Gansen-ji Temple (岩船寺)

Gansen-ji Temple is a Buddhist temple belonging to the Shingon Ritsu Sect located in Kamo-cho, Kizugawa City, Kyoto Prefecture. Its sango (literally, "mountain name"), which is the title prefixed to the name of a Buddhist temple, is Koyuzan. The principal image is Amida Nyorai. Legend has it that the temple was founded by Gyoki. The temple is famous for its hydrangea flowers. The name Gansen-ji (lit. Rock Boat Temple) is connected to the boat-shaped rock that stands in front of the main gate.


Gansen-ji Temple is situated in Tono-no-sato in the very south of Kyoto Prefecture near to the border of Nara Prefecture. Administratively the area is part of Kyoto Prefecture but is geographically close to Nara and was culturally influenced strongly by the southern capital of Nara. Nearby is Joruri-ji Temple, known for its nine statues of Amida. In the vicinity of Gansen-ji Temple and Joruri-ji Temple is the Tono Sekibutsu-gun which consists of numerous stone pagodas and stone Buddhist images (many having been carved directly into natural rock faces) of which most date from during the Kamakura period, including many with Kamakura period inscriptions. During the middle ages, Tono was inhabited by many monks who had left the urban hustle and bustle to devote themselves to ascetic practices, and it is said that many temples were built in the area, of which the stone Buddhist images and pagodas that can be seen today are the remains.

According to Gansen-ji Temple legend, it was founded in 729 by Gyoki according to the will of the Emperor Shomu. In the year 806 at the beginning of Heian period, Kukai's (Kobo Daishi) nephew Chisen became chief priest and constructed Hoon-in as a seminary for conducting the Denbo Kanjo (an esoteric Buddhism rite). After the birth of the future Emperor Ninmyo after Emperor Saga prayed at the temple for a son in the year 813, the Emperor Saga's wife had a temple complex constructed and the institution was named Gansen-ji Temple. The above account is merely temple legend and the precise time and circumstances of the temple's founding remain unclear due to the destruction of the ancient records in a fire during the middle ages. The principal image seated statue of Amida Nyorai is large at over 2.8 m in height and it is assumed from the internal inscription dating from the year 946 that Gansen-ji Temple had become an extremely large temple by the middle of the 10th century at the latest.

The majority of the temple buildings were destroyed by fire in the Jokyu Disturbance of 1221 but some of the structures including the three-storey pagoda were rebuilt during the Muromachi period. Gansen-ji Temple became a branch temple of Kofuku-ji Temple in the Edo period.

Place of pilgrimage

The 4th temple of the 18 Historical Temples with Pagodas (18 Sacred Sites of Butto-koji)
The 15th temple of the 25 Kansai Hana no Tera (the temples famous for flowers in Kansai Region)


Main hall: The building reconstructed in 1987 that houses the Heian period seated statue of Amida Nyorai.

Three-storey pagoda (Important Cultural Property): A three-story pagoda constructed in 1442 during the Muromachi period of which the ground level has raigobashira (circular pillars right and left at each corner of the Buddhist altar), a shumidan (timber altar) and a wall erected behind the shumidan the two rear raigobashira.

Thirteen-storey pagoda (Important Cultural Property): A 6.2 meter high thirteen-storey pagoda consisting of 13 layered coping stones that was constructed during the Kamakura period.

Five-ring pagoda (Important Cultural Property): Constructed during the Kamakura period. Stone hut (Important Cultural Property): Made from granite. An image of Fudo Myoo is engraved in the inner wall and there are two square posts that stand to the right and left to support the hipped roof. The building includes an inscription dating it at 1312.

Hakusan-jinja Shrine and Kasuga-jinja Shrine stand on the mountain to the rear of the temple precinct, and the main sanctuary of Hakusan-jinja Shrine on the left when viewed from the front is an Important Cultural Property (constructed during the Muromachi period).

Important Cultural Properties

Three-storey pagoda
Thirteen-storey pagoda
Five-ring pagoda
Stone hut
Wooden seated statue of Amida Nyorai: The principal image of Gansen-ji Temple. Housed within the main hall. The statue is large at over 2.8 m in height and inside is an ink inscription reading 'Year 9 of the XX era' in which the era name is illegible but it is known from the oriental zodiac to year 9 of the Tengyo era (946). The piece is highly valuable as an inscribed work dating from the 10th century. With a gentle facial expression yet a boldly crafted body, this is elegant Buddha statue in the Jocho style of the transition period between the early and latter parts Heian period.

Wooden statue of Fugen Bosatsu in a miniature shrine: Originally housed within the three-storey pagoda. The small latter part of Heian period statue stands at 39 cm in height.

Cultural Property Designated by Kyoto Prefecture

Wooden standing statues of the Four Heavenly Kings: Housed within the main hall. Carrying inscriptions dating from the year 1293.


Take the Nara Kotsu Bus from the JR Yamatoji Line Kamo Station (Kyoto Prefecture) and alight at 'Gansenji' bus stop. Take the Nara Kotsu Bus from JR Yamatoji Line Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station, alight at 'Gansenji Guchi' bus stop and walk for 25 minutes.

[Original Japanese]