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Wa-pedia Home > Japan Guide > Travel > Kansai > Kyōto > East Kyoto > Eikando Zenrinji

Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji Temple 永観堂禅林寺

Autumn foliage at the Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji Temple, Kyōto (©  SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com)
Autumn foliage at the Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji Temple, Kyōto

Eikandō Zenrinji is the head temple for the Seizan branch of Jōdo (Pure Land) Buddhism. Set on hilly grounds near Nanzenji, it is one of Kyoto's most famous spots for autumn colours, further enhanced by the illumination of the Tahōtō pagoda at night.

History

The temple was founded as a Shingon temple in 853 by the monk Shinsō, a disciple of the grand master Kōbō-Daishi. Shinsō intended establish a temple for the worship of the Gochi Nyorai, the Five Dhyani Buddhas, and for this purpose purchased a villa from the court noble Fujiwara no Sekio.

In the 12th century, the head priest Eikan, after whom the Eikan-dō Hall is named, turned Zenrinji into a Jōdo temple.

Autumn foliage at the Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji Temple, Kyōto (©  richie0703 - Fotolia.com)
Japanese women in yukata admiring the autumn foliage at the Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji Temple, Kyōto (©  SeanPavonePhoto - Fotolia.com)

Grounds

Eikan-dō is a complex of several buildings interconnected by covered walkways and staircases. Visitors first penetrate in the Shaka-dō (釈迦堂 - Hall of the historical Buddha), which has views on a rock garden. Then comes the Goe-dō (御影堂 - Founder's Hall), which enshrines Hōnen, the founder of Jōdo sect. It was only completed in 1912. Following the route, you will find the temple's main statue of Buddha sheltered in the Amida-dō (阿弥陀堂 - Amida Hall).

The highlight of the visit is the Tahōtō pagoda, perched on the hillside above the compound, and offering panoramic views of Kyoto. The sight is particularly impressive in autumn, when leaves turn the whole hill in a flamboyant flare of red, orange and yellow colours.
Tahōtō pagodas

Tahōtō pagodas are two-tiered towers unique to the Japanese Esoteric Shingon and Tendai sects of Buddhism. They are the only pagodas to have an even number of stories, and are characterized by their skirted roofs. Another particularity is their square lower section contrasting with the cylindrical upper section. There are no examples in China, whether architectural or pictoral, of anything that resembles the tahōtō.

Eikan-dō Temple, Kyoto (photo by Tomomarusan - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
Eikan-dō Temple, Kyoto

The main gate, Kōrai-mon (高麗門), was named after the ancient Korean kingdom of Goguryeo (Kōrai in Japanese). The present structure dates from the mid-19th century.

The Hōjō (方丈 - Zen Chief Priests' Chamber) was ordered by Emperor Go-Kashiwabara (1464-1526), but not constructed until the 17th century. Unlike its name suggests, it is not a Zen temple, just a priests' chamber built in the Zen style. The Hōjō Pond is another good place to view autumn leaves.

During the kōyō (autumn leaves) season, the temple is exceptionally open in the evening for special illuminations.

Opening Hours & Admission

The temple is open everyday all year round from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is ¥600.

How to get there

Eikandō Zenrinji is located about 1 km (15 minutes walk) north of Keage Station (蹴上駅) on the Tōzai Line (東西線) across the Nanzenji Temple complex.

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