu (bathroom)

Kyozo (sutra repository)


Shindo (dormitory)

Kuri (priest's living quarters or kitchen)

Taishinryo (dormitory)

Bell tower


Ink on silk Ryuko zu (image of a dragon and a tiger) - Painted by Muxi

Ink on silk Ryuko zu (image of a dragon and a tiger) - Attributed to Muxi

Color on silk Unan Osho portrait - Inscribed with the 11th year of the Jiading period (1218)

Color on silk Kido Osho portrait - Inscribed with the first year of the Xianchun period (1265)

Color on silk Daio-kokushi portrait - Inscribed with the first year of the Shoo period (1288)

Color on silk Daito-kokushi portrait

Color on silk Chosei Bikuni portrait - Inscribed by Yoso on 10th day of the 7th month of the Bunan era (1449)

Light color on paper portrait of Yangqi Osho - Painted by Bunsei, inscribed by Yoso

Light color on paper portrait of Yoso Osho - Painted by Bunsei

Color on silk Gohyakurakan zo (image of the Five hundred arhats) - Painted by Tinggui LIN, Jichang ZHOU et al, 82 haba (30.996 m).

Color on silk portrait of Emperor Go-Daigo

Color on silk portrait of Juo

Color on silk portrait of Yoryu Kannon - Designated an Important Cultural Property in 1900

Color on silk portrait of Yoryu Kannon - Designated an Important Cultural Property in 1907

Color on silk portrait of Yoryu Kannon - Designated an Important Cultural Property in 1908

Color on paper Butsu Nehan zu (image of a nirvana scene) - Painted by Naonobu KANO

Ink on paper Bussetsu Kyokaikyo (Buddhist sutra) - Written by Iehiro KONOE

Ink on paper Hakuo Ashi Sagi zu - Six folding blind painted by Nichokuan SOGA

Ink on paper Fuyo zu (image of confederate roses) - Attributed to Muxi

Hojo (Abbot's quarters) partition paintings - Tanyu KANO, 83 screens

Sculptures and Crafts

Chinese phoenix gold-inlaid lacquerware sutra box

Writings and ancient documents

Seven Article Pledge written by Tetsuo Osho (15th day of the 5th month 1337)

4.267 Daitoku-ji Temple archives

Historic Sites/Special Places of Scenic Beauty

Hojo (Abbot's quarters) garden

Access/Visitor Information

Take the Kyoto City bus and alight at Daitokuji-mae Stop

Daitoku-ji Temple's main temple building is not open to the public (holds a Bakuryoten on a Sunday in early October each year to display fusuma paintings etc.)

Among the sub-temples, those that are generally open to the public are Ryogen-in Temple, Zuiho-in Temple, Daisen-in Temple and Koto-in Temple. Obai-in Temple, Shinju-an Temple, Juko-in Temple, Soken-in Temple, Hoshun-in Temple, Korin-in Temple, Koho-an Temple and others may open specially for a limited time during the autumn. Ryoko'in Temple is ordinarily closed to the public.

[Original Japanese]