A temple belonging to the Zentsu-ji branch of the Shingon sect, Zuishin-in is a quiet temple slightly removed from the city center. Located in Yamashina, the temple is also called the Mandala Temple after a legend in which the founding priest’s mother had been reincarnated as a cow whose hide the priest made a mandala (a spiritual symbol representing the universe) from once it passed away. The famous beauty and poet Ono no Komachi is connected to this temple, and items related to her are scattered about the temple halls and the gardens. Zuishin-in’s appeal is in its seclusion, as a visit to this temple is likely to allow you to really relax and just enjoy the atmosphere without worrying about big crowds, with the potential exception of the famous flowering plum season.
The famous beauty and poet Ono no Komachi is connected to this temple, and items related to her are scattered about the temple halls and the gardens.
Outer Drawing Room (Omote Shoin)
One of the interesting features in Zuishin-in is the sliding screen that protects the Buddhist altar in the Omote Shoin. Created by the pair of designers who call themselves Daruma Shoten, the screen depicts scenes from Ono no Komachi’s life in the pop modern computer generated style that Daruma Shoten is known for. On four panels they depict Ono no Komachi’s life in her rural hometown, her time at the Emperor’s court, her famous love affair in Yamashina, and her wanderings in her old age. Behind the screen is an altar that contains a statue of Jizō as well as several relics related to Ono no Komachi, such as paintings and a nō mask. Of note, the Fumi Hari Jizō is said to have been constructed with love letters Ono no Komachi received and had layered onto a Buddhist statue she commissioned in order to dispel any potential bad luck that would have come from simply burning them.
The temple’s main hall, built in 1599, features a sweeping veranda in the shinden-zukuri style that offers a lovely view of the side pond and maples as well as the moss garden in front of the hall. Enshrined within the hall is the principal object of worship, Nyoirin Kannon, as well as Amida Nyōrai (the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light), Kongo Satta (the Protector of Buddhism), Yakushi Nyōrai (the Medicine Buddha), and Fudō Myō’ō (the Immovable Wisdom King).
Ono Plum Garden
The most famous seasonal offering at Zuishin-in is its Ono Plum Garden. Containing over 230 plum trees, the orchard, rimmed with azalea bushes, features white, red, and pink blossoms, with the hanezu shade of light pink being the most numerous. Strips of calligraphy are hung from the branches during the peak season in March, and the contrast between the vibrant green moss and the pink flowers certainly is poem-inspiring. In the Heian period it was plum blossoms and not cherry that were most prized for flower viewing, which we advise you go investigate for yourself!
Connections to Lady Ono no Komachi
Though Ono no Komachi never resided directly in Zuishin-in, her family did keep estates in the area and she is said to have patroned places nearby during her lifetime. With this connection, the temple has many items related to the beautiful poet, including memorial stones featuring her poetry throughout the grounds, paintings, masks, as well as a “letter mound” (fumizuka) behind the temple where the countless love letters she received are said to be buried. Near the main entrance gate is also a well called the Make-up Well, where it’s said that Ono no Komachi bathed and did her cosmetics centuries ago.
Sutra Copying & Buddhist Image Calligraphy
At Zuishin-in visitors have the option to participate in either shakkyō or shabutsu, the concept of using calligraphy as Buddhist devotional practice. Many temples offer shakkyō, in which you copy a certain sutra in kanji characters while reciting a prayer, but shabutsu, the creation of an image of a Buddhist deity, is more rare. At Zuishin-in you can choose a deity based on what sort of prayer you would like to send out, your zodiac sign, or simply whichever you think looks more interesting. Before beginning with traditional ink and a calligraphy pen (which you may keep), chant the Heart Sutra and then try to stay on the lines as you trace. It can be harder than it looks! Either shakkyō or shabutsu can be done between 9am and 2pm, costs 2,000 yen, and can take an hour or more depending on the difficulty of the image you choose.
The history of Zuishin-in begins with the priest Ningai (951 – 1046), an eighth generation disciple of the renowned Kōbō Daishi, founder of Shingon Buddhism. At the behest of the Emperor he performed Buddhist rituals to call rain at Shisen-en Temple, resulting in the nickname “Rain Priest” when his rites proved successful.
In 991, Ningai received permission from Emperor Ichijō to construct a temple, and founded a temple named Gyuhizan Mandara-ji on land he received in southeastern Kyoto.
One night, Ningai had a dream that revealed to him his deceased mother had been reincarnated as a cow born in Toba (currently in Mie Prefecture), which he hurried to procure and care for. After the cow eventually died, Ningai took the cow’s tail to the top of the mountain behind the temple and buried it there, leading to the mountain gaining the name Mt. Ushio, or the “Cow’s Tail Mountain”. Using the cow’s hide, Ningai constructed a Mandala of the Two Realms, which then became the main object of devotion at his temple.
The fifth Chief Abbot of the temple, Master Zōshun, founded Zuishin-in as a sub-temple of Mandara-ji, and the seventh Chief Abbot, Shingon, was given the title monzeki borne by monks of imperial lineage, leading to Zuishin-in being called Monzeki Zuishin-in. Over time, Zuishin-in became a renowned temple in its own right over its original head temple, but it was reduced to ashes in the Jōkyū Rebellion of 1221.
In 1599, the main hall was restored and monzeki priests from the Kujō and Nijō regent families entered the temple, bringing with them sizable donations that contributed to the reconstruction of the complex. Thanks to these families, most of the temple buildings can be dated to the 17th century.
Though the temple is renowned for its connection to Ono no Komachi (c. 825 – c. 900), the famous Heian period beauty and poet, Zuishin-in was not yet constructed during her lifetime. However, her family did keep an estate in the Ono area where Zuishin-in was built. Many legends about her persist in the area, and relics remain in the possession of the temple. One version of the love story Momoyogayoi, the “Tale of One Hundred Nights”, in which Fukakusa no Shōshō, a neighboring lord, falls in love with Ono no Komachi and seeks to gain her affection, takes place at Zuishin-in. The tale is not a happy one, however. In it, Ono no Komachi tells her suitor that she will only be with him if he proves his dedication and visits her every night for one hundred nights, only for him to die partway to her on the 99th night.
|Seiryu Gogensha Buddhist Service|
|Higan-e Spring Equinox Festival|
|Kaisanki Memorial Service for the Temple’s Founder|
|Segaki Buddhist Service for Obon|
- General Admission: ¥500
- Junior High School: ¥300
- General Admission: 09:00 – 16:30
- Closed: No closing days
- Subway Tōzai Line ⇒ Ono Station ⇒ 5 minutes walking
- Keihan Bus ⇒ Ono Bus Stop ⇒ 1 minute walking