Kennin-ji Temple (建仁寺)

Kennin-ji Temple, located in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture, is the headquarters of the Rinzai sect Kennin-ji School of Zen Buddhism. Its honorific mountain prefix is Tozan. The temple was founded by kaiki (patron of a temple in its founding) MINAMOTO no Yoriie, kaizan (founding priest) Yosai and is dedicated to the principal image Shaka Nyorai.

It is Japan's oldest Zen temple and the third of the Five Great Zen Temples of Kyoto. The site is home to numerous cultural properties including Sotatsu TAWARAYA's 'Fujin Raijin zu' (image of the Wind and Thunder Gods) and Kaiho Yusho's sliding screen paintings. The Ryosoku-in sub-temple within the grounds is famous for its Chisen Kaiyu style garden in the Momoyama period and collection of cultural properties including valuable ancient Japanese books and Chinese and Korean texts. Additionally Kodai-ji Temple enshrining Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI and Hokan-ji Temple with the 'Yasaka-no-to' (Yasaka Pagoda) are both branch temples.

Origin and History

The monk Yosai (Eisai) is credited with formally introducing the Rinzai sect to Japan. He was born in Bitchu Province (modern day Okayama Prefecture) in the year 1141. At age 13 he went to study at Mt. Hiei and was ordained into the priesthood in the following year. He travelled to Southern Song Period China in both 1168 and 1187. His first visit lasted only 6 months but on his second visit he received instruction form Rinzai sect Huanglong school master Xu'an Huaichang. In 1191, he received the inka (master's certification of a disciple's completion of training) from Xu'an and returned to Japan. The influence that Mt. Hiei (Enryaku-ji Temple) commanded in Kyoto at the time made it extremely difficult to establish a Zen temple. After his return, Yosai (Eisai) first built Shofuku-ji Temple in Hakata, Kyushu and later served as kaisan at Jufuku-ji Temple constructed in the year 1200 with the assistance of Masako HOJO. Two years later in 1202, he received the backing of the second Kamakura Shogun MINAMOTO no Yoriie and constructed Kennin-ji Temple as a Rinzai sect site in Kyoto. The monastery was designed to imitate Song China's Mt Baizhang-shan.

When Kennin-ji Temple was founded, it also served as a center for the Tendai and Shingon sects in addition to the Zen sect. This was due to the great influence that the Shingon and Tendai sects already wielded in Kyoto at the time. It was not until over half a century after its founding, in 1259, that the temple became purely a Zen temple when Chinese monk Lanxi Daolong (kaisan of the Kamakura period temple Kencho-ji) assumed the position of Kennin-ji Temple's 11th chief priest.

Kennin-ji Temple has suffered numerous fires throughout the centuries including during the Onin War, in 1397 and in 1481 so that none of the original buildings remain.


Chokushi-mon Gate (gate for Imperial Envoys) (Important Cultural Property) - This four-legged gate stands at the southern entrance to the temple facing Yasaka-dori Road. It is said to have been relocated to its current site after the Onin War, having originally stood as the gate at the mansion of TAIRA no Norimori (and TAIRA no Shigemori) but this is not known for sure. It has a late Kamakura period architectural style.

Sammon gate - This late Edo period structure was relocated from Annei-ji Temple in Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture (formerly Hamana-gun, Yuto-cho) in 1923.

Hatto (lecture hall) - The same building serves as both the Butsuden (hall enshrining the principal image) and Hatto (lecture hall). Built in 1765. In 2002, an image of two dragons was painted on the ceiling by Junsaku KOIZUMI to commemorate the temple's 800th anniversary.

Hojo (Abbot's Quarters) (Important Cultural Property) - This Muromachi period building was relocated from Hiroshima's Ankoku-ji Temple to Kennin-ji Temple by Ankokuji Ekei in 1599. The outside of the building is covered with fittings but has few walls and this led to it being heavily damaged in the Muroto typhoon of 1934 but it was restored in 1940. Each room was originally adorned by India-ink partition paintings by archetypal Momoyama artist Kaiho Yusho but these have since been deposited at Kyoto National Museum and replaced by hanging scrolls. After restoring the typhoon damage, partition paintings, 'The Cycle of Birth and Death,' by traditional Japanese-style painter Kansetsu HASHIMOTO were installed.

Kita-mon Gate (Northern Gate)
Sei-mon Gate (Western Gate)
Hombo (Kuri)
Yokushitsu (bath house)
Toyobo - This teahouse is said to have been enjoyed by SEN no Rikyu's leading disciple Shinnyodo Toyobo Chosei during the Great Kitano Tea Gathering. Features a Nijo-Daime (two and 3/4 tatami mats) lower seat alcove. The configuration and design incorporates many features common to the Ennan (tea room) of the Yabunouchi family. It was relocated to its current site during the Taisho era.

National Treasures

Fujin Raijin zu (image of the Wind and Thunder Gods) (National Treasure) - Painted by Sotatsu TAWARAYA
A pair of gold background two-panel folding screens depicting Fujin on one panel and Raijin on the other. The generous use of empty space creates the dynamic effect of the two gods rushing through the sky. The piece is extremely well known as quintessential example of the work of Sotatsu TAWARAYA. The original is deposited at the Kyoto National Museum but reproductions of the folding blind and clay slab are on display at the temple.

Important Cultural Properties

Hojo (Abbot's Quarters)
Chokushi-mon Gate (gate for Imperial Envoys)
16 color on silk Juroku-Rakan-zo (portraits of the 16 Arhats)
16 ink on paper Chikurin-Shichiken-zu (images of the Seven Wise Men)
8 ink on paper Kacho-zu (images of flowers and birds)
10 light color on paper Kinki-shoga-zu (images of Chinese chess and Chinese harps)
8 ink on paper Unryu-zu (images of clouds and dragons)
8 ink on paper Sansui-zu (landscape images)
Writing of the monk Yishan Yining - Xue Ye Zuo (dated 1315)
Myoe Shonin hitsu shosoku (Jokaku Gobo)
3 Sotaku Ishibashi Kasen hitsu Sanjisei

Note: 'Chikurin-Shichiken-zu,' 'Kacho-zu,' 'Kinki-shoga-zu,' 'Unryu-zu' and 'Sansui-zu' are all Hojo partition screen paintings by Kaihou Yusho that have since been replaced by hangings scrolls.

7 minutes walk from Keihan Main Line Gion-shijo Station (Keihan)
10 minutes walk from Hankyu Kyoto Line Kawaramachi Station (Kyoto Prefecture)
5 minutes walk from Kyoto City Bus Higashiyama-Yasui bus stop

Nearby Attractions
Yasui Kompira-gu Shrine
Rokudo Chinno-ji Temple
Rokuharamitsu-ji Temple
Gion Kobu Kaburenjo theater
Hokan-ji Temple
Kodai-ji Temple

[Original Japanese]