Sanzen-in Temple (三千院)

Sanzen-in Temple is a Tendai Sect Buddhist temple located in Ohara, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City.
It is also known as 'Sanzen-in Monzeki Temple.'
The temple was founded by Saicho, is dedicated to the principal image Bhaisajyaguru and has the honorific mountain prefix 'Gyozan'.

Its location in the village of Ohara lies in the mountains to the northeast of the city of Kyoto and was known as a place where aristocrats and ascetic Buddhist practitioners secluded themselves. It is one of the Three Monzeki Temples of the Tendai Sect along with Shoren-in Temple and Myoho-in Temple.

Sanzen-in Temple and Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall

The origins of Sanzen-in Temple lie in a temple named Enyu-bo built on Mt. Hiei during the time of Saicho in the 8th century, which was later relocated to Sakamoto (present day Otsu City) on the eastern base of Mt. Hiei and then moved several more times before arriving at its current location in 1871.
The names 'Sanzen-in Temple' and 'Sanzen-in Monzeki Temple' only came into use after 1871, before which names including 'Kajii Monzeki Temple', 'Kajii Gosho Temple' and 'Kajii Gu Temple' were used with aliases such as 'Nashimoto Monzeki Temple' and 'Entoku-in Temple', but it appears that its formal name was 'Enyu-bo.'
On the other hand, Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall (formerly named Gokuraku-in Hall) is an Amitabha hall that has stood in Ohara since the end of the Heian period in the 12th century and enveloped by the Sanzen-in Temple precinct when the priest's quarters was relocated to the site in 1871.

In addition to Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall, the temple grounds also include buildings such as the Shin-den (emperor's residence) and Kyaku-den (guest hall). Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall, situated in the garden in the south of the temple grounds, was constructed in the 12th century and houses a statue of Amitabha flanked by two attendants, which have been designated National Treasures. Photographs of Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall standing among the Japanese cedar trees are frequently featured in media such as guidebooks and the image has become something of a symbol for Ohara (Sanzen-in Temple and Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall were originally separate temples).

Sanzen-in Temple as One of the Three Monzeki Temples of the Tendai Sect

Sanzen-in Temple is the oldest of the Three Monzeki Temples of the Tendai Sect and is said to originate from a temple named 'Enyu-bo' built in Toto Minamidani (a district located within Mt. Hiei) and dedicated to the principal image of a statue of Bhaisajyaguru carved by Saicho himself when he founded the Mt. Hiei Enryaku-ji Temple in 788. The alternative name 'Nashimoto Monzeki' later arose due to the presence of a large nashi pear tree that grew next to Enyu-bo.

Many of the temples on Mt. Hiei possessed a monk's quarters called a 'satobo' on the level ground at the base of the mountain. In the year 860, the satobo of Enyu-bo was constructed by Joun-kasho in Higashi-Sakamoto (present day Sakamoto, Otsu City) at the base of Mt. Hiei under the orders of Emperor Seiwa. There is a theory that this satobo was named 'Entoku-in' and the mountain temple named 'Enyu-bo', and an alternative theory that 'Entoku-in' and 'Enyu-bo' were in fact separate temples.

In 1118, Emperor Horikawa's second (or third) son, Imperial Prince Saiunho joined the temple's priesthood and was the first time that a young member of the Imperial household had ever become a Buddhist priest. Subsequently, successive generations of children of the Imperial Family and family of Imperial regents and advisors served as chief priests at the temple, including the historically renowned Imperial Prince Morinaga.
The presence of a well (kaji-i) used in performing kaji (an esoteric Buddhist ritual) at Enyu-bo in Sakamoto led to the temple being called 'Kajii-gu.'
Imperial Prince Saiunho was appointed Tendai-Zasu (the head priest of the Tendai Sect) in 1156. In the same year, the administrative office of the Kajii Monzeki Temple was established in Ohara (present day Ohara, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City) to the north of Mt. Hiei. This was established in order to supervise the Nembutsu practitioners who inhabited Ohara and administer other temples that were already present in Ohara, such as Raigo-in Temple (Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City) and Shorin-in Temple.

Ohara: A Place of Seclusion, Yuzu Nenbutsu and Tendai Shomyo

Ohara was long known as place to which nobility and Nenbutsu practitioners retreated from the hustle and bustle of the capital. It is well known that Emperor Buntoku's first son Imperial Prince Koretaka (844-897) secluded himself in Ohara and is even recorded in "The Tale of Ise." At the height of the Fujiwara clan's power, successor to the Imperial throne, first Imperial Prince Koretaka ceded the throne to Emperor Seiwa, son of FUJIWARA no Akira Keiko (Somedono no Kisaki) who was the daughter of the powerful FUJIWARA no Yoshifusa, and retired to the priesthood. Ohara was also known as a place of Yuzu Nenbutsu and Tendai Shomyo (Buddhist hymns), with renowned Tendai Shomyo practitioner, Shoo Daishi Ryonin (1073-1132) also residing in Ohara.

Relocation and Renaming

The fire of 1232 was used as the opportunity to relocate Kajii Monzeki Temple to its current location in Kyoto city. After being moved to the city center and Mt. Higashiyama (Kyoto Prefecture), it arrived at the temple site on the eastern foot of Mt. Funaokayama located at the north of the capital in 1331. This is assumed to be the site on which Emperor Junna's Imperial villa Unrin-in once stood and corresponds to the current area to the south of Daitoku-ji Temple in Murasakino, Kita Ward, Kyoto City. After Kajii Monzeki Temple's relocation to the eastern base of Mt. Funaokayama, it was destroyed by fire during the Onin War (1467-1477) and the administrative office in Ohara subsequently served as the priest's quarters. In 1698, Seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA granted the then chief priest Imperial Prince Jiin Hosshinno a temple site at Gyoshamichi Hirokoji. It is this site on which Kajii Monzeki Temple stood until modern times. This location corresponds to modern day Kajii-cho, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City and the site is now where the Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine and its attached hospital are situated.

During the Meiji Restoration, head priest, former prince Shonin Hosshinno left the priesthood, reestablished the Nashimoto-no-miya Imperial family and sent all of the Buddhist statues and artifacts in Tera-machi Hirokoji to the administrative office in Ohara.
In 1871, the Ohara administrative office was made the priest's quarters and named 'Sanzen-in Temple.'
The name 'Sanzen-in' was chosen based on the name of one of Kajii Monzeki Temple's halls called 'Ichinen Sanzen-in' (please see the article 'Ichinen Sanzen').

Gokuraku-in Hall

As described above, Gokuraku-in Hall (now named Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall) was originally unrelated to the Tendai Monzeki. According to temple legend, it was built by Eshin Sozu Genshin's (priest) (942-1017) younger sister Anyoni in the year 985, but in actual fact was built slightly later during the end of the 12th century by Takamatsu Chunagon (vice-councilor of state) FUJIWARA no Sanehira's wife Shinnyobo-ni to pray for the soul of her late husband (this fact is known from the description in the diary, 'Kikki', kept by her nephew, Tsunefusa YOSHIDA). It became enveloped in the grounds of Sanzen-in Temple when the priest's quarters were relocated to the site from the city center in 1871. Goraku-in Hall was renamed 'Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall' in 1885.

Garan (Temple buildings)

Sujaku-mon Gate at the main entrance on the south of the temple grounds is ordinarily closed, with the temple being entered via the Goten-mon Gate on the western side. Surrounding the temple, the stone wall, white mud wall and style of the gates are reminiscent of a castle and give Monzeki Temple a distinctive presence. In the north of the temple precinct are the Shin-den (emperor's residence) and Kyaku-den (guest hall) surrounded by the two pond-centered gardens named Yusei-en Garden and Joheki-en Garden. In the south of the temple precinct, Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall stands in the hair moss-covered Ruriko-tei Garden.

Shin-den (emperor's residence): Constructed in 1926. The central room houses the principal image, statue of Bhaisajyaguru that is withheld from public view, and the western room houses statues including a wooden statue of Guze Kannon sitting in the half lotus position (Important Cultural Property) and a wooden standing statue of Acalanatha (Important Cultural Property). The eastern room is decorated by partition paintings by Kanzan SHIMOMURA. The principal image statue of Bhaisajyaguru is not on public display but the doors were opened from September 8 to October 8, 2002.

Kyaku-den (guest hall): Used materials from the old imperial palace which was reconstructed in the early 17th century. The partition paintings are the work of Seiho TAKEUCHI and other modern masters of traditional Japanese painting.

Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall (Important Cultural Property): Topped by a kirizuma-zukuri (the front of the roofs has a triangular space shape made by the incline of the two sides of the roof) hip-and-gable shingled roof. The funazoko tenjo (wooden ceiling shaped like the bottom of a boat with high center) allows enough space for the 2.3 meter central statue of Amitabha flanked by two attendants. It was constructed at the end of the Heian period in the 12th century but underwent extensive repairs in 1616 during the Edo period so that the exterior of the building essentially dates from the Edo period.

Cultural Properties
National Treasures

Statue of Amitabha flanked by two attendants (National Treasures): Housed within Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall. The inscription within the Mahasthamaprapta attendant statue allows the piece to be dated at 1148 during the late Heian period. The statues of Amitabha, Kannon and Mahasthamaprapta are depicted coming to earth to escort the deceased to the Western Pure Land Paradise and are characteristic in that the two attendants are sitting in a Japanese formal manner. They were designated National Treasures in 2002.

Important Cultural Properties

Ojo Gokuraku-in main hall

Wooden statue of Guze Kannon sitting in the half lotus position

Wooden standing statue of Acalanatha

Biography of Jikaku Daishi

Biography collection of Priest Shoku

Remnants of scrolls detailing the history of Shitenno-ji Temple

Ancient copy of 'Classic of Filial Piety'

Imperial genealogy

3,021 items in the Sanzen-in Temple Enyu collection of classical books and documents


10 minutes walk from Kyoto Bus Ohara bus stop (approximately 60 minutes from Kyoto eki mae, approximately 40 minutes from Sanjo Keihan, approximately 25 minutes from Kokusai Kaikan mae eki).

[Original Japanese]