Manpuku-ji Temple (萬福寺)

Manpuku-ji Temple, located in Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture, is the grand head temple of the Obaku Sect of Buddhism. It was founded by Yinyuan Longqi, has the honorific mountain prefix 'Obakusan' and is dedicated to the principal image Shakamuni. It is the central temple of the Obaku Sect, the latest of the pre-modern Buddhist sects to be established in Japan, and was built after the Ming Dynasty Chinese monk, Yinyuan was invited to serve as Kaisan (first head priest). The temple is unique among Japan's Buddhist temples as it maintains a Chinese style from its buildings and Buddhist imagery to its ceremonies and vegetarian food.

The 'Man' character of the temple's name 'Manpuki-ji' is sometimes written using the simplified kanji (万), but the temple's legal name uses the traditional kanji character (萬).

The Obaku Sect and Japanese Culture

The Obaku Sect's head temple, Manpuku-ji Temple houses Buddhist statues that are Chinese in style (the style that was prevalent around the end of the Ming dynasty) and the temple precinct is arranged differently to other Buddhist temples in Japan. Even the words used within the temple and ritual conventions are in Chinese style. The temple's Buddhist vegetarian food is a Chinese style cuisine known as Fucha, which is characterized by the use of large amounts of vegetable oil and being served on a large dish from which individual helpings are taken. Manpuku-ji Temple is known for being closely related to green tea ceremony originator, Baisao. Yinyuan and his disciples Muyan Xingtao and Jifei Ruyi were all masters of calligraphy, and the three men are collectively referred to as 'Obaku no Sanpitsu' (The Three Master Calligraphers of the Obaku sect). Therefore, Yinyuan's arrival in Japan and the founding of Manpuku-ji Temple brought not only new Zen Buddhism, but also various aspects of Chinese culture. In addition to kidney beans ('ingenmame' in Japanese), which became named after Yinyuan, moso bamboo, watermelon and lotus root are also said to have been brought to Japan by Yinyuan.


The temple's founding priest, Yinyuan Longqi was born in Ming Dynasty China's Fuzhou City, Fujian Province in 1592. At age 29, he entered the Buddhist priesthood and, at age 46, served as chief priest at Wanfu Temple, Mount Huangbo, Fujian. Yinyuan was a renowned monk in China at the time and his reputation reached as far as Japan. It was 1654 when Yinyuan was invited to Japan, aged 63. At the time, Japan had adopted a policy of isolationism when travel into and out of Japan was highly restricted and only the port of Nagasaki was open, so those Ming Dynasty Chinese subjects in Japan constructed Chinese style temples such as Sofuku-ji Temple (Nagasaki City) and Kofuku-ji Temple (Nagasaki City). Yinyuan came to Japan after being invited by Monk Itsunen Shoyu of Kofuku-ji Temple in Nagasaki. Itsunen originally invited Yinyuan's disciple, a monk named Yelan Xinggui, but he lost his life when the vessel on which he was traveling became lost at sea. This led Itsunen to invite Yelan's master, Yinyuan, who was also famous in Japan. Yinyuan initially declined to travel to Japan due to his age, but finally decided to make the trip after frequent invitations and the desire to fulfill the dying wish of his disciple Yelan Xinggui who passed away without realizing his ambition. In 1654, Yinyuan traveled to Japan with 30 disciples, first residing at Nagasaki's Kofuku-ji Temple and then Fumon-ji Temple in Settsutonda (present day Takatsuki City, Osaka Prefecture). Yinyuan promised the disciples left in China that he would return in 3 years. When the three years were up, he received numerous letters from his disciples and supporters in China requesting his return and he also wanted to return but many of his devotees in Japan, including former chief priest of Myosin-ji Temple, Ryokei Shosen, firmly hoped that he remain in Japan and appealed to the Shogunate. In 1658, Yinyuan headed to Edo for an audience with Shogun Ietsuna TOKUGAWA. Ietsuna also became devoted to Yinyuan and, in the following year in 1660, the Shogunate granted him land in Uji, Yamashiro Province on which a new temple for was built for him. Yinyuan had now decided to remain in Japan and, although he was originally to return to China after only three years, he ended up being buried in Japan. The temple, founded in 1661, was given the same name as the one in his home in Fuzhou, which, in Japanese is pronounced Obakusan Manfuku-ji and construction proceeded with the support of the Shogun and several Daimyo so that the temple was essentially complete by 1679.


The front of the Garan faces West and the buildings are arranged in a neat, symmetrical layout. Entering through the main gate and walking in a straight line from west to east, Hojo-ike pond is to the right, the Sammon gate stands further on, directly through this is the Tenno-den hall, further along is the Daio Ho-den hall, and past this is the Hatto. These halls are connected by roofed walkways. The square walkway connecting the Tenno-den and Daio Ho-den hall is lined on the right side (southern side) by the Belfry, Garan-do hall and Sai-do hall, and on the left side (northern side) lined by the Drum tower, Soshi-do hall and Zen-do hall in symmetrical positions. These buildings differ from usual Japanese temple architecture in that they have been built in a late Ming Dynasty Chinese style and constructed from southern teakwood. Numerous designs and techniques rarely seen in Japan have been incorporated, including balustrades with 'Manji-Kuzushi,' decorative swastika' patterns, arched ceilings named 'Obaku ceilings', circular windows and a decorative peach shape named 'To-fu' engraved on the doors. In addition, taking a left (north) from the path between the Sammon gate and Tenno-den leads to an area named Shoin-do hall that is dedicated to the temple founder, in which buildings including the Kaisan-do hall and reliquary hall stand.


Main gate: Constructed in 1661. This multilevel design Chinese style gate with a tiled roof that is high in the middle but low on the left and right sides has a form that is not generally seen in Japanese shrine and temple architecture. The fish on the left and right of the roof are not orcas but fictional creatures called Makara that have legs instead of fins. The word 'Makara' means crocodile in the Sanskrit and Pali languages and is used on the entrances of Buddhist temples in southeast Asia.

Sammon gate: Constructed in 1678. It is two-storey gate with three bays and three entrances. Three bays and three entrances' means that all three of the front bays serve as entrances (Japanese Zen Buddhist temples usually have a Sammon gate with 'five bays and three entrances').

Tenno-den: Constructed in 1668. A single-storey hip-and-gable roof structure. The placement of a hall such as this directly in front of the main hall is a feature of the Chinese style temple layout that is rarely found in Japan. Within is housed a statue of Hotei, who is believed to have been an incarnation of Maitreya. This statue is completely different from the statue of Maitreya sitting contemplatively in the half-lotus position that is well-known in Japan and instead presents the form of a potbellied Hotei. The hall also houses a statue of Skanda, which sits behind Hotei, and statues of the four heavenly kings on both sides of it. These are all Chinese style statues that were created by the Ming Dynasty Chinese Buddhist sculptor Daosheng FAN who traveled to Japan.

Daio Ho-den hall: Constructed in 1668. Equivalent to the 'main hall' or 'Buddha hall' of conventional Japanese Buddhist temples. It is a hip-and-gable roof structure. It appears to have two stories but is in fact one story with a pent roof enclosure. It houses a statue of Gautama Buddha flanked by two attendants (Ananda and Kasyapa) and statues of the 18 arhats. A podium covered with sand, called 'getsudai', stands in front of the building.

Hatto: Constructed in 1662. A single-storey hip-and-gable roof structure.

Belfry: A two storey structure with a bell suspended in the upper storey. A junsho-ban with a gatha poem written on it is suspended in front of the Belfry.

Garan-do hall: Houses Guansheng Dadi Pusa (Guan Yu).

Sai-do hall: The dining hall houses a statue of Kinnarao. A large wooden fish named 'Kaipan' hangs from the front of Sai-do hall. It is struck to signal when it is time for meals or services and is said to be where fish-shaped wooden temple drums originated. The word 'kaipan' is written using various combinations of kanji characters.

Drum tower: Stands on a site symmetrical to the Belfry and has a drum suspended in the upper part.

Soshi-do hall: Stands on a site symmetrical to the Garan-do hall and houses the memorial tablets of the father of Chinese Zen Buddhism, Bodhidharma as well as successive head priests.

Zen-do hall: Stands on a site symmetrical to the Sai-do hall. It is a Zen meditation hall.

Itoku-den hall: Stands on higher ground at the back of the Hatto and enshrines successive Tokugawa Shogun. Not ordinarily open to the public.

In addition, the Tohojo, Seihojo, Oryokaku (Okuri) and Jikodo (Shido) have all been designated Important Cultural Properties. Non-listed buildings include Baisa-do, which is dedicated to Baisao.

Shoin-do hall: An enclosure at the end of the path that leads left (north) after passing through the Sammon gate. Includes the Kaisan-do hall, reliquary hall and Kyaku-den hall (guest hall). It is where Yinyuan lived during his retirement after passing on the position of head priest to Muyan. An estate was donated in 1663 by a nobleman's wife who was devoted to Yinuyan and renamed 'Shoin-do' after being relocated to Manpuku-ji Temple. It became a Kaizan To-in (burial ground) after Yinyuan's death. Shoin-do hall was originally an independent religious corporation but merged with the Manpuku-ji Temple religious corporation in 1959.

Bunka-den hall: A treasure hall that stands on the right after passing through the Sammon gate. The building was constructed in 1972 on the 300th anniversary of the death of the sect's founder and serves as an exhibition room as well as an Obaku Cultural Research Institute.

Important Cultural Properties (Architecture)

16 buildings of Manpuku-ji Temple (main gate, Sammon gate, Tenno-den hall, Daio Ho-den hall, Hatto, Belfry, Drum tower, Garan-do hall, Soshi-do hall, Sai-do hall, Zen-do hall, Tohojo, Seihojo, Shi-do hall, Okuri, Itoku-den hall) (including 8 corridors, Tutelary shrine, Ro Munefuda, 5 paintings of the temple, 7 books relating to the temple's construction).

7 buildings of Manpuku-ji Temple Shoin-do (Tsugen-mon gate, Kaisan-do hall, reliquary hall, Juzo, Kyaku-den, Kuri, Jishinryo (including the rear gate, Hozo, Belfry, 2 corridors, Sekihi-tei)

Important Cultural Properties (Arts and Crafts)

4 Shihon-Tansai Saiko-zu, 4 Saiko-zu, 8 Kokeisansho-zu, 8 Gohyakurakan-zu, 4 Bakufu-zu and 1 Hato-zu all painted by IKE no Taiga.

Color on paper portrait of Priest Yinyuan painted by Genki with Yinyuan's own title

Book of light color on shiny silk images of Kannon (18 images) painted by Xian CHEN dated 1636 with the title and inscription of Yinyuan

Obakuzan wooden frame/pillar couplet/board (40 frames, 44 couplets, 13 boards, 14 manuscripts)

Zen Buddhism Training

Training ascetic practices such as Zen meditation are on offer to the general public (see official website). It is unique in that it is used as a penalty (special instruction training) for professional cyclists who have repeatedly violated the rules during races. The athletes fear 'going to the temple' as the 5 days of rigorous training leaves them unable to practice cycling.


5 minutes walk from Obaku station, which can be reached by the West Japan Railway Company Nara Line or the Keihan Electric Railway Co., Ltd. Keihan Uji Line.

[Original Japanese]