Tenryuji: The Most Important Temple in Arashiyama, Kyoto

Some of these temples are huge and are considered as tourist attractions because of their importance to the history and culture of Japan. Each city in the country contains its own main temple that it is proud of. For Arashiyama, probably the most important temple located here is Tenryuji.

Facts About Tenryuji Temple: Map, Hours, Restaurants

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Formally known as Tenryu Shiseizen-ji, Tenryuji is a temple located in Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan. It serves as the head temple of the Tenryu branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Situated in Susukinobaba-chō, Ukyō Ward, many consider this temple to be the most important temple in Arashiyama. Founded in the year 1339 by Ashikaga Takauji, this temple was built mainly to venerate Gautama Buddha. The first chief priest of this temple was Muso Soseki.

The construction of this temple was finished in the year 1345. The temple has close relations not just the Ashikaga family but also to Emperor-Go-Daigo. As a result, Tenryuji is held in high esteem. It is actually ranked first among the Five Mountains of Kyoto. As a part of the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto,” Tenryuji was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1994.

The specific address of the temple is 68 Saga Tenryuji Susukinobaba-chō, Ukyō-ku, Kyoto. It has affiliations to Zen, Rinzai Sect, Tenryuji school. The deity of the temple is Shaka Nyorai or Sakyamuni. The temple itself has its own website for people who wish to know more about Tenryuji prior to visiting.

Tenryuji has many features to offer to visitors. One of its features is the garden that was created by Muso Soseki. The garden displays a circular promenade around Sogen Pond, also known as Sogenchi. Because of its beauty, the garden was also designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty of Japan.

The temple houses numerous important cultural properties. These include three portraits of Muso Soseki, the wooden carving of Gautama Buddha, painting of Avalokitesvara and Seiryō Hōgen Zenji or Yunmen Daishi, and illustrations and writings kept in the document archive. These include Shanaingoryō-ezu, Ōeikinmyō-ezu, Ōkoshokyōkanji-no-ezu, Tōryōeiyo-bakuseki, and writings of Kitabatake Chikafusa.

For people looking for a place to eat in Tenryuji, check out Ryumontei, also known as Dragon Gate Pavilion. It houses the restaurant named Shigetsu. It is the Zen vegetarian restaurant of Tenryuji. Located just to the south of the Sogenchi, this place is a must-visit for vegans.

The open hours of Tenryuji vary depending on the season. It is open from 8:30 in the morning until 5:30 in the afternoon during the summer season. However, it is open from 8:30 in the morning until only 5 in the afternoon during the winter season, which begins on the 21st of October and ends on the 20th of March. The north gate closes 30 minutes prior to actual closing time.

The admission fee also varies depending on the place being entered. For the garden only, admission fee costs 500 yen for high school students and older, 300 yen for elementary and middle school students, and free for preschool children. On the other hand, for admission to both the garden and the buildings, it costs the same as mentioned prior to an addition of 300 yen. It is also important to note that the buildings in Tenryuji may sometimes be closed without prior notice due to special ceremonies and other activities.

There is also a special admission cost for people who wish to see the Cloud-Dragon Painting featured in the Hatto or Dharma Hall. This costs 500 yen per head. This fee is separate from the admission fee for the garden and buildings of Tenryuji. The hall is only open on weekends and holidays, hence timing is important. It is also open on designated periods during the spring season and autumn season. During summer, the hall is open from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon. During winter, which is from 21st of October until 20th of March, the hall is open from 9 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon.

Reminiscing the History of this Temple in Arashiyama, Kyoto

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Established in the year 1339, Tenryuji was conceptualized by the shogun Ashikaga Takauji, who lived from the year 1305 to the year 1358. He established this temple to commemorate Emperor Go-Daigo, who lived from the year 1288 to the year 1339. Zen master Muso Soseki was appointed by the shogun as founding abbot of the temple. There were donations of landed estates that helped in funding the construction of the temple. As these were not enough, both Ashikaga and Muso planned on sending two trading ships to mainland China with the profits going to the completion of the temple.

Carefully planned, this strategy proved to be successful. As a result, Tenryuji was officially consecrated in the year 1345. It was designated as first of the Five Mountains of Kyoto, which is known as the five major Zen temple in the city. The temple has been able to maintain this rank up to this day.

Tenryuji has suffered eight major fires since its founding. These fires occurred in the year 1358, 1367, 1373, 1380, 1447, 1468, 1815, and 1864. The most severe fires of them all occurred in the years 1445 and 1468. The shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi supported the rebuilding of the temple financially in the year 1585 until the temple was able to return to its formal glory.

However, the temple again suffered major fires in the years 1815 and 1864 due to the numerous fights until the conclusion of the feudal period in the year 1868. It took years for Tenryuji to rebuild from its ashes. Unfortunately, most of the arable land owned by the temple that is located int he district of Sagano was confiscated by the government during the Meiji period. As a result, Tenryuji was left with only a tenth of its original property.

Unrelentless, Tenryuji continued to strive and rebuild through the late 19th century. The only building that did not get destroyed during the fire in the year 1864 was the Zendo or the Zen meditation hall. It was moved during the rebuilding to serve as a replacement for two halls, namely, the Hatto and the Butsuden. Come the year 1900, new halls were completed, namely. The Hojo and the Kuri.

It was in the year 1924 that the reconstruction of Kohojo or the reception hall was completed. The consecration of Tahoden and the construction of the Shoun-kaku and Kan'u-tei teahouses were later on completed in the year 1934. Through this developments, Tenryuji has become what it is now known today.

Features of Tenryuji: Bamboo Grove, Garden in Autumn, and Dragon Depictions

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Being one of the most popular temples in Kyoto, Tenryuji offers many features. First and foremost on the list is the Hatto. Also known as the Dharma Hall, this was the place where the master delivered his sermons to his listeners. Monks gathered in this area as the master taught the Buddha Dharma. At present, this hall is utilized mainly for important ceremonial functions.

One of the most distinct features of this hall is its paneled ceiling. This ceiling displays a large painting of a cloud dragon as painted by Suzuki Shonen during the Meiji period in the year 1899. However, this painting was replaced by a new cloud dragon design by nihonga artist Kayama Matazo in the year 1997. This was part of the 650th death anniversary of Muso Soseki.

Other features of the Dharma Hall include the depictions of Shakyamuni Buddha on the altar, accompanied by his two chief bodhisattva disciples, namely, Manjusri and Samantabhadra. Statues of Ashikaga Takauji and Muso Soseki also stand on the altars located at the back of the building. These are accompanied by memorial tablets that honor not just the memory of the late Emperor Kogon but also the successive abbots of the temple.

The next on the list is the Kuri. Also known as the Temple Living Quarters, this structure is among the primary buildings that are part of the “seven halls” that make up the ideal Zen monastic compound. Built in the year 1899 and redeveloped in the year 2013, this building houses the main kitchen, as well as the administrative offices, of Tenryuji. The Kuri is also among the most commonly photographed buildings in Tenryuji. It has also become some sort of a symbol of Tenryuji through the years.

A huge painting of Bodhidharma can be found inside the entrance hall of the Kuri. It was painted by the late Rev. Hirata Seiko, who was a chief abbot of Tenryuji. The painting is somewhat similar to the one that is displayed int he alcove of the Hojo. The painting also somehow serves as the “face” of the temple.

By Masaaki Komori (originally posted to Flickr as japanese garden) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Also known as Abbot’s Quarters, the Hojo is comprised of two sections. These two sections are the Daihojo or the Large Hojo and the Kohojo or the Small Hojo. These two are connected to the Kuri. Completed in the year 1899, the Daihojo is utilized mainly for ceremonies and other large occasions. On the other hand, the Kohojo was completed in the year 1924.

The Daihojo is also the biggest building in Tenryuji. Featuring wide verandas, the Daihojo also has a large plaque placed above its front entrance with the calligraphy writing that translates to “Hojo.” This writing was the work of Rev. Seki Bokuo, who was a former abbot of the temple.

Enshrined on the altar is the image of Shakyamuni Buddha. This image is also designated as an Important Cultural Property of the temple. Some say that this image dates back to the late parts of the Heian period. Hence, the image itself is actually older than the temple wherein it is enshrined. Out of all the Buddha images in the temple, this image is the oldest, having survived all of the eight major fires that destroyed Tenryuji.

One of the main features of Tenryuji is, of course, the Sogenchi Teien. Also known as the Sogen Pond Garden, the Sogenchi Teien was said to have been laid out for almost 700 years since it was created by Muso Soseki. Even after so much time has passed, the garden has consistently retained its original appearance. It is also the first place in Japan that was designated as a Site of Special Historic and Scenic Important by the Japanese Government.

Designed as a pond garden for strolls, there is a level path that surrounds the beautiful pond. This path lets visitors view and appreciate the beauty of the garden from different angles and perspectives. The garden also incorporates shakkei, which means “borrowed scenery,” by using nearby mountains as a background that lets the garden have a sense of added depth.

Activities and Events in Tenryuji

There are various events that are held in Tenryuji. This includes the Shukushin ceremony, Daihannya ceremony, and Monthly Founder’s Day ceremony that occurs every January. The annual events hold every February include the end of the monastic training period and the Setsubun ceremony. April marks the month when Hanamatsuri is celebrated in Tenryuji. In addition, the beginning of the monastic training season also April.

Events in August include the Urabon ceremony, Toro-nagashi, and Kawa-segaki ceremony. September marks the memorial service for Emperor Go-Daigo as well as the Hachiman Festival Hojoe. Bodhidharma’s memorial ceremony and the Annual Founder’s Day celebrations are held in the month of October. Events celebrated in December include the Beginning of Rohatsu Ozesshin, Buddha’s enlightenment celebration, and Year-end ceremony. Regular events in Tenryuji include Tenryu-ji Zazen-kai, Ryumon-kai or Dragon Gate Seminar, and Shakyo or Hand-copying of sutras. There are also other events and ceremonies still being celebrated in Tenryuji.