Hidden at the end of Hanami-kōji street, Kennin-ji is a Buddhist temple belonging to the Zen sect. Founded in 1202, the founding priest was Yōsai, who is famous for introducing Japan not only to the Zen sect but also to the tradition of drinking tea. At first the temple practiced a mix of Tendai, Shingon and Zen Buddhism, but during the tenure of the 11th abbot, Kennin-ji converted to a purely Zen temple, the first of its kind in Kyoto. The temple suffered from fires and was rebuilt in the mid-thirteenth century and again in the sixteenth century. With a ceiling covered in an ink painting of two giant dragons and gorgeous interior gardens, Kennin-ji is also home to the famous painted screen depicting the gods of wind and thunder that can be found reproduced all over Kyoto.
With a ceiling covered in an ink painting of two giant dragons and gorgeous interior gardens, Kennin-ji is also home to the famous painted screen depicting the gods of wind and thunder that can be found reproduced all over Kyoto.
Twin Dragon Ceiling
This 11.4m by 15.7m work of art is a painting that commemorates the 800 year anniversary of Kennin-ji’s founding. Done by Koizumi Junsaku (1924 – 2012), the “Twin Dragon Ceiling”, is drawn with quality ink on thick Japanese traditional paper. As you walk into the Hondō Hall, you’ll be in awe of not just the scale of the painting, (the size of 108 tatami mats), but also the beautiful detailing that has gone into creating this work of art. This painting took about two years to complete and was created in the gymnasium of an elementary school in Hokkaidō before being moved to the temple.
This garden, situated near the entrance of the temple, is based on the famous calligraphy piece by Sengai Gibon entitled simply “ ◎△□”. Sengai was a monk at Japan’s oldest Zen temple, Shōfuku-ji, who wanted to express that all things in the universe could be represented by a square, triangle or circle. Very austere in its design as befitting a Zen garden, look for a single tree in a circle of moss in a sea of carefully designed white gravel.
The Garden of the Sound of the Tide
The Chō’ontei Garden, otherwise known as the “Garden of the Sound of the Tide”, is a beautiful Zen garden nestled behind the main building of the Kennin-ji Temple. The simple and elegant garden is created using three stones, sanzonseki, which represent Buddha and a servant Boddhisatva on each side amidst softly rolling hills of moss and trees. There is also a zazenseki, a stone for seated meditation.
The Wind and Thunder Gods
A painted folding screen entitled “Fūjin and Raijin” (Wind and Thunder Gods) by Tawaraya Sōtatsu, co-founder of the Rinpa school of painting, is the most famous treasure held by Kennin-ji Temple. The original painting is displayed at the National Museum of Kyoto, but a skillful replica can still be seen on display at the temple. Thought to have been created in 1639, this screen’s influence on Japanese painting is so profound that the design of Fūjin and Raijin can be found on numerous goods and buildings in Kyoto.
Considered a member of the Kyoto Gozan, one of the five most important Zen Buddhist temples in Kyoto, Kennin-ji was founded in 1202 by Minamoto no Yoriie, second shogun of the Kamakura shogunate, with famous monk Eisai (also known as Yōsai) as the founding abbot. Kennin-ji lays claim to the title of the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto City, and their founder is credited with introducing and popularizing Rinzai Zen in Japan after journeys of Buddhist study in mainland China, as well as the importation of green tea culture. Eisai served thirteen years at Kennin-ji before his death at age 74, and his grave rests on the property.
In its early years Rinzai Zen had not yet been established as a purely separate sect, and Kennin-ji was home to combined Zen, Tendai, and Shingon sect practices until the reign of the eleventh abbot, Rankei Dōryu (Lanxi Daolong) who converted the institution to a purely Zen organization. Over the years Kennin-ji became one of the sect headquarters for Rinzai Zen and several famous monks, including the founder of the Sōtō Zen sect, Dōgen, trained there.
Like most of Kyoto, Kennin-ji suffered from fires and civil war in the 15th century, causing it to need undergo massive rebuilding projects; once in the mid-13th century under Zen master Enni, and another after the Ōnin War with help from Ankoku-ji Ekei, a monk from Tōfuku-ji. Most of the buildings on the property now date from the late 1500’s to mid-1700’s. In order to commemorate the temple’s 800th anniversary a large ceiling painting by Koizumi Junsaku (1924 –2012) was installed in 2002.
〒605-0811 京都府京都市 東山区大和大路通四条下る四丁目小松町584
- General Admission: ¥500
- Junior High School, High School: ¥300
- General Admission: 10:00 – 17:00 (March – October), 10:00 – 16:30 (November – February)
- * Last admission is 30 minutes before closing time
- Closed: No closing days