April 22, 2018
by Mayu Nihari, Ayu Kitora & Yuki Fujimoto
Unryuin (雲龍院) is a temple located in the Higashiyama Ward of Kyoto, not far from Fushimiinari Shrine and Kyoto station.
Unryuin is what is known as a tatchu (塔頭), or sub-temple on the site of a main temple. Senryuin is the main temple to which Unryuin belongs, where on occasion public events of the Imperial family are held. If for any reason these events cannot be held at Senyuin, Unryuin will host them instead. In this way, Unryuin is associated in an indirect way with the Imperial family. Also, Unryuin is up on the mountain just above Senryu temple. It gives an image that dragon (龍- ryu) lives above clouds (雲- un). That’s why the temple was named Unryuin.
History of Unryuin
Unryuin was built in 1372 by Chikugan Shoko who were a Buddhist monk on the wishes of Emperor Gokougon who were the 4th emperor in Nanbokucho period. The temple developed over time with the support of Emperor Gokomatsu and Emperor Shoko who were the 101st emperor in Muromachi period. It is sacred to Yakushinyorai that is a Buddha and consists of Ryugeden and Reimeiden which are building in Unryuin.
Ryugeden was not originally in Unryuin. Josyusoushi who were a member of high official rank along with Ryugeden, which is related to Emperor Goenyu who were the 5th emperor in Nanbokucho period merged into Unryuin. Ryugeden was then designated as a nationally important cultural property. Ryugeden is a very precious building because the roof is constructed with sawara cypresses and bamboo nails. It is a traditional technique of construction in Japan.
Also, Yakushisanzon (薬師三尊), meaning ‘three statues of Buddha’ is in Ryugeden. Reimeiden was built to enshrine the spirits of the dead by the emperor of the Meiji period in 1884. The building also has close links with the Imperial family. That’s why Unryuin is held in such high esteem, even though the temple is a branch temple of Senryuin.
In the new year time, Senryu temple holds an event called, Shichifukujin Meguri. People visit Shichifukujin (Seven Deities of Good Luck) in hopes of acheiving happiness during the year. Daikokuten is one of the Shichifukujin deities in Unryuin. He features a stern look and representes prosperous business. So many business people come to Unryuin to offer blessings to him.
Window of Colored Paper
You can look out at the garden through the window of a shoji (paper sliding door). It is common to slide open a shoji in order to see what is on the outside. However, in this room, you can close the shoji and still look out onto the beautiful scenery in the garden, due to special windows created in the shoji.
From the left moving to the right there are four windows: the window of camellia, the window of lantern, the window of autumn tints, and the window of pine tree. The scenery outside each window reflects the change of the four seasons. It is a view felt that captures a very traditional Japanese feeling. In addition, you realize that the scene changes depending on angle at which you are sitting. You can totally see it like a picture of four pieces of colored paper.
The Four Seasons of Unryuin
The scenery seen in Unryuin is very beautiful. In the spring, cherry, camellia, and plum blossoms cause the scenery to turn pink. Every year, cherry blossoms bloom in April, but they change depending on climate. You can also see the beautiful garden of moss.
In the summer, there is a lot of greenery in Unryuin. Bellflowers also bloom in a corner of the garden. In addition, a Suikinkutsu (水琴窟) was added in the summer of 2017. Have you seen this unique object? This is one of the decorations of traditional Japanese gardens. It enjoys the reverberation sound that occurs when dropping water droplets by filling a pot in a cave.
In autumn, the leaves at Unryuin are very colorful, and can be enjoyed from mid-November to early December. Despite being so close to Kyoto station, there are usually few tourists, so you can enjoy it without too many people around. Furthermore, a night-time lighting-up event up is held each year. In 2017, it was from November 18th to November 26th. The fare is 400 yen and you can see a spectacular illumination of the fall leaves.
Finally, in the winter, this area of Kyoto often gets lots of snow. The temple with the snow piled on the roof is worth seeing. It gives you the feeling that you are seeing a beautiful painting. A lot of tourists visit here every year and take pictures.
As you can see, Unryuin is beautiful and impressive anytime of the year.
Sutra Copying at Unryuin
Sutra copying, or Syakyou in Japanese, means making your own handwritten copy of Buddhist scriptures. It is getting more popular recently for its effect on freeing one’s mind to a state of peace. If you are planning a healing trip to Kyoto, why don’t you consider copying sutras in Unryuin in a solemn atmosphere? Recently, the number of people copying a sutra for the purpose of relaxing their hearts and minds has increased. Living in a modern society of only the smartphone and printed word, we can feel at ease by painting Japanese characters with a brush and Indian ink.
Anyone can copy a sutra copying in Unryuin. All you need to do is just cleanse your hands with incense and start copying a sutra in red-ink. You can also enjoy green tea and cake while looking at the garden when you are finished.
Sutra copying (entry and green tea included): 1,500 yen. 9:00-15:30 (daily)
As you can see, Unryuin is famous and one of great sightseeing spots in Kyoto. In its garden, various beautiful plants bloom all year round, and it is very enjoyable whenever you visit. Moreover, the experience of sutra copying will be a wonderful memory. Also, you can visit other famous temple nearby, such as Sennyuji (泉涌寺) and Kaikouji (戒光寺).
Address：36 Sennyuji Yamanochicho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0977, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
Business hours：9:00 am – 16:30 pm (Irregular day off)
Worship fee：adult – 400yen / child – free of charge