Breezeways, Maples and Eikando

February 23, 2011

by Rie Susuki, Aya Suzuki, and Yuino Takenaka

Eikando

History

Eikando Side

Momiji no Eikando

Eikando is a well-known temple located at the foot of the eastern hills in Kyoto between the famous temples of Nanzenji and Ginkakuji. Its formal name is Shoju-raigo-san Muryosu-in Zenrin-ji. Although Eikando was first a temple of the Shigon-shu sect of Buddhism, it now belongs the Jodo-shu sect. It was founded by Shinsho, a pupil of the great Japanese priest Kukai, and one of three Kangakuin (academic institutes) and so is notable for knowledge. Shinsho decided to purchase the mansion of Fujiwara no Sekio and make it into a temple. However, such practices were prohibited in Kyoto at the time, so it was only ten years later that it was officially recognized as a temple by the 56th emperor of Japan, Emperor Seiwa in 863. But it wasn’t called “Eikando” then. Eventually it was renamed after one of its chief priests, Eikan-rishi, who had made efforts to create charities to help the sick and poor. The temple was thus named Eikando. The temple was converted to the Jodo-shu sect from the Shingon-shusect in the 17th century.

Eikando is also commonly known as “momiji no Eikando” (Eikando of maples) in Japan. The precinct in which Eikando is located is dyed bright red by the maple trees in the autumn. Many maple trees surround the Garyurou (cloister), which sits on a forested slope above the main buildings of the temple. There are several breezeways between each of the buildings of the temple; a curved breezeway connects the Shaka-do and Zuishi-den. It is ideal to view the colored maple trees from these breezeways. This is one of the features unique to Eikando. Eikando’s maple trees draw thousands of visitors in November.

Highlights

Karamon - the Chinese Gate

Karamon - the Chinese Gate

Karamon (Chinese Gate)

This stunning entrance was said only to be opened when a messenger from the Imperial Court arrived. There is a sand heap between this entrance and the Shaka-do. Before the messenger from the Imperial Court entered the Shaka-do, he would level the heap of sand as an act of purification.

Hiyoke-no-Amida(the Buddha who escaped from the fire)

Zuishi-den is dedicated to the Amida Buddha. Five images of the Buddha were placed in the temple by the priest Shinjou. But four of these images went up in flames during the Onin-no-ran (Onin war in 1467-1477). Miraculously, one image of the Buddha was saved. This image of Buddha was named as “Hiyoke-no-Amida” (“escaped from the fire”) and was placed in the Zuishi-den, where it still is now.

Shaka-do

The Shaka-do was built in the Muromachi period. There are six rooms that are divided with painted fusuma (a papered sliding door used as a room partition). The paintings on the fusuma are called Shoutyou-zu and Gunsen-zu. This building exemplifies Shoin-Zukuri, or traditional style of Japanese residential architecture.

Garyurou

Garyurou at Eikando

Garyurou

The Garyurou is the temple’s cloister. The curved breezeway to the cloister is constructed of lumber that is cleverly jointed. It ascends the mountain slope and is so curved that it looks like a “dragon.” If you go up to the cloister you may feel strange, as if you are inside the body of a dragon.

Mikaeri Buddha – “Amitabha looking back”

In Eikando, there is an unusual wooden statue of a standing Buddha who is looking to his left. Why is he looking left? It refers to an incident that occurred in 1082, when Eikan-rishi was 50 years old. Eikan-rishi was circling around the alter praying to the Buddha. Then suddenly, as it has been told, the Buddha image got down from his platform and led Eikan-risshi around the alter. Eikan-rishi was surprised and stopped walking. Buddha looked back over his left shoulder and said: “Eikan-rishi, you are too slow, keep up!” So the Buddhist figure on the altar now looks to his left, over his shoulder.

Personal Impressions

We visited Eikando in winter. Formerly my friends and my teacher said that Eikando was a good spot for viewing the colored leaves of autumn. We became interested in this spot and decided to visit. This temple is often referred to as “Eikando of autumnal tints” and many people say the colored maples here are truly marvelous. During the fall season, the maple trees are sometimes illuminated at night. There are some 3,000 maple trees on the temple grounds. Eikando can be a good dating spot. When we visited Eikando, the temple roofs were covered with snow and our eyes sparkled with excitement.

On the premises of Eikando, there is a beautiful pond. Some cute ducks float there. The pond has a shrine on an island. In this temple, there are many national treasures and important cultural properties, so we could enjoy and not lose interest. We had free time after visiting Eikando, so we visited Nanzen-ji which is nearby. This is convenient for many tourists. We could enjoy not only the view but also temple buildings. We recommend you visit Eikando.

Eikando Pagoda

Access

By Bus: Nearest bus stop: Nanzen-ji Eikando michi
From Kyoto Station: Kyoto Station mae bus stop (No. 5)

By Subway Line: Nearest station: Keage

URL: http://www.eikando.or.jp/English/keiroannai_e.htm

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