A temple located at the eastern end of Kyoto’s Shichijō street, Chishaku-in is somehow often overlooked by foreign tourists despite its amazing cache of gorgeous art, as well as a lovely garden. The beautiful frame garden can be enjoyed from the veranda of the Grand Drawing Room in any season, and the interior is lavishly decorated in both modern and traditional shōheki-ga paintings, some of which are recreations of gold-leaf covered National Treasures that can be seen in the temple’s Treasure Hall. Chishaku-in is one of the more active training temples in Kyoto, and it is not rare to encounter a group of disciples or a ritual in progress when wandering the expansive temple grounds.
The beautiful frame garden of Chishaku-in can be enjoyed from the veranda of the Grand Drawing Room in any season, and the interior is lavishly decorated in both modern and traditional shōheki-ga paintings.
Grand Drawing Room & Garden of Scenic Beauty
Chishaku-in’s Ōjoin (Grand Drawing Room) is home to an impressive series of shōheki-ga wall and door panel paintings, as well as a lovely green island garden said to have been a favorite of the famed tea master Sen no Rikyū. Representing the famous Mt. Lushan in China, this garden has an artificial hill covered in plant life laid out in front of a pond, and you can leisurely enjoy the view from the tatami mat floor of the open-sided hall. Though beautiful in every season, we recommend it most highly in May and June when the azaleas are blooming. Recreations of the National Treasure shōheki-ga paintings in bold colors and shiny new gold can be found along the walls, and exploring the other rooms of Ōjoin reveals other beautiful interior paintings by more modern artists.
National Treasures: Interior Paintings
Originally commissioned for the Guest Hall of Shōunzen-ji, which was absorbed into the Chishaku-in complex in 1615, Chishaku-in’s Treasure Hall is home to a series of gorgeous shōheki-ga paintings, works of art that were created for walls and sliding doors but are now mounted largely as screens for viewing. Done in the ostentatious Momoyama period style and depicting cherry blossoms, pine trees, and other flora against a glittering background of gold clouds, these paintings are the work of Hasegawa Tōhaku, his son Kyūzō, and various disciples of the Hasegawa style. Approximately half of these paintings were lost to fire in the past, but the remaining shōheki-ga “Maple Tree,” “Cherry Blossoms,” “Pine Tree and Sunset Hibiscus,” and “Pine Tree with Autumn Plants” are now classified as National Treasures.
Connected to Ōjoin is the Kōdō hall, which used to be where the Hōjō (Chief Abbot’s Quarters) stood. Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu originally gifted the hall from the nearby Shōun Zen-ji temple to Chishaku-in’s third head priest, Nicho, and it served as abbot’s quarters until it burned down in the 17th century. Now the building here serves as a training hall and host to esoteric Shingon rituals. Within five of the six rooms in the hall are a series of ink paintings on the sliding doors donated by painter Tabuchi Toshio in 2008. The captivating and subtle modern ink paintings depict a theme in each room, including spring, summer, fall, winter, and sunrise/sunset.
The center of Buddhist activities here at Chishaku-in is the Kondō, or the Main Hall. Within the Kondō is the principal object of worship for this temple, a gold leaf-covered statue of Dainichi Nyorai, “the Cosmic Buddha”. Though the current building is more modern, dedicated in 1975 on the 1,200th anniversary of Shingon sect founder Kobo Daishi’s birth, the original structure was built in 1705 with donations from monks and Keishō-in (the mother of the fifth Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi) and stood until it was destroyed by fire in 1882.
Located behind the temple’s Kondō hall and sprawling up the hillside and temple cemetery is a garden full of hydrangeas that bloom in colorful shades of pink, blue, and purple in the rainy season of early summer. The flowers bloom around the time of the temple’s Aoba Matsuri and provide a lovely backdrop to the ritual festivities. (However, please respect the cemetery grounds and avoid entering unless you are actually paying respects at a grave.)
A hall moved from a temple in the Shijō Teramachi area called Daiun-in to serve as the interim main hall after fire destroyed the Kondō hall in 1882, Myō’ō-den was moved again once the new main hall was constructed, and now stands to the right of the Kondō hall. Installed within is a statue of Fudō Myō’ō, the Immovable Wisdom King said to purify people’s hearts in his sacred flame. Beside the Myō’ō-den is a small pond that blooms in pastel shades of white and pink in the summer with water lilies and lotus flowers.
Chishaku-in, as a Shingon temple, traces its history back to the illustrious founder of the sect, Kūkai (posthumously called Kōbō Daishi). 260 years after Kūkai’s death, the monk Kakuban (also called Kōgyō Daishi) founded a temple called Daitenbō-in on the Shingon sect’s sacred Mt. Kōya, working to revive the neglected mountain complex and later credited as the man who restored the sect.
In 1140, Kōgyō Daishi transferred Daitenbō-in from Mt. Kōya to the neighboring peak of Mt. Negoro, where he worked tirelessly to train many disciples and develop the teachings of Shingon Buddhism until he passed away there in 1143, aged 49. By the middle of the Kamakura period Daitenbō-in was renowned for scholastic studies, at one time home to 6,000 monks in training. The original Chishaku-in was a sub-temple considered the principal academic institution in the Negoro-ji temple complex during this period.
Unfortunately, as a byproduct of the considerable influence it wielded, Negoro-ji and its sub-temples came into conflict with Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a warlord and the de facto leader of Japan at that time. Tensions came to a head in 1585, and Toyotomi sent his forces to Mt. Negoro, where they burned down almost the entire temple complex. The head priest of Chishaku-in at that time, Gen’yū, evacuated to Mt. Kōya and then on to Kyoto, but despite his desire to revive his temple such efforts had to wait until after Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s death in 1598.
In 1601, the new ruler of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu, granted Gen’yū land in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto to use for Chishaku-in’s revival (ironically, land allotted from the properties of Toyokuni Shrine where Toyotomi Hideyoshi is deified). Shortly after, Chishaku-in’s third head priest Nicho was granted more land in the form of the neighboring Zen temple Shōunzen-ji, which Toyotomi Hideyoshi himself had ordered built to perform memorial services for his first son Tsurumatsu, who died in infancy.
Chishaku-in became a sprawling temple complex housing thousands of monks with the formal name of Iobusan Negoro-ji Chishaku-in. Carrying on the traditions of Shingon imparted from Kukai, Chishaku-in further developed its teachings under head priest Unshō in the early Edo period.
During the Meiji period Chishaku-in, like many Buddhist institutions, suffered under the government’s State Shinto ideology, which suppressed all religions but the indigenous Shinto. Despite these setbacks, Chishaku-in weathered the difficult political landscape pre- and post-war, and now serves as the head temple of approximately 3,000 temples across the nation.
New Year's Service (Shushō-e)
New Year's Benediction Ceremony (Shinnen Shukutō-e)
Anniversary of the Buddha’s Death (Jōraku-e)
|Celebration of the Buddha’s Birth (Busshō-e, Hana Matsuri)|
December 10th – 12th
Winter Founder’s Memorial Service (Fuyu Hō’onkō)
Ringing of the New Year's Bell (Joya no Kane)
- General Admission: Free (Grounds), ¥500 (Treasure Museum/Ōjoin/Garden/Kōdō Hall)
- Junior High and High School Students: Free (Grounds), ¥300 (Treasure Museum/Ōjoin/Garden/Kōdō Hall)
- Elementary School Students: Free (Grounds), ¥200 (Treasure Museum/Ōjoin/Garden/Kōdō Hall)
- General Admission: 09:00 – 16:00
- Closed: December 29th – 31st