Myoshin-ji Temple (妙心寺)

Myoshin-ji Temple is situated in Hanazono, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City and is the head temple of the Rinzai sect Myoshin-ji School of Zen Buddhism. Its honorific mountain prefix is Shobozan. The object of veneration is Shaka Nyorai, the kaiki (patron of a temple in its founding) was Emperor Hanazono and the kaisan (first chief priest) was Kanzan Egen (Muso-daishi). Of the approximately 6,000 Rinzai sect temples in Japan, around 3,500 belong to the Myoshin-ji School. It is a large temple complex with a central monastery that includes structures such as the recently rebuilt Sammon gate, Butsuden (Buddha hall), Hatto (lecture hall), which is surrounded by numerous sub-temples.


The Zen temples of Kyoto consisted of those under the protection and control of the Muromachi Shogunate as typified Gozan-Jissetsu system institutions and those outside of the system.
The former were referred to as 'Zenrin' or 'Sorin,' and the latter were referred to as 'Rinka.'
Along with Daitoku-ji Temple, Myoshin-ji Temple is representative of strict Rinka temples that were characterized by an emphasis on training.

Today, the precinct of Myoshin-ji Temple contains the villa of the Retired Emperor Hanazono named Hagiwaradono. In 1335, the Rretired Emperor Hanazono shaved his head and became a monk, after which he vowed to convert the Hagiwaradono villa into a Zen temple. The Cloistered Emperor's Zen master was Daitoku-ji Temple kaisan Shuho Myocho (Daito-kokushi). Shuho passed away in the 12th month of 1337, but, after asking the Cloistered Emperor Hanazono on his deathbed who he should pass on his position to, he recommended leading disciple Kanzan Egen (1277-1360). At this time, Kanzan was training in the mountains of Mino Province (Gifu Prefecture) and was reluctant to return to Kyoto, but on receiving the dying instructions of his teacher Shuho and the imperial decree of Hanazono, he could not refuse and assumed the position of kaisan at Myoshin-ji Temple in 1342. The temple's full title 'Shobozan Myoshin-ji' was given by Shuho and derived from the words 'Shoho ganzo nehan myoshin' (approximately meaning 'ultimate enlightenment') spoken by Shaka to his disciple Mahakasyapa.

Kanzan Egen's style of Zen Buddhism was strict and he lived his life to the utmost level of simplicity. Unlike other eminent monks, there are no analects left by Kanzan, no portraits painted during his lifetime and the only example of his writing is the inka (master's certification of a disciple's completion of training) that he presented to his disciple Juo Sohitsu.

Shogun Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA was enraged because Setsudo Soboku, the 6th chief priest of Myoshin-ji Temple, had a close relationship with Yoshihiro OUCHI who flew the flag of revolt against the Ashikaga Clan. In 1399, Yoshimitsu confiscated Myoshin-ji Temple, implicated Setsudo Soboku as being involved with Yoshihiro OUCHI and had him confined to Shoren-in Temple.

The monastery at Myoshin-ji Temple was destroyed by fire during the Onin War (1467-1477) but was reconstructed thanks to the efforts of the Sekko Soshi (1408-1486). The temple has received the backing of influential individuals including those from the Hosokawa and Toyotomi families and continued to flourish into modern times.


Chokushi-mon Gate (gate for the imperial envoys) - Built in 1610.

Sammon Gate - Built in 1599. A two-storey gate with five bays and three entrances (three of the five front bays are entrances). The upper storey houses statues of Enzu-Daishi (Kannon) and Juroku-Rakan-zo (the 16 arhats).

Butsuden (Buddha hall) - Newer than the other halls, having been built in 1827. Features a single pent hip-and-gable roof.

Hatto (lecture hall) - Built in 1656. Features a single pent hip-and-gable roof.

O-hojo (large Abbot's quarters) - Built in 1654. The partition paintings in the three south rooms are by Tanyu KANO and those in the three north rooms are by Toun KANO.

Kuri (priest's living quarters or kitchen) - Built in 1653.

Other buildings include a smaller hojo, a yokushitsu (bath house) and Kyozo (sutra repository) (all of the above buildings are Important Cultural Properties).


Myoshin-ji Temple has a total of 48 sub-temples which includes 38 within the precinct itself and 10 outside of the temple grounds, of which Ryoan-ji Temple, renowned for its rock garden, is one.

Sub-temples within the Precinct

Ryosen-an Temple

Kobai-in Temple

Choko-in Temple

Yogen-in Temple

Tokai-an Temple - The gardens have been designated a historic site and a scenic spot. The garden in front of the hojo is of a simple design surrounded by a tsuiji fence and covered in white sand with raked lines. The garden to the south of the reception building has an abstract look and features white sand in which seven rocks have been arranged.

Gyokuho-in Temple - This is the kaizando (an Important Cultural Property also known as Mishoan) that enshrines a statue of kaisan (founding priest) Kanzan Egen was built during the Muromachi Period. The garden has been designated a historic site and a scenic spot.

Torin-in Temple - Has a dry landscape garden and a suikinkutsu. Known for opening specially when the sal tree flowers come into bloom.

Daishin-in Temple

Zakke-in Temple

Fukuju-in Temple

Nyoze-in Temple

Kaifuku-in Temple - Masanori FUKUSHIMA served as kaiki. Founded by Kaishitsu Chimon. The family temple of the Imperial Machijiri family.

Yotoku-in Temple

Daio-in Temple

Keishun-in Temple - The garden featuring thick hair moss and rhododendrons has been designated a historic site and a scenic spot.

Hanto-in Temple

Chokei-in Temple

Unsho-in Temple

Kokoku-in Temple

Rinka-in Temple - The hojo is in possession of a sliding screen landscape painting 'Suiboku Sansui zu' created by Tohaku HASEGAWA (Important Cultural Property) and sliding screen paintings by Eigaku KANO.

Chisho-in Temple

Rinsho-in Temple

Daitsu-in Temple

Tenkyu-in Temple

Kingyu-in Temple

Jusho-in Temple

Tensho-in Temple

Shunko-in Temple - In possession of the Important Cultural Properties of the Namban-ji Temple bell and sliding screen paintings by Eigaku KANO in the hojo.

Tokuun-in Temple

Dairyo-in Temple

Daiho-in Temple

Gyokuryu-in Temple

Tsugen-in Temple

Reiun-in Temple - The dry landscape garden has been designated a historic site and a scenic spot.

Shotaku-in Temple

Tenju-in Temple

Taizo-in Temple - In possession of 'Hyonenzu' (Catching a Catfish with a Gourd) by Josetsu, an example of one of Japan earliest suiboku paintings and a National Treasure (deposited at Kyoto National Museum).

Jiun-in Temple

Of those listed above, only Taizo-in Temple, Keishun-in Temple, and Daishin-in Temple are open to the public on a regular basis.

Sub-temples Outside of the Precinct

Esho-in Temple (Hanazono Konnan-cho, Ukyo Ward)

Ryuge-in Temple (Hanazono Konnan-cho, Ukyo Ward)

Shunga-in Temple (Hanazono Konnan-cho, Ukyo Ward)

Kontai-ji Temple (Tojiin Nishimachi, Kita Ward)

Senju-in Temple (Ryoanji Kinugasa-shita-cho, Ukyo Ward)

Tafuku-in Temple (Ryoanji Kinugasa-shita-cho, Ukyo Ward)

Ryoan-ji Temple (Ryoanji Goryo-no-shita-cho, Ukyo Ward)

Reiko-in Temple (Ryoanji Goryo-no-shita-cho, Ukyo Ward)

Daiju-in Temple (Ryoanji Goryo-no-shita-cho, Ukyo Ward)

Seigen-in Temple (Ryoanji Goryo-no-shita-cho, Ukyo Ward)

National Treasures

Temple bell - This is Japan's oldest bell inscribed with the ancient lunar calendar year corresponding to the Gregorian calendar year 698. It was cast in the Kyushu region. Myoshin-ji Temple has two bells (northwest of the Hatto and southeast of the Butsuden), but this one was housed within the former bell tower (now moved to the Hatto). The bell sound matches that of a garaku scale named ojikicho so has long been known as 'Ojikicho Bell' and is referred to in "Tsurezuregusa" (Essays in Idleness).

Writing of Daito-kokushi - Written by Shuho Myocho (Daito-kokushi) to his student Kanzan Egen (Myoshin-ji kaisan) when he conferred upon him the name 'Kanzan.'

Writing of Daito-kokushi - The inka (master's certification of a disciple's completion of training) given by Shuho Myocho to his disciple Kanzan Egen.

Important Cultural Properties


Butsuden (Buddha hall) (including hallway)

Hatto (lecture hall) (including hallway)

O-hojo (Large Abbot's quarters)

Sammon Gate

Yokushitsu (bath house)

Kyozo (sutra repository)

Chokushi-mon Gate (the gate for the Imperial Envoys)

Nan-mon Gate (south gate)

Genkan (entrance hall)

Shindo (dormitory)

Ko-hojo (small Abbot's quarters) (including hallway)

Kuri (priest's living quarters or the kitchen of a temple) (including hallway)

Kita-mon Gate (north gate)

Arts and Crafts

Color on silk portrait of Emperor Hanazono inscribed by Emperor Go-Hanazono

Color on silk portrait of Kido Osho/color on silk portrait of Daio-kokushi/color on silk portrait of Daito-kokushi (dated 1330).

16 color on silk portraits of the Sixteen Arhats.

6 color on silk portraits of the Rokudai Soshi

Ink on silk portrait of the bodhisattva Samantabhadra

Color on paper portraits of Sansuan, Hanshan and Shide (six-panel screen)/color on paper images of Kinki Shoga-zu (Picture of People Playing Shogi) (six-panel screen)/color on paper images of flowers (six-panel screen) (all by Yusho KAIHO) and color on paper image of Wang LU and the Shangshan sihao (six-panel screen)/color on paper image of Ziling YAN and The Three Laughers of Tiger Ravine (two-panel folding screen)

Color on paper image of a dragon and tiger (six-panel screen)

Ink on paper portrait of Bodhidharma, Fenggan and Budai

Ink on paper images of the Eight Views of Xiao-Xiang (six-panel screen)

Kulika dragon-king katana sword owned by Sutemaru TOYOTOMI with Hisamune inscribed on the blade

Small armor owned by Sutemaru TOYOTOMI: 2 pieces of body armor, 1 helmet, 1 saddle

Writing of Kanzan Egen - Ju Sohitsu Shojo dated the 2nd month of the lunar calendar 1356

Letter written by Emperor Hanazono (22nd day of the 3rd month)

Correspondence written by Emperor Hanazono (29th day of the 7th month 1347)

Will and testament of Emperor Hanazono (22nd day of the 7th month 1347, addressed to monk Kanzan)

Letter written by Emperor Go-Nara conferring a name to a Zen monk (12th day of the 3rd month 1557)

Will and testament of Emperor Go-Nara (9th day of the 8th month 1557, addressed to Myoshin-ji Temple hojo)

Letter written by Emperor Go-Sai conferring a name to a Zen monk (12th day of the 12th month 1658)

Letter written by Emperor Higashiyama conferring a name to a Zen monk (12th day of the 8th month 1706)

Letter written by Emperor Momozono conferring a name to Kotoku Shomyo Kokushi (12th day of the 10th month 1756)

Letter written by Emperor Kokaku conferring a name to a Zen monk (12th day of the 3rd month 1805)

Letter written by Emperor Komei conferring a name to a Zen monk (12th day of the 3rd month 1855)

Important Cultural Properties Destroyed by Fire
Bell tower - former Important Cultural Property
Destroyed by arson on September 1, 1962.

Historic Sites/Scenic Spots

Hojo garden

Annual Events

January 1: Shuni-e (Second-Month Service) [New Year event]

February 7: Kaisan Gotan-e (founding priest's birthday)

February 15: Parinirvana Day

March equinoctial week: Shidosai

April 8: Shaka Gotan-e (the birth of Shaka)

May 18: Hojo Sempo

June 18: Sammon Sempo

July 15: Sammon Segaki (service for the benefit of suffering spirits)

August 9-10: O-shorai Mukae (the lighting of welcoming fires to guide returning spirits)

October 5: Daruma-ki (anniversary of Bodhidharma's death)

November 3-4: Bakuryo (the airing out and general display of temple artifacts)

November 11: Hanazono Hoo-ki (anniversary of the Cloistered Emperor Hanazono's death)

December 8: Jodo-e (Bodhi Day)

December 12: Kaisan-e


Nan-mon Gate (south gate): Take the JR Sagano Line (Sanin Main Line) to Hanazono Station (Kyoto Prefecture) or Kyoto City Bus/Kyoto Bus to Myoshin-ji-Mae bus stop.

Kita-mon Gate (north gate): Take the Keifuku Railway Kitano Line to Myoshin-ji Station or Kyoto City Bus/Kyoto Buys to Myoshin-ji-Kitamon-Mae bus stop.

[Original Japanese]