Shoren-in Temple (青蓮院)

Shoren-in Temple is a Tendai sect temple located in Awataguchi-sanjobo-cho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City.
It is also known as 'Shoren-in-monzeki.'
However, it does not have an honorific mountain prefix. The temple was founded by head priest Saicho (posthumous awarded the title Dengyo Daishi). The temple's principal image is Shijoko Nyorai.

Shoren-in Temple is one of the three Monzeki temples of Tendai sect along with Sanzen-in Temple (Kajii-monzeki) and Myoho-in Temple. The 'Monzeki Temples' are those that were served by members of the Imperial Household and Sekkan Family and, among these, Shoren-in Temple has a particularly distinguished Monzeki heritage, having been served by Hoshinno (imperial princes and the sons of nobles such as the Fushimi-no-miya family, who became monks and renounced the title of Imperial prince) chief priests.
During the Edo period, it served as a temporary palace, which led to it becoming called 'Awata-gosho.'
The temple is also known for its painting of the Blue Acala, one of the Three Great Acalas of Japan.


As with many other temples such as Sanzen-in Temple and Myoho-in Temple, the origin of Shoren-in Temple lies in one of the several lodging chamber for priests built atop Mt. Hiei. Shoren-in Temple is derived from Shorembo in the Minamidani area of Mt. Hiei's Higashito district but was relocated to the bottom of the mountain when it became a monzeki temple during the time of Gyogen Daisojo at the end of the Heian period. In 1150, Emperor Toba's empress Bifukumonin used Shoren-in Temple as a place of prayer. The retired emperor's seventh son Imperial Prince Monk Kakukai joined the temple as Gyogen's disciple, after which it went on to become a highly renowned institution served by chief priests drawn from among imperial princes and sons of the Sekkan Family. At the time of it's relocation down the mountain, the temple was sited at Sanjo-shirakawa (slightly northwest of its current location) but was moved to its current higher spot during the Kamakura period in order to avoid the flooding river.
The location was originally the site of Juraku-in Temple and the Mausoleum of Emperor Hanazono to the southeast of Shoren-in Temple is named 'Jurakuin-no-ue-no-misasagi.'

Among the successive head priests, the third priest Jien (posthumously awarded the name Jichin-osho) is renowned as the author of the historical text "Gukansho." Jien was the son of FUJIWARA no Tadamichi, chief adviser to the Emperor, was also a well known poet and served four terms as the head of the Tendai sect. Prince Sonen, the seventeenth head priest of Shoren-in Temple and the sixth son of Emperor Fushimi, was known as a distinguished calligrapher. The style of calligraphy developed by Sonen is known as the Shoren-in method, which was widely adopted during the Edo period and is the origin of Japanese style of handwriting, the Oieryu method.

In the Muromachi period, Gien - later known as Yoshinori ASHIKAGA, sixth Seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") of the Muromachi Shogunate, served as head priest, Hongan-ji Temple became a branch during the temple's decline and Rennyo who put great efforts into the revival of Hongan-ji Temple later became a priest here.

During the Edo period in 1788, Shoren-in Temple served as the temporary palace of Emperor Gosakuramachi at the time of the Dairi Castle Fires.
It is because of this that the temple was designated a National Historic Site under the name 'Former Temporary Palace Shoren-in Temple.'

In the modern era, most part of the buildings were lost to fire in 1893.

Precinct and Monastery

Buildings including the Hon-do (main hall), Shin-den (Emperor's residence), Kogosho (head priest's living room), Kacho-den (drawing room), Soka-den and Kobun-tei (tea room) lie within the temple precinct but they are all relatively modern. All buildings (excluding Kobun-tei) are connected via covered passageways. The temple grounds includes a garden featuring artificial hills and springs that is said to have been created by Soami during the Muromachi period, and the Garden of Kirishima said to have been created by Enshu KOBORI during the Edo period. The western edge of the precinct is lined by 5 large camphor trees, which are all Kyoto Natural Monuments. At Shoren-in Temple, special night visits are held every year in spring and autumn when the gardens are illuminated.

Hon-do (main hall): This small 3 x 3 bay Hogyo-zukuri (pyramidal style roof) hall sits facing west at the back of the precinct (southern edge). The miniature shrine within the hall houses the statue of Shoren-in Temple's principal image, the Shijoko Nyorai Mandala, but this is not ordinarily on public view (in 2005 it was exhibited from September 28 to December 28 to commemorate the 1,200th anniversary of the founding of the Tendai sect). Shijoko Nyorai is a Butchouson who is the principal image of a method of prayer known as Sijokoho - said to be the Tendai sect's greatest secret (used when praying for the protection of the nation and the security of the Emperor), but this is the only temple in Japan dedicated to this deity. According to temple's lore, Shijoko Nyorai is represented at the center of the hanging scroll (made in 1596) by the siddham seed-syllable 'bhruuM' and surrounded by representations of the eight great bodhisattvas. Within the east of the hon-do is housed reproduction of the painting of the Blue Acala, a designated National Treasure.

Kogosho (head priest's living room): A building with a clay Sangawara tile hip-and-gable roof located to the north of the hon-do (main hall). This building temporarily served as the Emperor's palace and was reconstructed after being destroyed by fire in 1893. The garden centered on the pond to the east of Kogosho is said to have been created by Soami during the Muromachi period and the 'Garden of Kirishima' (where Kirishima azaleas grow) to the north is said to have been created by Enshu KOBORI. The 'Ichimonji-chozubachi' (naturally straight stone basin) near the Kogosho is said to have been presented to the temple by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI.

Shin-den (Emperor's residence): The largest building within the temple stands to the west of the Kogosho. This sangawarabuki hip-and-gable roof building was reconstructed after being destroyed by the fire of 1893. The word 'shin' means 'Emperor' and this hall enshrines the memorial tablets of related emperors. The Hama Matsu zu (images of seashores and pine trees) partition paintings (12 opaque sliding screens, 4 wooden door covered with Fusuma paper, 17 images on 3 walls) have been designated Important Cultural Properties. However, one of the opaque sliding screen images is still missing after being stolen by a thoughtless visitor in 1962. To the west of the Shin-den stands the four-legged Shikyaku-mon gate (for imperial visits) which was relocated from the old palace of Empress Meisho's Chukamonin and managed to avoid the fire of 1893.

Kobun-tei (tea room): This tea room was used as a place of study by retired Emperor Gosakuramachi after Shoren-in Temple became a temporary palace. The building was destroyed by arson in 1993 and rebuilt 2 years later. It consists of a main 4.5 and 3/4 tatami mat tea room, three 4.5 tatami mat rooms, a mizuya (preparation area) and a butsuma (room for Buddhist images).

Uegami-do: Located in the north or the precinct to the distant left side of the visitor entrance. Said to enshrine the hair of Shinran who was ordained by the third head priest Jien. The building was constructed in 1759 and relocated to its current location in 1880. The large camphor trees within the precinct are said to have been personally planted by Shinran.

Nagaya-mon gate: Stands just to the front right of the visitor entrance and, as with the Shikyaku-mon gate to the west of the Shin-den, was relocated from the old palace of Empress Meisho's Chukamonin.

Shogun-zuka Dainichi-do: This detached area of the temple precinct is located southeast of the temple on the peak of Mt. Higashiyama. This site offers an amazing view of the city of Kyoto and is said to be the location where a statue of a Shogun was installed to defend the Emperor's palace when Emperor Kanmu relocated the capital city to Heijokyo. There is also a garden within these grounds in which special night visits are held in spring and autumn.

National Treasures

Painting of Acala with his two messengers Kimkara and Cetaka: This late Heian period painting is commonly known as 'Blue Acala.'
It is currently deposited at Nara National Museum. It is one of the Three Great Acalas of Japan along with the Yellow Acala of Onjo-ji Temple (Mi-dera) and the Red Acala of Koyasan Myo-in Temple.

Important Cultural Properties

Wooden standing statue of Vaisravana with a kabuto helmet

17 color on gold leaf paper 'Hama Matsu zu' (images of seashores and pine trees)

Letter written by Emperor Gokogon

The greater baptism Mantra of Light written in gold letters on dark blue paper (written by Emperor Kokaku)

Sandhinirmocana Sutra

Monyoki (Shoren-in Temple records)

Yakakuteikinsho (oldest extant calligraphic treatise in Japan)

Ojoyoshu (The Essentials of Rebirth in the Pure Land)

Guanshiyin Yingyanji (Records of Guanyin's Miraculous Responses)

The Esoteric Buddhism of the Eight Japanese monks who went to China and the mantra catalogs

Jien Ichigo Shiki (Jien's Thoughts Through Life) (written by Jien himself)

1,622 holy teachings of the Shorei-in Kissui collection

Correspondence written by Ennin

Documents and vow of Ayurbarwada Buyantu

Catalog of books brought back from Tang Dynasty China by Ennin

Gammon draft of a Shitenno-ji Temple Shoryo-in prayer written by Jien

Important Cultural Properties Formerly Held by Shoren-in Temple

The following Important Cultural Properties were removed from Shoren-in Temple during World War II due to various circumstances.

Color on silk portrait of Samantabhadra (Nara National Museum)
Letter written by Emperor Kogonin
Letter written by Emperor Ogimachi (Kosan-ji Temple, Hiroshima)
Letter written by Yokoin (Kosan-ji Temple, Hiroshima)
Letter written by Emperor Goyozei (personal collection)
Letter written by Sojo Jien (7 sheets partially damaged) (Nara National Museum)
Large collection of handwriting (personal collection)
Fragment of the Hirosawa Edition of a Poetry Collection written by Emperor Fushimi
The Sutra of Casket Seal Dharani written by Emperor Fushimi (Kuboso Memorial Museum of Arts, Izumi City, Osaka)
Shin Zoku Kokinshu by Gosukoin (private collection)
109 volumes of the heart sutra written by Emperor Gosakuramachi (private collection)
Six-character name written by Emperor Gosakuramachi (private collection)
Zankan (book partially missing) of 71 volumes of the Nirvana Sutra explanation collection
Lotus Sutra Parable of the Phantom City (Kuboso Memorial Museum of Arts, Izumi City, Osaka)
Foil on paper Lotus Sutra Skillful Means Chapter (Kuboso Memorial Museum of Arts, Izumi City, Osaka)
Difference of Gugan commandment annotation (Kosan-ji Temple, Hiroshima)

Visitor Information

Open from 9 am to 5 pm, entrance fee ¥500

[Original Japanese]