Monzeki Temples

Shoren-in Temple
This is one of the five Monzeki temples of the Tendai sect in Kyoto; the head priests at these temples originally belonged to the imperial family. The atmosphere at the temple is solemn and peaceful, similar to the ambiance of the Imperial Palace; this kind of an environment can only be found at Shoren-in temple. For all the above mentioned reasons and more, make sure to visit Shoren-in temple when visiting Higashiyama in Kyoto.

Jisso-in Temple
Jisson-in Temple is a monzeki temple, which is a special term for temples that have strong connections with families of imperial or high rank (court officers, samurai feudal lord families). Traditionally, members of these families served as the head monks (or nuns) of monzeki temples. Monzeki temples had great influence in the field of Japanese Buddhism while at the same time maintaining a special cultural and political relationship with the imperial family and samurai feudal governments. Because of this characteristic, monzeki temples have histories and cultural legacies that differ considerably from other kinds of temples.

The area where Jisso-in Temple now stands is called Iwakura. It is surrounded by mountains on three sides (north, east and west). Iwakura is a special ancient place name (originally written with special Chinese kanji ideograms) which can be translated as ”the place where God descends”. And the area was considered to be sacred for many centuries. Iwakura was and still is an area of natural beauty and tranquility.

Due to its location in the Rakuhoku (northern Kyoto city) area, the temperatures in the Iwakura area are generally 3-5 degrees lower than those in the central city area. In autumn, the maple leaves in the temple garden turn bright red. The temple also has classic stroll style garden designed around a pond. The wooden floor of the temple’s main building is lacquered which results in a stunning mirror reflection of the deep red colored leaves in the garden that becomes an unforgettable scene for anyone that experiences it.

The sliding door and wall paintings of the temple’s main hall were painted by Kano School artists, pioneers in Japanese painting in the early and mid Edo period (1600-1868). The oldest painting (in the Delegate Room) is the painting of Flowers and Birds. It was painted by Eikei Kano, the 4th master of the Kano School. He used the screen’s full length and dynamically painted birds playing among the trees. The elegant world and religious beliefs that characterize monzeki temples are superbly represented in these paintings.

Take subway and get off at Kokusai Kaikan Stn., then take Kyoto Bus #24 and get off at Iwakura Jissoin. Open: 9:00-17:00; special night time lit-up: from 11/15: 18:00-21:00); 500 yen; Tel: 781-5464

Shogo-in Temple

Shogoin was founded over 900 years ago, though the present buildings are around 300 years old as the original structures were destroyed in repeated fires. Shogo-in Temple is the head temple of the Honzan Shugen sect of Japanese Buddhism, with its associations with ascetic practice.

Shogo-in is a monzeki temple meaning that members of the imperial family or the nobility served as the head priests of the temple.

Shogo-in has close links with the Japanese imperial family and indeed the emperors Kokaku and Komei resided at the temple when the nearby Kyoto Imperial Palace (Gosho) was damaged by fire in 1788 and again in 1854, during the turbulence of the Bakumatsu Period in Kyoto when the shogunate was in its final days.

The temple hall known as the Shinden was built to house the Emperor Kokaku. The over 100 sliding doors (fusuma) here were painted by members of the Kano School and depict cranes, peacocks, pine trees and stories from the Chinese classics. Many of them are now very faded and no unauthorized photography is allowed.

The Shoin (Study Hall) was also part of the Emperor’s chambers when he was forced to temporarily relocate to Shogoin Temple.

15, Shogoin Nakamachi
Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8324
Tel: 075 771 1880
Hours: 9am-5pm
Admission: 800 yen for adults; 500 yen for junior high school and high school students.

*Note: the area of the temple containing the sliding screens is not always open to the public.

Shogo-in Temple is on the #206 bus route from Kyoto Station and Kitaoji Bus Terminal. Alight at Kumano-jinja-mae bus stop.

Other buses that stop at Kumano-jinja-mae bus stop are the #93, #201, #202, #203, and #204 services.

The nearest Kyoto subway stop is Higashiyama Station on the Tozai subway line, south of Heian Shrine. It is a 20-30 minute walk from here.

Marutamachi Station on the Keihan Line is closer, as is Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan and Eiden lines. Walk east from both stations.

You can stay at a ryokan on the temple grounds: