Myoho-in Temple (妙法院)

Myoho-in Temple is a Tendai Sect Buddhist temple located in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City. Its honorific mountain prefix is Mt. Nanei. The temple is devoted to the principal image Fugen Bosatsu and is said to have been founded by Saicho. Myoho-in Temple is one of a special class of temples known as 'Monzeki' which were traditionally served by successive head priests from the Imperial family and nobility, but is also distinguished as one of the "Three Tendai Monzeki" along with Shoren-in Temple and Sanzen-in Temple (Kajii Monzeki). It is also known for its connection to Emperor Goshirakawa and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI. During the early modern period, the temple administered Hoko-ji Temple (Great Buddha) and Rengeo-in Temple (Sanjusangen-do Hall), with the Sanjusangen-do Hall remaining under Myoho-in Temple's jurisdiction following this period. Please refer to the separate article 'Sanjusangen-do' for details regarding Sanjusangen-do Hall.


Myoho-in Temple is located within the southern part of Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City, renowned for its numerous prominent temples. In the vicinity is the former site of Hojuji-dono Palace in which Emperor Goshirakawa resided, and neighboring attractions include Chishaku-in Temple, the Kyoto National Museum, Hoko-ji Temple (Great Buddha), Sanjusangen-do Hall, Imahie-jingu Shrine and the Hoju-ji mausoleum of Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa. The buildings within the temple precinct include the magnificent (kuri) monks' living quarters (National Treasure) constructed during the early modern period and the Daishoin (great study) (Important Cultural Property), but the temple grounds are not open to the public with the exception of special openings such as those in autumn.

As with other Tendai Sect Monzeki Temples (Shoren-in Temple and Sanzen-in Temple), the origins of Myoho-in Temple are believed to lie in a bo (small temple) situated atop Mt. Hiei and the first chief priest is thought to have been Dengyo Daishi Saicho (767-822). The temple was later relocated to the center of Kyoto at the end of Heian period (12th century) during the reign of Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa, where it was temporarily located at Ayanokojikosaka (assumed to have been to the south-west of Yasaka-jinja Shrine in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City) before being moved to its current location on the former site of Hojuji-dono Palace in the early modern period.

According to records such as "Kachoyoryaku", 'Hongaku-in Temple' located in the Saito area of Mt. Hiei is the origin of Myoho-in Temple. However, the connection between Myoho-in Temple and Hongaku-in Temple is not known with any certainty, and there are theories that Myoho-in Temple was founded after separating from Hongaku-in Temple, opposing theories that Hongaku-in Temple separated from Myoho-in Temple, and a theory that Myoho-in Temple is an alias for Hongaku-in Temple. In addition, the actual events that took place when Myoho-in Temple was moved to its current site from Ayanokojikosaka after it had been relocated to the center of Kyoto are unclear and the pre-modern history of the temple contains conflicting accounts.

Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa and Cloistered Imperial Prince Sonsho

The first actual account of Myoho-in Temple appears in the history of Japan during the time of Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa. Emperor Goshirakawa (1127-1192) abdicated the throne after reigning for fewer than three years; becoming a retired emperor in 1158 and entering the Buddhist priesthood to serve as a cloistered emperor in 1169. It was during this time that the Retired Emperor Goshirakawa constructed his residence (In-Gosho) at Hojuji-dono Palace, which he moved into in 1161. It was from here that he exerted cloistered rule and famously constructed an enormous Buddha hall (Rengeo-in Temple = Sanjusangen-do Hall) housing 1,000 statues of the thousand-armed Kannon (the celebration of Sanjusangen-do Hall's completion took place in 1164). In 1160, the Retired Emperor Goshirakawa had the divided tutelary deity of Mt. Hiei's guardian god Hie-sha Shrine transferred to his temple and established Ima Hie-sha Shrine (Ima Hie-sha Shrine survives today as "Ima Hie-jingu Shrine"). The first Betto (representative, person responsible) to be assigned to Ima Hie-sha Shrine was a monk from Myoho-in Temple named Shoun. Shoun was the son of FUJIWARA no Tadanari of the Miko Hidari family and the nephew of Kaishu who held the position of Tendai Zasu (the highest post of Tendai sect). Shoun was the private guardian monk of and was highly trusted by the Retired Emperor Goshirakawa. Saicho was the 1st in the line of Myoho-in chief priests, the 13th was Kaishu, the 15th was Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa (under the Buddhist priest name 'Gyoshin'), and the 16th was Shoun. The 17th chief priest Jitsuzen (the disciple and nephew of Shoun) went on to become Tendai Zasu. The temple was established as a Monzeki Temple when Cloistered Imperial Prince Sonsho (a prince of Gotakakurain) served at the temple as the 18th chief priest, and the majority of the successive chief priests until the end of the early modern period were Cloistered Imperial Prince (an individual awarded the rank of 'Imperial Prince' after leaving the Imperial family to enter the Buddhist priesthood).

It is known from records that Myoho-in Temple was known by a number of names including 'Ayanokoji-bo', 'Ayanokoji Gosho' (Ayanokoji Imperial Palace) and 'Ayanokoji-gu' during the Kamakura period, and it is believed that the main temple quarters existed in Gionmachi-Minamigawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City but it is not known exactly when the temple was relocated to its current site adjacent to Great Buddha of Hoko-ji Temple.

After the Early Modern Period

The Great Buddha Hall constructed by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI at Hoko-ji Temple was completed in 1595. Following this year, Hideyoshi assembled monks from the eight Buddhist sects of Japan (Tendai, Shingon, Ritsu, Zen, Pure Land, Niciren, Ji, Ikko) to hold a 'Senso Kuyo' (a memorial service attended by 1,000 monks) at the 'Daibutsu Kyodo' (Great Buddha Sutra Hall) to pray for the happiness of his deceased parents and ancestors in the afterlife. This Great Buddha Sutra Hall was associated with Myoho-in Temple and the kitchen used to prepare the food for the 1,000 monks who attended the Senso Kuyo is thought to be the kuri (kitchen and living quarters) at Myoho-in Temple. The precise date of the construction of the kuri is unclear but it is clear from diaries and books of the time that Myoho-in Temple was involved in Hideyoshi's Senso Kuyo, allowing the latest date of the relocation of the temple to its current site to be placed at the end of the 16th century.

Myoho-in Temple in the early modern period existed as a large temple complex with Hoko-ji Temple, Rengeo-in Temple (Sanjusangen-do Hall) and Ima Hie-sha Shrine. It was 1615 when the chief priest of Myoho-in Temple also came to serve as the chief priest of Hoko-ji Temple. This resulted from the destruction of the Toyotomi family by the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) in the Siege of Osaka. After the battle, Join, the then chief priest of Myoho-in Temple, actively cooperated with the bakufu in their destruction of Toyokuni-jinja Shrine (Kyoto City) and was successful in embezzling Jingu-ji Temple (residential office of Toyokuni-jinja Shrine's steward Shinryu-in Bonshun) and the possessions of the deceased Hideyoshi that were kept in Toyokuni-jinja Shrine. Myoho-in Temple had been involved with Sanjusangen-do Hall from early on due to the relationship with the founder, Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa. The ninety-ninth anniversary memorial service of Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa's death in 1291 was conducted at Sanjusangen-do Hall by Sonkyo, the chief priest of Myoho-in Temple, following which it became customary to hold each 50-yearly memorial service on the site. In modern times, Hoko-ji Temple and Ima Hie-sha Shrine became independent but Sanjusangen-do Hall remains part of Myoho-in Temple.

Myoho-in Temple was where seven Kugyo (court nobles) of Sanetomi SANJO's "Sonno joi" (Revere the Emperor, Expel the Barbarians) movement were expelled from Kyoto at the end of the Edo period in an incident known as 'The Seven Nobles of Decline.'


The front of the temple complex is to the west and the Kara-mon gate (Chinese gate) and side gate face onto Higashioji-dori Street. The entrance is on the western side of the precincts; the Kuri (the priest's living quarters or the kitchen of a temple) stands to its left; the Shinden (Emperor's residence) stands to its right; and in the east of the grounds are the Daishoin (Great Study), the Shiroshoin (White Study Room), the Goma-do Hall (hall for making burnt offerings) and the Seiten-do Hall. These halls are linked by covered passageways. The main hall housing the principal image statue of Fugen Bosatsu (Fugen-do Hall) stands slightly distant in the southeast of the temple precincts.

National Treasures

Kuri: Constructed during the Momoyama period. The kuri is an inward-facing building that serves as the temple kitchen and office. The kuri of Myoho-in Temple is a grand building that is said to have been used as the kitchen during the 'Senso Kuyo' ceremony held by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI for his ancestors. Many kuri feature a kirizuma-zukuri (gable roof) but that of Myoho-in Temple is of an irimoya-zukuri (hip and gable roof) construction. The interior is divided into an unfloored room, a wooden-floored room and a tatami-mat room, of which the unfloored and wooden-floored rooms do not have ceilings but allow the nuki (penetrating tie beams) and hari (beams) to be seen.

Letter written by the Viceroy of Portuguese India: In 1588, a sheepskin-paper letter from the Viceroy of the Portuguese-ruled state of Goa on the western coast of the Indian peninsula addressed to Hidetoshi TOYOTOMI requesting the relaxation of the oppressive policy towards Christianity in Japan. It is one of the items that were transferred to Myoho-in Temple when the Toyokuni Tomb enshrining Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI was destroyed.

Important Cultural Properties

Daishoin (Great study): The great study and entry hall are said to be the relocated Nyogo Gosho (court lady's palace) that was built when the imperial bridal party entered Tofukumon-in Temple in 1619, and stylistically is thought to date from around that time.

Entry hall
Color painting on silk portrait of Cloistered Emperor Goshirakawa
Myoho-in Temple wall and sliding door paintings, 58 pieces (including 14 walls and one screen): Consist of the wall and sliding screen paintings in the entry hall, Ichi no ma (room one) and Ni no ma (room two), and are thought to be the works of early modern Kano School artists. The 14 pieces in the Ura no ma (back room) of the great study and the screen in the entry hall are also included in the designation.

Wooden standing statue of Fudo Myoo: The principal image of the Goma-do Hall. Created during the first part of the Heian period.

Wooden statue of Fugen Bosatsu riding an elephant: The principal image of the main hall (Fugen-do Hall). Created at the end of the Heian period.

Akikusa Makie Bundai (a writing desk with gold-lacquered autumn flowers)
Naishobuppo sojo-kechimyaku-fu
A letter written by Emperor Gokomatsu
Do Kuyo-ki (shunki and daiki)


Location: Myohoin Maekawa-cho, Shibutani-sagaru, Higashioji Street, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City
Access: Near to the Kyoto City Bus Higashiyama Shichijo bus stop.
(Not ordinarily open to the public. Specially opened around November each year.)

[Original Japanese]