Sennyu-ji Temple (泉涌寺)

Sennyu-ji Temple is the head temple of the Shingon sect Sennyu-ji School located in Sennyuji Yamanouchi-cho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City.
The honorific mountain prefix is 'Tozan' or 'Senzan.'
Its principal images are Shaka Nyorai, Amida Nyorai and Miroku Nyorai (Maitreya), which are known as known as 'Sanze-Butsu.'

It is said to have been built during the Heian period but the actual kaiki (founding priest) was Kamakura period priest Gachirin-daishi Shunjo. The temple precinct at the foot of Mt. Tsukinowa in the southern tip of Higashiyama (Kyoto Prefecture) houses the imperial tombs of Kamakura period Emperors Go-Horikawa and Shijo, Edo period Emperor Go-Mizunoo and many other successive emperors leading up to the end of the Edo period, which has led to it also becoming known as the imperial family temple Mitera Sennyu-ji Temple.

Origin and History
Along with other temples such as Ninna-ji Temple and Daikaku-ji Temple, it is known for its relationship to the imperial household, but the time and circumstances of its construction remain unclear. According to legend, it was founded in the year 856 after the Ceremonial House of the Fujiwara clan Sadaijin (Minister of the Left) FUJIWARA no Otsugu requested that Shinshu Shonin serve as kaisan (the founder of a temple) of his mountain villa. During this time, it was known as Horin-ji Temple and was later renamed Senyu-ji Temple. According to the historical text "Shoku-Nihongi," FUJIWARA no Otsugu passed away in the year 843 so, if the above legend were to be believed, the temple would have to have been built in accordance with instructions left before his death.

Another legend names Kukai as the temple's founder. It goes that Kukai founded Horin-ji Temple on the site between the years 824 and 834 and that it was later restored by FUJIWARA no Otsugu and renamed Senyu-ji Temple in the year 855. An alternative legend puts the time of the temple's founding by Kukai at the year 807 and states that it subsequently became known as Imakumano Kannon-ji Temple (within the Sennyu-ji Temple precinct, stamp office for temple number 15 of the Saigoku Sanjusankasho (the 33 temples that are visited during the Kansai Kannon Pilgrimage)). Combining the above legends leads one to believe that original temple founded during the early Heian period fell into ruin later in the Heian period and was then restored at some point in the Kamakura period.

In 1218, during the Kamakura period, Nobufusa UTSUNOMIYA donated the dilapidated Sen'yu-ji Temple to Shunjo who received further donations from numerous parties and constructed a large monastery on the site, which is said to have been given the name Sennyu-ji (Gushing Spring Temple) due to the sudden appearance of a spring (the old temple name was 'Senyu-ji,' which has similar pronunciation to Sennyu-ji). As MINAMOTO no Yoritomo's retainer, Nobufusa UTSUNOMIYA was charged with the protection of Buzen Province and was devoted to Shunjo. Shunjo (1166-1277) was a priest and scholar from Higo Province (Kumamoto Prefecture) who left for China in 1199 during the Song Dynasty where he stayed for 13 years and studied the ways of the Tendai and Ritsu sects before returning to Japan in 1211. He was strongly influenced by the Song culture and constructed the entire Sennyu-ji Temple monastery in the contemporary style of the Chinese Song Dynasty.

Sennyu-ji Temple centered around the Ritsu sect but flourished as a four sect (five including Ritsu) place of enlightenment combining the Tendai sect, To-mitsu-sect (Shingon sect), Zen sect and Pure Land sect. In 1224, the temple was made an imperial supplication hall by Emperor Go-Horikawa. The imperial tombs of Emperor Go-Horikawa and the following Emperor Shijo were constructed within Sennyu-ji Temple and it was this time when its relationship with the imperial household was strengthened. The temple also entombs the remains of successive Edo period emperors from Emperor Go-Mizunoo to Emperor Komei who reigned at the end of the period.
This led to it becoming an imperial family temple and honorifically referred to as 'Mitera.'
(A family temple is one where ancestors rest and offerings of incense and flowers are made).

The various halls of the temple complex have been repeatedly destroyed by fire, including during the Onin War, and those that remain today were rebuilt after the early modern times.

Entering through Somon Gate, there are several sub-temples on both sides of the sando (approach/entrance path). As you pass under Daimon Gate (Important Cultural Property) at the end of the long sando, on the left is the Yokihi-Kannon-do (Empress Yang-Avalokitesvara Hall), straight ahead is the Butsu-den (Buddha hall) (Important Cultural Property) around which the monastery is centered, the Shari-den (reliquary hall), and behind these is the Reimei-den, Goza-sho (the Imperial Chamber) and other buildings connected to the imperial household.

Daimon Gate (Important Cultural Property) - Constructed in the early Edo period for the imperial palace and relocated to the temple.

Yokihi-Kannon-do (Empress Yang-Avalokitesvara Hall) - Standing in a secluded location on the left, just as you enter the Daimon gate. Houses a sitting statue of Kannon (commonly called Yokihi-Kannon) that was created in China during the Southern Song Dynasty.

Shinsho-den - A museum adjoining the Yokihi-Kannon-do (Empress Yang-Avalokitesvara Hall) that sequentially displays the cultural properties possessed by Sennyu-ji Temple and its sub-temples.

Butsu-den (Buddha hall) (Important Cultural Property) - Reconstructed with the assistance of Ietsuna TOKUGAWA in 1668.
The central hall of an esoteric Buddhist temple is often known as a 'hon-do' or 'kon-do' but in this temple it has the Chinese Song Dynasty style name of 'butsu-den.'
The architecture of the interior features such as the Zen temple style doma (an earthen-floored room), pillars, windows, square framing and ceiling beams are typical of Zen-sect-style architecture. It houses statues of the principal images Shaka Nyorai, Amida Nyorai and Miroku Nyorai (Maitreya) which represent past, present and future. The image of a dragon on the roof and that White-robed Kannon behind the principal mages are the works of Tanyu KANO.

Shari-den (reliquary hall) - Stands behind the butsuden. Houses the teeth obtained after the cremation of Shaka Nyorai that are said to have been brought from the Bailian Temple in the Qingyuan Prefecture of Southern Song Dynasty China by Shunjo's student Tankai.

Reimei-den - Houses the Buddhist mortuary tablets of successive emperors from Emperor Tenchi and Emperor Konin to Emperor Showa (including emperors of both northern and southern imperial courts) and their wives. Reconstructed in 1884.

Goza-sho (the Imperial Chamber) - Stands behind the Butsu-den and Shari-den. This was built during the Ansei era (late Edo period) and before being relocated to the temple in 1884, was originally the dwelling used by Emperor Meiji in the old imperial palace. Includes rooms such as the court lady room, head priest room, imperial family room, chamberlain's room, imperial messenger's room and the throne room. The throne room is used as a place of rest by the emperor and empress when visiting the temple. Even in the current Heisei era (1989-present), this room is used when the present emperor visits Sennyu-ji Temple for occasions such as his coronation report (1990), the 1,200th anniversary of the establishment of the capital in the city of Heian (1994), and his report on the 10th year of his reign (1999).

Kaie-do - A dozo-zukuri (fireproof building with a timber structural frame and thick mud walls finished with plaster) Butsu-do (hall that enshrines a Buddhist statue) adjoins the Goza-sho. The roof is pyramidal. The Butsu-do called 'Kurodo' originally sat within the imperial palace but the 1868 Ordinance Distinguishing Shinto and Buddhism was used as an opportunity to relocate it to Sennyu-ji Temple. It houses 20 of the small Buddhist images (guardian deities) that were kept by the emperor, empress and imperial princes.

Of the sub-temples, Kannon-ji Temple (Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City), stamp office for temple number 15 of the Saigoku Sanjusankasho, is well-known. There is also Sokujo-in Temple, which houses the Important Cultural Property of the wooden Amida Buddha and twenty-five bodhisattvas, and Kaiko-ji Temple, which houses the 10 meter tall (including the pedestal and halo) wooden standing statue of Shaka Nyorai.

Cultural Properties

National Treasure

Sennyu-ji Temple kanenso (donation solicitation prospectus) - Written by Shunjo. Shunjo created this prospectus in order to solicit the donations required to restore the dilapidated original temple and rename it Sennyu-ji Temple. Not only is it a valuable document relating to the history of the establishment of Sennyu-ji Temple, but it is also an amazing work of calligraphy.

Fuhojo - Written by Shunjo in the last month before his death as proof that he passed his teachings onto his student Shinkai.

Important Cultural Properties

Wooden sitting statue of Kannon (Yokihi Kannon) including the wooden standing statue of Idaten and the wooden standing statue of Somachattra - Housed within Yokihi-Kannon-do (Empress Yang-Avalokitesvara Hall). Believed to have been brought from China by Shunjo's student Tankai in 1255 along with the Buddhist ashes. For a long time, it was withheld from public view and only displayed once every 100 years, but finally went on general display in 1955 - 700 years after it was brought to Japan. The workmanship and materials are visibly different from those of Japanese Buddhist statues and it is believed to have been brought from Southern Song Dynasty China as the Temple's legend tells. The wooden standing statue of Idaten and wooden standing statue of Somachattra housed within the Shari-den were also made in Southern Song Dynasty China and designated Important Cultural Properties in 1997 along with the Yokihi Kannon statue.

Other Important Cultural Properties
Butsu-den (Buddha hall)
Daimon Gate
Kaisan-to (Sekizo Muho-to)
Sekizo Muho-to (2)
Color on silk portrait of Discipline Master Dosen and Discipline Master Gansho
Color on silk portrait of Discipline Master Shunjo
Sword inscribed Yamato Norinaga
Emperor Nakamikado Shinkan Daienkaku-shinsho-kokushi-go Chokusho
10 Lotus Sutra scrolls (shared by Sennyu-ji Temple and Unryu-in Temple)


Take the Kyoto City Bus, alight at Sennyuji-michi Stop and walk for about 5 minutes to Somon Gate or about 10 minutes to Daimon Gate.

Alight at JR Nara Line Tofuku-ji Station and walk for about 15 minutes to Somon Gate or about 20 minutes to Daimon Gate.

[Original Japanese]