Ninna-ji Temple (仁和寺)

Ninna-ji Temple is the main temple of the Omuro sect of Shingon Buddhism, located in Omuro, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture. It is also called Mt. Ouchi. The official name is Kyu-Omurogosho-ato-Ninna-ji Temple. It is sacred to Amitabha Tathagata, and was founded by Emperor Uda. As a temple with deep connections to the Imperial Household, it got the nickname "Omurogosho" (Omuro Imperial Palace) from the fact that the Monk-Emperor Uda lived there after entering the priesthood. Known for its cherry trees, Omuro is lively with the many pilgrims who come to see the cherries in the spring and colored leaves in the fall. The story of "The priest of Ninna-ji Temple", which appears in the essay "Tsurezuregusa", is also well known. As a part of the "Cultural Assets of Ancient City Kyoto", it is a registered World Heritage Site.

It is a historical site still visited by many domestic and foreign pilgrims and tourists, and there is a tea room to demonstrate the tea ceremony (fees required) in the old Omuro Imperial Palace.

Origins and History

Construction began in 886 at the behest of Emperor Koko, although he died the next year without seeing it completed. It was finished in 888 by Emperor Uda who took over the undertaking and named Nishiyama Gogan-ji Temple, but before long came to be called Ninna-ji Temple after the name of the era. After Emperor Uda entered the priesthood, he built priests' living quarters called "Omuro" for himself in the southwest of the Ninna-ji Garan (Monastery) and lived there; at the time it was nicknamed "Omuro (Ninna-ji) gosho (Imperial Palace)". On the site of the "Omuro" there is now a group of buildings in the style of a palace, called Ninna-ji Palace. The ruins of Gosho (Imperial Palace) are designated a national historic landmark.

Ninna-ji Temple therefore enjoyed the protection of the Imperial family and nobles; until the Meiji period princes and members of the Imperial family served as Monzeki (chief priests), controlling all sects of Buddhism as the head of Monzeki Temples. It declined in the Muromachi period, and the Garan (Monastery) burned in the Onin War (1467-1477). More recently, in the Kan'ei years (1624-1644), it was outfitted with the Garan (Monastery) by the Edo Shogunate. Also in the Kan'ei years, the Shishinden, the Seiryoden, the Tsunegoten and other buildings were moved to the temple grounds from the old Imperial Palace when it was rebuilt (the current main hall, Kondo is the old Shishinden).

Garan (Monastery)

Kondo (Main Hall, National Treasure) _ The Seiden and the Shishinden from the old Imperial Palace built in 1613, were moved and remodeled in the Kan'ei years (1624-1644), and are valuable examples of the Shinden-zukuri style of the time. The feel of the palace architecture is well preserved, even though there were some changes made when they were converted from a palace to use as a Buddhist temple, changing the roofs from cypress bark to tiles, for example.

Mieido (Important Cultural Property) – Built out of materials from the Seiryoden of the former Imperial Palace. Enshrines the sect's founder, Kukai.

Ninna-ji Palace - It is the Honbo, located on the western side of the path from the Nio-mon gate to the Chu-mon gate, and stands where the Monk-Emperor Uda had his residence. The Shinden was rebuilt from the Tsunegoten, the Imperial palace in early stages of modern times, but burned in 1887. Although the current structure was rebuilt in the late Meiji to early Taisho period to the design of Suekichi KAMEOKA, the building and its garden have a palace-like atmosphere from long ago.

Ryokakutei (Important Cultural Property) - Rebuilt from the mansion of the Edo-period painter Korin OGATA, it has an unusual, small doorway in the wing wall, below a double roof.

Hitotei (Important Cultural Property) – A thatched hut-style tea room built to the liking of Emperor Kokaku at the end of the Edo period, it has a VIP entrance with a high door jamb so that people can enter without stooping.

There are many others, including the Goju-no-to (five-story pagoda), the Kyozo (scripture storehouse), Kyusho Myojin Shrine, the Goeido Chu-mon gate, the Kannondo, the Shoro (bell tower), the Nio-mon gate, the Chu-mon gate, and the Hombo Omote-mon gate (all important cultural properties), many of which were contributed by Iemitsu TOKUGAWA in the Kan'ei years.

National Treasures

Kondo (Main Hall)

Wooden Amida Sanson Statue -Originally installed in the Kondo (main hall), it has been moved to the Reihokan (sacred treasure hall) of the temple. It is said to have been the principal object of worship when the temple was built in 888.

Wooden Seated Statue of Yakushi Nyorai - Principal object of worship of the Reimeiden on the north side of the main hall (where the mortuary tablets of the temple's chief priests are enshrined)
The outline was clarified for the first time in 1986 by the investigation of Kyoto National Museum, and it was designated as a National Treasure in 1990. It was made by Buddhist sulptors Ensei and Choen in 1103, at the request of Emperor Shirakawa's son, Kakugyo Hosshinno. The small, elaborate, sandalwood statue is 11cm tall, 24cm when the halo and pedestal are included; the halo has images of Shichibutsu Yakushi and Nikko/Gekko Bosatsu; the pedestal has 3 of the Twelve Heavenly Generals on each of the four sides.

Kujaku Myoo (Painting) - A Buddhist picture from Northern Song Period China.

Hosoge Makie Houjubako - A lacquer ware piece from the early Heian period. Valuable as an example of early Makie.

Sanjutcho Sasshi and Hosoge Karyobinga Makie Soku Sasshibako - Sanjutcho Sasshi are 30 small Sasshi scriptures that Kukai brought back from Tang China (size of each is 10x10cm), including some that he transcribed by himself. These have long been regarded as priceless treasures of Shingon Buddhism. The associated boxes were gifts from the Imperial Court, and are valuable examples of the Heian period lacquer ware.

Omuro Sojoki - A record of the successive chief priests of Ninna-ji Temple. Kamakura period.

Emperor Takakura Shinkan Shosoku - "Shinkan" means "written by the Emperor", and "Shosoku" means a letter. Written when he was 18 years old, it is the only remaining writing of Emperor Takakura, who died at an early age.

Emperor Go-Saga Shinkan Shosoku - The only writing confirmed that it was from Emperor Go-Saga.

Koteinaikei Meido (2 volumes)/Koteinaikai Taiso (24 volumes) - Commentaries on the Chinese Medical Text "Koteinaikai". "Meido" is a copy from the Kamakura to the Northern and Southern Courts period; "Taiso" is from the Heian period.

Ishinpo - A copy from the late Heian period of Japan's oldest medical text, "Ishinpo".

Shinshu Honzo - A Kamakura period copy of the Tang era book about medicinal herbs, "Shinshu Honzo".

Important Cultural Properties

Ninna-ji Temple's 14 Buildings: the Gojyu-no-to (5-story pagoda), the Kannondo, the Chu-mon gate, the Nio-mon gate, the Shoro (bell tower), the Kyozo (scripture storehouse), the Goeido, the Goeido Chu-mon gate, 3 buildings of Kusho Myojin Shrine, the Ryokakutei, the Hitotei

Color on Silk Portrait of Shotoku Taishi
Color on Silk Picture of Hachimanshin as a Monk
Monochrome and Color on Paper Image of Mikkyozu – 17 Items
Sumi Ink on Paper Image of Koso – 1 Scroll
Sumi Ink on Paper Image of Shitennozu – 1 Scroll
Sumi Ink on Paper Miroku Bosatsu's Pictures Collection - 1 Album
Sumi Ink on Paper Image of Yakushi Junishinsho – 1 Scroll
Sumi Ink on Paper Besson Zakki (with icons) – 57 Scrolls

Wooden Seated Statue of Aizen Myoo in Miniature Shrine
Wooden Standing Statue of Kisshoten
Wooden Seated Statue of Shitta Taishi*
Wooden Standing Statue of Zojoten/Tamonten
Wooden Seated Statue of Monju Bosatsu

*Originally designated "Wooden Seated Statue of Shotoku Taishi"
Changed to current name in 1991.

Craft Works
Sumiyoshi Makie Table
Iroe Yoraku Monhanaike by Ninsei
Copper Relic Box, Gokorei, Sankorei, Kuzuryurei, Gokosho
Hitsuki Makie Inkstone Box
Hoju Katsuma Monkin Ohi

Handwritten Books

Sumi Ink on Silk Sonsho Darani Sutra in Sanskrit (written by Fukusanzo)
Konshi Kondei Yakushikyo by Emperor Kokaku, to Sainin Shinno
Kujakukyo, Vol. 2-3
Jujikyo Narabini Jurikikyo/Ekorinkyo
Hokke Gengi Vol. 2, 8
Nyoirin Giki
Hannyakyo Rishubon
Rishushaku by Jun'yu
Ninnaji Kuronuri Tebako Shogyo: 65 Volumes; 3 Books; 138 Pictures; 32 Letters; 16 鋪; 28 Leaves
Tanshishi Kondei Hannya Shingyo by Emperor Sakuramachi
Secret Mandala Jujushinron (Vol. 6 reproduction) 10 Pictures
Saijarin 2 Pictures in One Book
Manyoshu Commentary 9 Books

Mujokoshiki by Emperor Go-Toba
Letter from Emperor Go-Uda (May 11, On Receiving a Buddhist Name)
Letter from Emperor Go-Uda (September 20, Tokuji 2)
Letter from Emperor Go-daigo (Musings on Various Subjects)
Letter from Emperor Go-daigo (Musings on a Lonely Night)
Kujaku Myoo Dokyodangu'nado Sosho Kishomon
Hinamiki Zanketsu, Jokyu Years 3-4
Letters (Koyaomuro Letters: 1; Kezoin Miyanohoin Letters: 1; draft replies: 2)
Joganji Konpon Mokuroku (March 9, Jogan 14)
Hoshoin Ryodenchi Kugen Funshitsujo (July 8, Anna 2)

(Archaeological Resources and Historical Documents)
Various Artifacts from the Ninna-ji Temple Grounds
Map of Japan

Omuro 88 Places

In 1827 (Bunsei 10) Fukaishin'in Omuro/Sainin Hosshinno, the 29th chief priest of Ninna-ji Temple, ordered the custodian, Totomi-no-kami HISATOMI, to build it for the people who could not do the 88 Places Pilgrimage on Shikoku, making him go on the pilgrimage and bring back the sand from each of the 88 temples on Shikoku. It began when he made a mock-up of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pligrimage on Mt. Joju in the Ninna-ji temple grounds, with 88 temples in which he put the sand that he brought back.

It is a pilgrimage that re-creates in miniature on Mt. Joju the 88 Temples of Shikoku. The miniature temples are spaced out along about 3-km mountain path. Each of the 88 temples actually enshrines the same principal image as one of the 88 Temples of Shikoku, along with Kobo-Daishi. It is also called Mt. Joju 88 Places.

Ninna-ji Temple used to sponsor an "Omuro Ninna-ji Temple Mt. Joju 88 Places Stamp Hike" 6 times per year.


Ninna-ji Temple's cherry trees have been named "Omuro-zakura". There are around 200 of them, and they have double blossoms. They say that the trees are so short because the bedrock there is hard, and they cannot put down deep roots. Because it can be said that "Hana ga hikui"(a pun means both "the flowers are low to the ground", and "small nose") the trees have been nicknamed "Otafuku (very small nose woman)-cherries". They typically bloom late, after the 20th of April, wrapping up the end of the season in Kyoto - a town with many famous cherry trees.

Films Set in Ninna-ji Temple
Detective Conan: Crossroads in the Maze


Kyoto City Bus, Kyoto Bus, JR West Bus: get off at Omuro Ninna-ji Temple bus stop
5 minutes' walk from Keifuku Electric Railroad's Omuro Ninna-ji Station

Admission to the grounds is usually free; there is a charge only for visiting the Goten (palace) and the Horeikan (sacred treasure hall). However, a cherry blossom festival is held when the Omuro cherries are in bloom (April), and admission fees are needed for entering the grounds as well as viewing the buildings during that period.

Reference Works

"Touring Kyoto's Old Temples 11: Ninna-ji Temple" by Kenkichi YAMAMOTO and Taien MORI, edited by Yasushi INOUE and Zenryu TSUKAMOTO. Tankosha, 1977
"Illustrated Guide to Showa Kyoto's Famous Places: Rakusai" Toshinori TAKEMURA. Shinshindo, 1983
"Weekly Asahi Hyakka: Japan's National Treasures" No. 14 (Ninna-ji Temple), Asahi Shimbunsha, 1997
"Place Names in Japanese History: Place Names of the City of Kyoto" Heibonsha
"Kadokawa Dictionary of Japanese Place Names: Kyoto" Kadokawa Shoten
"Encyclopedia of National History" Yoshikawa Kobunkan

[Original Japanese]