Zenrin-ji Temple (禅林寺 (京都市))

Zenrin-ji Temple, located in Eikando-cho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City, is the headquarters of the Seizan-Zenrin-ji branch of the Pure Land Sect. It is commonly known by the name Eikan-do. The honorific mountain prefix is Shoju-raigosan and its title is Muryojuin. The temple was founded by Kukai's leading disciple Shinjo Sozu and is dedicated to the principal image Amida Nyorai.
It is famous for its Momiji (red autumn maple leaves) and has long been called 'Autumn maple leaf Eikan-do.'
Additionally, it is one of Kyoto's three Kangakuin (educational institutions) and has been a prominent center of learning since ancient times.

Origin and History

The temple's origin lies in the temple dedicated to the Five Wisdom Buddhas founded by Kukai's (Kobo-daishi) leading disciple Shinjo Sozu after aspiring to establish a practical training site in the capital. In the year 853, Shinjo purchased the mansion of the deceased poet and author FUJIWARA no Sekio and converted it to a temple. The construction of private temples was forbidden in Kyoto at the time, however, and so it was not until ten years later in 863, when formal Imperial approval as Jogaku-ji Temple was granted by Emperor Seiwa, that Zenrin-ji Temple became officially recognized.

Though originally devoted to the Shingon Sect, the temple began a shift towards the Pure Land Sect under seventh chief priest and restoration patriarch Yokan (1033 - 1111). Yokan was the son of Monjo-hakase MINAMOTO no Kunitsune and entered Zenrin-ji Temple aged 11 as the disciple of Jinkan. At that time, he studied under the Sanron Sect and Hosso Sect of the Nanto rokushu (six sects of Nanto) but eventually became a passionate devotee of the Amida Buddha and would not fail to recite the Nembutsu (Buddhist invocation) ten thousand times every day. In 1072 he took over the role of his master and entered Zenrin-ji Temple. Yokan encouraged people to recite the Nembutsu and established a Yakuo-in on the temple grounds, which took care of the sick and organized charitable work. It could be said that Yokan was the forefather of today's social welfare activities. It was due to the role of chief priest Yokan that Zenrin-ji Temple came to be called Eikan-do.
The temple name is usually read 'Eikan-do' (永観堂) but it is considered correct to read the monk's name 'Yokan (永観).'

The principal image standing statue of Amida Nyorai is unusual in that it is looking over its left shoulder (right when looking face on). There is a following legend regarding this statue. It says that 1082 when Yokan, aged 50, was reciting the daily Nembutsu as he walked around the statue, Amida Nyorai came to life, stepped down from its dais and began to walk round with Yokan.
It is said that when the surprised Yokan stopped walking, Amida Nyorai looked over its shoulder and said to him 'Yokan, you are too slow.'
The story goes that, ever since then, the posture of the statue of the temple has remained in that position.

The twelfth chief priest Johen (1166 - 1224) was originally a Shingon Sect monk but became a disciple of Honen and entered Nembutsu-mon (Pure Land School). It is said that Honen's leading disciple Shoku (Seizan) succeeded Johen to become the temple's chief priest. Under Shoku's disciple, Jo-on, Zenrin-ji Temple went from being devoted to the Shingon Sect to the Seizan branch (Kosaka group) of the Pure Land Sect and became a firm Nembutsu meditation center.


The different elevations within the Zenrin-ji Temple precinct have been utilized to construct many buildings which are connected by covered walkways.

Somon (main gate): Constructed during the late Edo period.
This type of gate is known as a 'Koraimon.'

Chumon (inner gate): Constructed in 1744.
This type of gate is known as a 'Yakuimon.'
Both Koraimon and Yakuimon gates are seen far more often at castles and the mansions of Daimyo than temples.

Miei-do (Founder's Hall): Completed in 1912 and made completely from zelkova wood. Enshrines Pure Land Sect founder Honen and is larger than the Amida Hall, which enshrines the principal image.

Amida-do (Amida Hall): Seated on a location slightly higher than the Miei-do. Built at the beginning of the 17th century. Enshrines the Mikaeri Amida Nyorai (Amitabha looking back) statue (Important Cultural Property).

Tahoto (two-storey pagoda): Situated at the highest point in the compound and is a visually significant location. Constructed in 1928 using the voluntary contributions of benefactors.

Hojo (Abbot's Quarters): Hojo are particular to Zen temples and rarely seen in those of other sects but Zenrin-ji Temple's hojo is just like that of a Zen temple in both plan view and elevation view. Its construction is said to have been ordered by Emperor Go-Kashiwabara during the Eisho era (1504 - 1521), but was in fact not built until the Edo period.

Cultural Properties

National Treasures

Yamagoshi Amida zu (Descent of Amida over the Mountain image): A Kamakura period painting.

Kondo-rengemon-kei (Musical Instrument with Lotus Pattern)

Important Cultural Properties

Color on silk portraits of Shaka Nyorai and the Ten Great Disciples
Color on silk portrait of Bhaisajyaguru
Color on silk portrait of Amida descending to receive a deceased person's soul
Gold paint on silk image of Amida and twenty-five bodhisattvas
Color on silk portrait of Shaka and sixteen Zenshin (good deities)
2 color on silk images of the ten spiritual realms
16 color on silk portraits of the sixteen arhats
Color on silk image of Taima Mandala
Color on silk image of Nirvana
Light color on paper portrait of Shaka and two bodhisattvas painted by Motonobu KANO
2 color on paper Yuzu Nembutsu Engi (picture scrolls of Yuzu Nembutsu and the origin of its creed) attributed to Mitsunobu TOSA
12 ink on paper images of Hato Zu (Waves) painted by Tohaku HASEGAWA
12 picture doors of Twenty-five bodhisattvas coming to welcome the spirits of the dead (doors of Zushi of Zendo-taishi)
Wooden standing of Amida Nyorai (Mikaeri Amida): This unique statue commonly known as 'Mikaeri Amida' is looking over its left shoulder (right when looking face on). It is 77 cm tall. It used to be believed to date from the Kamakura period but characteristics such as its style and composition make it now thought to have been carved somewhat earlier in the 12th century in the late Heian period. A few examples of post Kamakura period 'Mikaeri Amida' statues similar to this are known in China (Sichuan's 16th cave of Enkakuto, Song Dynasty) and in Japan's Zenko-ji Temple, Yamagata Prefecture. It was designated an Important Cultural Property in 1999.

Books and Authorities
Taima Mandala Engi
Yuzu Nembutsu Kanjincho dated the 3rd month of the year 1447 (gold and silver paste on paper)


Location: Eikando-cho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City
Access: 5 minutes walk from Kyoto City Bus Nanzen-ji Temple stop or Eikando-michi stop

[Original Japanese]