|1 hours 30 mins|
|10:00 AM - 04:30 PM|
Temple & Monument
Kenninji Temple is good for
- Highly recommended by fellow travellers.
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Why Kenninji Temple is special ?
Kenninji Temple is the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto and is the headquarters of the Kenninji sub-sect of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism. Kenninji Temple features the panel painting, 'Fu-jin Rai-jin zu' (Wind & Thunder Gods).
The monk Eisai, credited with introducing Zen to Japan, served as Kennin-ji's founding abbot and is buried on the temple grounds. For its first years the temple combined Zen, Tendai, and Shingon practices, but it became a purely Zen institution under the eleventh abbot, Lanxi Daolong (蘭渓道隆, Lanxi Daolong) (1213-1278).
Kenninji Temple is considered to be one of the so-called Kyoto Gozan (京都五山, Kyoto gozan) or "five great Zen temples of Kyoto", along with the Tenryuji, Shokokuji, Tofukuji, and Manjuji. The head temple presiding over the Gozen in Kyoto is Nanzenji. After the completion of Shōkoku-ji by Yoshimitsu in 1386, a new ranking system was created with Nanzenji at the top and in a class of its own. The Nanzenji had the title of "First Temple of The Land" and played a supervising role.
When first built, Kenninji Temple contained seven principal buildings. It has suffered from fires through the centuries, and was rebuilt in the mid-thirteenth century by Zen master Enni (円爾, Enni) (1202-1280), and again in the sixteenth century with donations of buildings from nearby temples Ankokuji (安国寺, Ankoku-ji) and Tofukuji.
What to explore at Kenninji Temple?
When you arrive at Kennin-ji and receive the beautiful brochure of the temple you know that there is something special here. And indeed there is: Kennin-ji is the oldest zen temple in Kyoto! It was founded in 1202 by priest Yousai (1141-1215). Yousai travelled twice to China; the second time to actually reach India. But the unstable geopolitical situation prevented him from reaching his Indian goal. Instead, he came in contact with the Zen sect of Buddhism. He also brought back with him the tradition of the tea ceremony, and introduced these two big pillars of what is now traditional Japanese culture. All hail Yousai! Given this little bit of history, one can easily imagine that there will be a few interesting things to see in Kennin-ji...
After entering the temple there is a first dark room on your right which contains one of the most famous paintings in Japan: the wind and thunder gods. All Japanese kids have studied this painting at school, but few actually know where it is. A masterpiece like this is of course a National Treasure. After leaving this room you will probably have the opportunity to try some tea from local vendor who is always setting shop in the temple. The tea is rather good, and a bit salty which is quite rare. Nice souvenir to bring back home...
Behind the tea booth is a large tatami area with a zen garden at its north end. The garden is called Cho-on-tei "潮音庭", which means the "sound of the tide garden". The three stones in the centre represent Buddha and two zen monks. The maple trees of this garden are beautiful in autumn.
Another small rock garden with a single tree in its centre can be found near the tatami's. This garden is called the "circle-triangle-square" garden, the idea behind which is that all things in the universe can be descried with these three forms. String theorists may disagree ;-)
Going back to the tea booth and turning right, you will arrive at the large rock garden in front of the main temple hall, the Hondo. This garden style is called "kare sansui", meaning "dry mountains and water" style. In the hondo are many painted sliding doors (fusuma) from a renowned artist called Hashimoto Kansetsu. One particular painting of a dragon in the clouds is from another artists (Kaiho Yusho).
From the south east corner of the garden you can reach the Hou-do building (change of slippers required). Kennin-ji has a funny system to reach the Hou-do: you have to use a code on a keypad, but the code is very, very simple and you can see the wear on the keys to be pressed (explanations are provided in English, don't worry). The hou-do has a large painting of two dragons on its ceiling. This painting is very recent (2002) and made for the 800th anniversary of the temple. It took two years to complete. Similar paintings can be found in many temples, such as Tenryu-ji (天龍時, which actually means "temple of the ceiling dragon"), Shokoku-ji (相国寺), etc... The one in Kenin-ji, however, is unique in that it can be photographed as it is very recent.
From the west side of the hondo leaves a small path (again, use the provided special slippers) that leads to the tea house of the temple called the Toyo-bo and built in 1587 by military leader Hideyoshi Toyotomi. The tea house was actually moved several times before landing in Kennin-ji, so it's not "the first tea house in Kyoto" in any way.
How to get to Kenninji Temple?
Take the Kyoto city bus 4 from Kyoto station to Shijo-Kawaramachi-cho (四条河原町), it should take around 15 minutes. From there, got east over the Gion bridge. On the other side of the river, turn right and walk until you get to the next bridge. There, turn left and follow the street for 200 meters until you get to the entrance of Kennin-ji.
- Tranquillity and beauty in the heart of busy Kyoto.
- A nice example of Japanese architecture
- The most zen experience in all temples in Kyoto
- Peaceful beauty amongst Kyoto
- Oldest Zen temple still standing in Kyoto
Japan 〒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
Tips for you
This could easily be the one-stop temple that gives the feeling of Japan and Zen all in one. No need to run around to all the other locations because unlike many of the other temples... -- You can actually walk into a few of the matted rooms. -- The artwork on display is absolutely beautiful and they allow you to take pictures! -- The raked rock gardens are beautiful and tranquil -- Everyone is respectfully quiet -- Plenty of places to sit for a spell and admire the many gardens and get Zen yourself -- Once you've gone through the main building and the one that houses the incredible dragon painting, there's plenty more of the grounds to wander around. It keeps going and going. Additional Info: Be prepared to take your shoes off in the main building. So wear socks to be totally comfortable. Community slippers are provided for you at the entrance of the restroom as well as to walk a certain section of the main building's gardens, and another set of slippers to cross over outside to see the dragon painting. Socks help fight off some of the heebie jeebies you might get from wearing public slippers. Turn those people around who try to sneak in without paying as you cross over the driveway to and from the main building to the dragon painting pretty please! You'll know who they are, they're the ones wearing their regular shoes and not the provided slippers!
A large stone marks the tomb of Eisai Zenji (栄西禅師), who brought Rinzai Zen Buddhism and green tea to Japan.
When I headed for this temple, traffic was a little heavy on the narrow street leading to the temple. I walked on the road carefully lest I should be run down by car (in my youth I had an experience of being hit by car). The ground of the temple was spacious and I saw many sightseers taking some pictures of main halls and surrounding scenery. They seemed to come here to see a famous image of the wind and thunder gods drawn by Sotatsu Tawaraya in the Edo period (it appears in history text books) and painting of twin dragons on the ceiling. Both of two were overwhelming!! Their glaring eyes are so scary!! It is worth seeing, if you once see it, you will make an oath that you will never do a wrong thing. In front of the abbots' chamber vast dry landscape garden spread in front of me. If I stayed alone without talking for a long time, I might reach a stage where I am free of all thoughts and desires.