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Kennin-ji Temple 建仁寺

Zen rock garden in autumn at the Kennin-ji Temple, Kyoto (© 安ちゃん - Fotolia.com)
Zen rock garden in autumn at the Kennin-ji Temple

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Kennin-ji is the oldest Zen temple in Kyōto. It is the head of 70 associated temples throughout Japan. Kennin-ji's precincts comprise 14 subtemples and two Zen gardens.


Kennin-ji was founded in 1202 by the priest Eisai (1141-1215), who introduced Rinzai Zen Buddhism (and accessorily green tea) to Japan from China. Eisai served as Kennin-ji's abbot and is buried on the temple grounds. Two years after his death, Dōgen came to study at Kennin-ji under Eisai's successor, Myōzen. Dōgen later went on to establish the Sōtō school of Zen at Eihei-ji.


One of the temple's claim of fame is a pair of two-fold screens by Tawaraya Sōtatsu depicting Fūjin and Raijin (the gods of wind and thunder) is now on display at the nearby Kyoto National Museum. Apart from the San-mon Gate, there are four principal attractions on the grounds of Kennin-ji.

The first one is the Chōon-tei (潮音庭), a moss Zen garden enclosed around a square patio, with an arrangement of Japanese maple trees (momiji) and standing stones. For example, the San-zon-seki is a set of 3 stones that represent the Buddha with a Zen monk on each of his side, while the Zazen-seki is a stone symbolising seated meditation.

The so-called Circle Triangle Square Garden is a dry garden based on the idea that all things in the universe can be depicted using these three geometric shapes. It was inspired by the famous calligraphic work of Sengai Gibon (1750-1837), who was abbot of Shōfuku-ji Temple.

Kennin-ji Temple, Kyoto (photo bu 663highland - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
Kennin-ji Temple, Kyoto (photo bu 663highland - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

To celebrate the temple's 800th anniversary in 2002, the renowned Japanese artist Koizumi Junsaku (born 1924) painted a striking black, red and white ink representation of two dragons in the clouds. The painting, which is the size of 108 tatami mats, was installed on the ceiling on Kenninji's Hattō (Main Hall).

Finally, have a look at the tea house built in 1587 by tea master Sen no Rikyū for Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Opening Hours & Admission

The temple is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. The last entry is at 4:30 pm (30 minutes earlier from November to February). Admission is ¥500.

How to get there

Kenninji is a vast complex located immediately south of Gion, between Shijō and Gojō Avenues.

Access map

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