April 12, 2006

by Yuko Okada


Kennin-ji, the headquarters of the Kennin-ji branch of Rinzai Zen, was founded in 1202 by the priest Eisai (1141-1215). Eisai is well known for introducing the Zen sect and the tradition of tea drinking into Japan from China.Most existent buildings in Kennin-ji were built after the Edo period (1600-1867). That is because of the Ônin War, in which many buildings in Kyoto were lost. But Messenger’s Gate, built in the Kamakura period (1192-1333), was left after the battles, permanently scarred by stray arrows, and is a rare example within the city. In addition, the hôjô was built in the Muromachi period (1392-1573). Both structures are Important Cultural Properties.Because Kennin-ji is a head temple, there is a large meditation hall for monks, who must train in zazen there for several years to become priests.


The hôjô (superior’s quarters) is the main hall of Kennin-ji, where most of the temple’s regular ceremonies are performed. Here we can see paintings on the sliding doors by artist Hashimoto Kansetsu. “The Cycle of Death and Rebirth” is one of his well-known paintings, and consists of 32 surfaces. It tells us the doctrine of Buddhism and philosophy of Zen:

The bird is sleeping on a small floating log. This bird can be compared to pursuing a little desire without noticing, or as the proverb says, who knows what tomorrow will bring? The composition of the wind and rain means checkered life, and that when overcoming difficulties, you’ll attain a state like clear moonlight.In addition, we can see a painting by Sôtatsu Tawaraya (dates unknown). It is called “The Wind and Thunder Gods”. The gods seem stern, but somehow humorous. (Usually two replicas are displayed.)

To the south of the hôjô, there is a dry garden, which is in the rock and white gravel style often found in Zen temples. The dry garden of Kennin-ji is named “Daiô-en”, which means grand garden. It is said that the pattern of white gravel symbolizes a field of clouds. But the priest says that he would like you to see it however you wish. What can you imagine?

Dharma Hall

The dharma hall is where the priest preaches about doctrines. “Nenge-dô” is the name for the dharma hall of Kennin-ji, which means “pick a flower”, and derives from the story, “Nenge-Mishô”: One day, when Buddha preached, he picked up a flower and showed it to everyone. Anyone could make it out, but only the priest Kayô (one of Buddha’s disciples) smiled. Then the Buddha’s true doctrine had come down to him! This story shows the importance of communicating heart to heart.
On the ceiling of this hall, we can see “Twin Dragons”, painted in 2002 by the contemporary artist Koizumi Junsaku to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the temple’s founding. Usually, dragon pictures on the ceilings of dharma halls are painted in a circle. But “Twin Dragons” covers the whole ceiling, and the total area of this picture is about 175 square meters. The reason is that the abbot of Kennin-ji requested Mr. Koizumi to make dragons rampage through the ceiling.


Via JR, Kintetsu Railway
Take city bus 206 from the D2 bus stop in Kyoto Station. Get off at the “Higashiyama-Yasui” bus stop, and walk west along Yasui Street (about 7 min.).
Via Keihan Railway
Get off at Shijo Station. Walk east along Shijo Street, and turn to your right at Hanami-Koji Street (about 8 min.).
Via Hankyu Railway
Get off at Kawaramachi Station. Walk east over the bridge to Hanami-Koji Street and turn right (about 10 min.).


Open 10:00a.m.- 4:00p.m.
Fees Adults: 500 yen
Handicapped/Under elementary school student: free

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