Zenshu-yo (Zen Sect Style) (禅宗様)

Zenshu-yo is one of the traditional temple architectural styles in Japan. It is different from the 'wa-yo' (Japanese style) and 'daibutsu-yo' (great Buddha style).


The Chinese architectural style imported to Japan during the Tenpyo era of the Asuka period was Japanized throughout the Heian period, and calm spaces with slim columns and low ceilings came into favor. After the Heian period, these Japanized architectural styles became referred to as 'wa-yo'.

During the latter part of the Heian period, trade with China (Song) flourished due to policies such as TAIRA no Kiyomori's opening of Kobe Port to foreign countries, and Japan was once again exposed to China's architectural style. The first to enter was the style known as 'daibutsu-yo', which was used during the restoration of Todai-ji Temple.

Following this, the Chinese temple architectural style made its way to Japan due to the great movement of Zen monks between China and Japan. This style is often used in the Buddha statue halls of Zen Sect temples, and is known as 'zenshu-yo' (Zen Sect style).


Carpenters had traditionally classified temple architectural styles as wa-yo (Japanese style), tenjiku-yo (Indian style) and kara-yo (Chinese style), and these classifications continued to be used in architectural histories after the Meiji period. After the Second World War, architectural historian Hakutaro OTA proposed that '"tenjiku-yo" is misunderstood as referring to an Indian architectural style. It was utilized when rebuilding Great Buddha Halls and should therefore be referred to as "daibutsu-yo." Kara-yo was used in the construction of Zen temples and should therefore be referred to as "zenshu-yo."', and now, current architectural histories generally use the terms 'wa-yo', 'daibutsu-yo' and 'zenshu-yo'. Although history textbooks also use the terms 'tenjiku-yo' and 'kara-yo'.

Characteristics of Zenshu-yo

Has some elements in common with the daibutsu-yo style.

Architecturally it utilizes horizontal wooden beams known as penetrating tie beams which are combined with pillars to reinforce the structure. Wall plates or top plates are placed along the top of horizontal head-penetrating tie beams that are connected to the tops of pillars. Pillars are narrower at the top (this is called 'chimaki'). Footing stones (shaped like a large abacus bead with a concave upper part and a convex lower part) are placed under pillars. The wooden nosings (kibana) at the ends of penetrating tie beams are decorated with moldings known as 'kurigata'. At the top are katomado windows featuring complex curved line patterns.
Fan rafters
Rainbow-shaped tie beams
Intermediate bracket complexes

The zenshu-yo style does not incorporate tatami mats but has tiled floor areas known as 'doma'. There are no ceilings, allowing the structure of the roof to be seen.

Representative Buildings

The Buddha statue hall of Kozan-ji Temple: National Treasure, constructed during the Kamakura period (in 1320) and is the oldest surviving zenshu-yo buiilding in Japan. Shakyamuni statue hall of Zenpuku-in Temple: National Treasure, constructed during the Kamakura period (in 1327). Octagonal three-story pagoda of Anraku-ji Temple: National Treasure, constructed during the late Kamakura period. The reliquary hall of Engaku-ji Temple: National Treasure, constructed during the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (14th century). Jizo-do hall of Shofuku-ji Temple: National Treasure, constructed during the Muromachi period.
Kennin-ji Temple
Kencho-ji Temple
Daitoku-ji Temple
Nanzen-ji Temple
The main hall (hondo) of Sankei-en (formerly Tomyo-ji Temple)

Zenshu-yo in Calligraphy

In the context of the history of calligraphy, the calligraphic style passed on by Japanese monks who went to study in Northern Song China and Chinese monks who visited Japan is also known as 'zenshu-yo'. The works of Lanxi Daolong and Yishan Yining are representative of the style. After the establishment of the Ming dynasty, this movement between the two countries was stopped and wa-yo started to be mixed with zenshu-yo to form an eclectic style known as gozan-yo. This style is typified by the works of Gido Shushin and Zekkai Chushin.

[Original Japanese]