Tenryu-ji Temple (天龍寺)

Tenryu-ji Temple is the headquarters of the Tenryu-ji branch of the Rinzai Sect, located in Sagatenryuji-susukinobaba-cho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture. Its honorific mountain prefix is Reigizan. The formal name of the temple is Tenryu Shisei-zenji. It was founded by Kaiki (founding patron) Takauji ASHIKAGA and Kaisan (first chief priest) Soseki Muso, and dedicated to the principal image Shakyamuni. As a Zen temple related to both the Ashikaga Shogun family and Emperor Godaigo, the temple is built on a magnificent scale and held in high esteem, and is ranked number one among the Kyoto Gozan (Five major temples of Rinzai sect in Kyoto).
It is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the '{Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto}.'

History and Origin

In the early Heian period, Empress TACHIBANA no Kachiko (786 - 850), wife of Emperor Saga, founded a temple called Danrin-ji Temple on the site of present-day Tenryu-ji Temple.
Danrin-ji Temple fell into disrepair over the next four hundred years and Emperor Gosaga (reigned 1242 - 1246) and his son Emperor Kameyama (reigned 1259 - 1274) turned the area into an Imperial villa which they called 'Kameyama-dono Palace.'
The name 'Kameyama' (Turtle Mountain) was selected due to the shape of Mt. Ogura, known for its red autumn leaves, which lies to the west of Tenryu-ji Temple and is said to resemble the shape of a turtle's shell. The temple's honorific mountain prefix 'Reigizan' (Spirit Turtle Mountain) was also chosen for based on this.

Kameyama-dono Palace as an Imperial villa of the Daikaku-ji line (line of Emperor Godaigo) was converted into Tenryu-ji Temple by Takauji ASHIKAGA in memory of Emperor Godaigo. Takauji became Seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") in 1338. Emperor Godaigo died in Yoshino the following year, 1339. Takauji ASHIKAGA is the person who opposed the Kemmu Restoration initiated by Emperor Godaigo and rose in revolt against the emperor, and the emperor decreed that Takauji be hunted down and executed. When Takauji ASHIKAGA's enemy Emperor Godaigo died, Zen priest Muso Soseki, who was highly revered by samurai families of the time, strongly recommended that Takauji construct a temple in his memory. It is said that the temple was originally going to be named 'Ryakuo Shisei-zen-ji' but Takauji's younger brother, Tadayoshi ASHIKAGA, supposedly had a dream about a golden dragon prancing around the Oi-gawa River (also known as the Hozu-gawa River), which lies south of the temple, and the temple was instead named 'Tenryu Shisei-zen-ji' ('Tenryu' meaning 'sky dragon'). It is well known that trading vessels named Tenryu-ji-bune were launched in order to raise the funds to build the temple. The dedication ceremony was held in 1345 on the seventh anniversary of Emperor Godaigo's death.

As the temple flourished as number one among the Kyoto Gozan (Five major temples of Rinzai sect in Kyoto), the temple grounds expanded to roughly 330,000 square meters, extending all the way to present-day Keifuku Electric Railroad Katabiranotsuji Station, and is said to have included some 150 sub-temples. However, the temple has been continuously ravaged by fire and all of the original buildings have been destroyed. During the Middle Ages, the temple met with fire on six occasions; in 1358, 1367, 1373, 1380, 1447, and in 1467. After being destroyed during the Onin War and subsequently rebuilt, the temple enjoyed a brief period of tranquility but was lost to yet another fire in 1815 (Edo period) before being severely damaged during the Hamaguri Rebellion (Conspiracy of Kimmon) of 1864, so that now most of the buildings as we see them today are reconstructions dating from the latter half of the Meiji period. The garden (Special Place of Scenic Beauty, Special Historic Site) to the west of the Hojo (the chief priest's room), created by Muso Soseki, retains only slight traces of its original design.

To the north of the Hojo (the chief priest's room) lie the mausoleums of Emperor Kameyama and Emperor Gosaga administrated by Imperial Household Agency.


On the eastern boundary of the temple grounds stand the Chokushimon Gate and Chumon Gate, from which the path to the temple itself leads west. The layout of Tenryu-ji Temple is contrary to the general layout of Zen temple grounds that face south with major buildings aligned along the north-south axis. Sub-temples line both sides of the path, which leads to the Hatto (lecture hall), behind which are numerous buildings including the Ohojo (large abbey), Kohojo (small abbey), Kuri (priest's quarters), Sodo (meditation hall), and Taho-den - all of which are modern reconstructions.

Chokushimon Gate: A four-legged gate
It is the oldest structure on the temple grounds retains the style of the Momoyama Period.

Hatto (lecture hall): Unusually for a Zen temple, the lecture hall is located at the center of the precinct and is a single-storey Yosemune-zukuri style building constructed in 1900. It houses the image of Gautama Buddha flanked by two guardians. The ceiling painting of clouds and dragons is the work of Shonen SUZUKI.

Ohojo (large abbey): Constructed in 1899.

Kohojo (small abbey): Constructed in 1924.

Taho-den: Constructed in 1934. Although a modern building, it was constructed in the style of the Kamakura Period style. It contains a wooden statue of Emperor Godaigo.

Special Places of Scenic Beauty/Special Historic Sites

Garden: The garden created by Muso Soseki features a circular promenade centered around Sogen-chi Pond.

Important Cultural Properties

Color on silk portrait of Muso Kokushi inscribed by Tokusai
Color on silk portrait of Muso Kokushi inscribed with the 15th day of the 8th lunar month in the Ryakuo Era
Color on silk portrait of Muso Kokushi self titled quiet old man (Muso)
Color on silk portrait of Avalokitesvara
Color on silk portraits of Zen Priest Shoryo Hogen/Ummon Taishi
Wooden sitting statue of Shaka Nyorai
Shanaingoryo-ezu (image of Shanain's territory)
Okoshokyokanji-no-ezu (map of old officers' residences)
Oeikimmyo-ezu (landscape of Saga)
Toryoeiyo-bokuseki (Writings of Dongling Yongyu)
Writings of Chikafusa KITABATAKE


68 Saga tenryu-ji-susukinobaba-cho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
Near Kyoto City Bus Arashiyama Tenryu-ji-mae stop or a 1 minute walk from Arashiyama Station on the Keifuku Electric Railroad.

[Original Japanese]