Gatsurin-ji Temple (月輪寺)

Gatsurin-ji Temple (also known as Tsukinowa-dera Temple) is a Buddhist temple belonging to the Tendai Sect located in Tsukinowa-cho, Saga Kiyotaki, Ukyo-ku Ward, Kyoto City. The sango (literally, "mountain name"), which is the title prefixed to the name of a Buddhist temple is Kamakurayama or Kensozan (Mt. Kamakura or Mt. Keso). The principal image is Amida Nyorai. The kaiki (founding patron) was attributed to Taicho.

It is a mountain temple located deep within the mountains to the east of Mt. Atago (924 m) that rises at the west of the Kyoto basin. The temple is closely connected to Atago-jinja Shrine (located on the peak of Mt. Atago) and known for its relationship to figures such as Kuya, Honen and Kanezane KUJO. Within the precinct stand Shigure-zakura cherry trees said to have been planted by Shinran himself, and the site is famous for its rhododendrons. It is the 18th site on the Honen Shonin 25 temple pilgrimage.


Gatsurin-ji Temple is a mountain temple located deep within the mountains to the east of Mt. Atago that rises at the west of the Kyoto basin. Although part of Ukyo-ku Ward, Kyoto City, the surrounding area contains no signs of human habitation with the exception of the temple, which can only be reached by ascending the mountain path on foot from Kiyotaki at the foot of the mountain for one and half hour.

It is impossible to describe the history of Gatsurin-ji Temple without also mentioning the history of the closely related Atago-jinja Shrine (also known as Atago Gongen). Atago-jinja Shrine is a Shinto shrine known for enshrining deities that provide protection from fire that in the early modern period came to be called Atago Gongen or Hakun-ji Temple and served as a place representing the syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism and where the practice of Shugendo (mountain ascetics) was practiced. "Hakun-ji Engi" (Legend of Hakun-ji Temple) quoted in "Yamashiro Meisho Shi" (Annals of Yamashiro's picturesque sites) says the following of Atago Gongen's origin.

When EN no Ozunu (also known as En no Gyoja) and Unpen Shonin travelled to Kiyotaki at the foot of Mt. Atago during the Emperor Monmu's reign from 701 to 704, their progress was halted by lightning and violent rain. After the two men prayed, the sky cleared and the three Tengu (long-nosed demon) masters Nichiryo of India, Zenkai of Tang (China) and Tarobo of Japan appeared atop a large cedar tree leading tens of thousands of each of their descendants. Just as the Tengu proclaimed that 'By the order of Buddha, we have held this territory and worked to bless human beings for 2000 years,' they disappeared. Unpen named the large cedar tree 'Kiyotaki Shisho Myojin' (four deities in Kiyotaki) and founded a mausoleum for the gods in Asahigamine (the site of present-day Atago-jinja Shrine). This is said to be the origin of Atago Gongen.

These two men are both legendary figures; EN no Ozuku is considered to be the founder of Shugendo, while Unpen later became Priest Taicho and is believed to have established the Mt. Haku sacred site in Kaga.

According to the temple history, under the order of the Emperor Konin, Keishun Sozu worked with WAKE no Kiyomaro to revive Mt. Atago and, as was the case at Mt. Godai in Tang Dynasty China, build temples the tops of five mountains. These were reputed to be Hakun-ji Temple on Mt. Asahigamine, Gatsurin-ji Temple in Mt. Owashigamine, Jingo-ji Temple on Mt. Takao, Nichirin-ji Temple on Mt. Tatsukami, and Denpo-ji Temple on Mt. Kamakura. The above has led to the conclusion that Gatsurin-ji Temple was founded by Taicho and revived by Keishun.

In the Heian period, Kuya (903 - 972) visited the temple and it is said that Kanezane KUJO (1149 - 1207) lived out a secluded retirement there. Legend has it that in 1207 before the exile of Honen (1133 - 1212), founders of Japan's Jodo (Pure Land) Sect, and Shinran (1173 - 1263) (the so-called Religious Persecution of the Shogen era), they visited Kanezane in Gatsurin-ji Temple and lamented their impending separation.

At the time of their separation, it is said that Honen, Shinran and Kanezane each carved a statue of himself and these are kept at the temple as the 'Sanso-zo' (Statues of the Three Founders). However, whereas the statues of Honen and Shinran were crafted during the Edo period, the statue attributed to Kanezane KUJO dates from the latter part of the Heian period and is thought to have originally been created as a Monju Bosatsu statue in the form of a Buddhist monk.

As is described above, there are numerous legendary elements involved in the history of Gatsurin-ji Temple's founding, and many details regarding the temple's history before the middles ages remain unclear. However, the temple's collection Buddha statues dating from the Heian period, among which the standing statue of the Eleven-faced Kannon that represents the oldest style and appears to have been crafted during the 10th century indicates that the temple existed in the 10th century when Kuya is said to have visited.

Important Cultural Properties

Wooden seated statue of Amida Nyorai: Latter part of the Heian period
Wooden standing statue of Eleven-faced Kannon: Mid-Heian period
Wooden standing statue of Thousand-armed Kannon: Latter part of the Heian period
Wooden standing statue of Sho Kannon: Latter part of the Heian period
Wooden standing statues of Zenzai and Ryuo: Latter part of the Heian period
Wooden seated statue of attributed to Kanezane KUJO (form of a Buddhist monk): Latter part of the Heian period
Wooden standing statue of Kuya Shonin: The Kamakura period


The rhododendrons in the precinct are a natural monument designated by Kyoto City.

Address and Access

7 Tsukinowa-cho, Saga Kiyotaki, Ukyo-ku Ward, Kyoto City
Take the Kyoto Bus to Kiyotaki bus stop and walk for approximately 1.5 hours. Situated part of the way along a mountain path separate to the front path that leads to Atago-jinja Shrine on the peak of Mt. Atago. Follow the woodland pass to the fork in the path (entrance to Kuya-taki Waterfall) which can pass a car, from where the only possible route is that the mountain path (approximately a 1 hour walk from the entrance to Kuya-taki Waterfall).

Visitor Information
Open between 09:00 and 17:00. It is necessary to inform the temple of your visit in advance. It is not possible to visit the temple during winter snowfall.

[Original Japanese]