Ninna-ji is the head temple of the Omuro school of Shingon Buddhism. It is one of the 13 Buddhist temples in Kyōto listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Ninna-ji is renowned for its beautiful garden, featuring a variety of dwarf cherry trees known as Omuro sakura. This variety was developed by the monks of Ninna-ji many centuries ago. They bloom about a week later than other cherries and have smaller blossoms. There are about 500 cherry trees on the premises, including 200 Omuro sakura. Ninna-ji's Sakura Matsuri (cherry blossom festival) is very popular among the Japanese.
Ninna-ji is a chokuganji, i.e. a temple founded by direct order from an emperor. In this case it was Emperor Kōkō (830-887) was commanded its construction in 886. He died before its completion, and the retired Emperor Uda (867-931) took over the task, naming the temple after the last year of reign of Emperor Kōkō.
Emperor Uda became Ninna-ji's first abbot. Until 1869 a custom was establish for reigning emperors to send a son to the temple to take over as head priest when a vacancy arose. Such head priests ae known as Monzeki.
In the classic novel The Tale of Genji (源氏物語 Genji Monogatari), retired Emperor Suzaku's temple in the Western Hills is traditionally identified as Ninna-ji.
The temple was destroyed by fire in 1467, at the onset of Ōnin War. Reconstruction had to wait the early 17th century, when the eldest son of Emperor Go-Yōzei, Kakushin Hosshinnō requested the assistance of the third Tokugawa shōgun, Iemitsu. Most of the buildings today date from that period, including the huge Niō-mon Gate and the Five-storey pagoda.
The Ninnaji's Kondō (金堂 ; Main Hall) is listed as a National Treasure of Japan. There are 14 other buildings that are designated Important Cultural Assets, including:
- Niō-mon (二王門 ; Deva Kings' Gate)
- Chū-mon (中門 ; Central Gate)
- Gojū-no-tō (五重塔 ; Five-storey Pagoda)
- Kannon-dō (観音堂 ; Avalokitesvara Hall)
- Miei-dō (御影堂 ; Founder's Hall)
- Kyōzō (経蔵 ; Sutra Repository)
Other noteworthy buildings are the Goten (御殿 ; High Priest's Palace), Shinden Palace (宸殿), Kokusho-in (Koku Library), and Hakusho-in (Haku Library).
Although the whole complex dates from the Edo period, the architectural style still displays some obvious Heian-period influence. The Goten Palace was rebuilt almost identically to its Heian-era predecessor.
The temples' treasures are only displayed in spring and autumn. One of the centrepieces is a statue of Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, dating from 1252.
Opening Hours & Admission
The temple is open daily from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. Admission to the premises is free, but entry to the former palace is ￥500.
How to get there
Bus 52 from Kyōto station or bus 59 from Sanjō station stop in front of the temple grounds. Ninnaji is just next door from Ryōanji.
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