Art and Gardens at Monzeki Temple, Shoren-in

Date 23rd November 2017

Shoren-in (青蓮院), formerly a sub-temple of Hiezan’s Enryakuji (headquarters of the Tendai sect. of Buddhism), is one of the five Monzeki temples (temples where the abbot are of imperial lineage) of the Tendai sect. in Kyoto. I have previously written about one other Kyoto’s Tendai sect. Monzeki temple – Bishamondo, located in Yamashina ward.

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Yakui-mon, Entrance Gate

The retired Emperor Toba (74th Emperor of Japan) who was a devotee of the Tendai Sect. and thus Gyogen, the head priest of Enryakuji at that time, had his son, Prince Kakukaishin-no study under Gyogen. Toba built Shoren-in as a residence for them in Kyoto, making Gyogen its head priest followed by the Prince.

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Office Building

One of the most revered head priests of Shoren-in is Jien, who is known for his philosophical book on Japanese history – the Gukansho, and his collection of poems – Shugyokushu. He also provided a sanctuary to Honen (the founder of the Jodoshu / Pure Land Buddhism) and Shinran (founder of Jodo Shinshu / True Pure Land Buddhism).

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Autumn at Shoren-in

As Shinran begin his priesthood at Shoren-in, the head priest of Honganji (the largest Jodo Shinshu school) were also required to enter priesthood at Shoren-in before becoming a head priest. Outside the temple, it is difficult to miss the gigantic 800-years old camphor trees (kusunoki) said to be planted by Shinran.

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One of the giant kusunoki (camphor tree)

The 17th head priest, Prince Sonen who was a son of Emperor Fushimi (92nd Emperor of Japan) was a prominent calligrapher, and thus influenced the involvement of calligraphy in the following head priests.

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Nagaya-mon relocated from Empress Meisho’s Palace

Though Shoren-in was subjected to damages and fires especially during the Onin War and half of its land was taken by the Tokugawa Shogunate for the neighboring Chion-in, the temple still features a number of beautiful and important buildings. Just outside the temple’s office, there is even a kare-sansui dry-landscape garden.

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Kare-sansui Garden Outside the Office

Upon entering the temple, you will find yourself looking at beautiful lotus flower paintings by Kimura Hideki on the fusuma (sliding door panels) in the Kacho-den or Drawing Room. Kacho-den is also decorated with pictures of 36 Tanka poets.

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Overlooking Kacho-den is the Ryujin-no-Ike Pond and the garden designed by renowned landscape artist Soami. Take your time here to sit and enjoy the view, though patience is required when it is crowded.

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Viewing the garden from Kacho-den

Or you could even stroll around the garden. The semicircular stone bridge here, Koryu-no-hashi is made of two types of granites. In the centre of the pond itself is a big stone, in which the shapes resembles the back of a dragon.

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Walking to the right you will find the Kogosho which used to be the living quarters of the head priest. There is also the Garden of Kirishima, designed by Enshu Kobori (a tea ceremony master).

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Kogosho on the right

Shoren-in also once served as a temporary Imperial Palace for Empress Go-Sakuramachi (117th Emperor of Japan) after the Imperial Palace burnt down. Thus the temple was once also called Awata Palace, being located at the base of Mount Awata. The Kobuntei, which is now a tea ceremony room, was her study room at that time.

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Around Garden of Kirishima

The largest building in Shoren-in is the Shinden donated by Empress Dowager Tofukumon-in or Tokugawa Masako (Tokugawa Hidetada, the 2nd Tokugawa Shogun’s daughter who was empress consort of Emperor Go-Mizunoo, the 108th Emperor of Japan), where you can see fusuma paintings of pine trees.

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The temple holds night illuminations during spring and autumn and is especially known for the twinkling blue lights placed in the moss lawn in front of the Shinden.

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The main hall, Shijoko-do enshrines Shijoko Nyorai Mandala and has a painting of a blue Fudo Myo-o which is a national treasure. The mandala enshrined in the main hall is a replica contributed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (2nd Great Unifier of Feudal Japan who ended the Sengoku Jidai) as the original mandala was destroyed by the repeated fires and wars (especially during the Onin War). Read more about the principal image here at the temple’s official website.

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If you walk up you can also find a shrine here, the Hiyoshi-sha Shrine. The view of the temple and garden from here is also an added bonus.

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Hiyoshi-sha Shrine
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View from above


Opening hours: 09:00 – 17:00 (last entry 16:30)

Admission fee: 500 yen

Night Illumination

  • Spring and autumn (check out dates at the official website or Google it)
  • Opening hours: 18:00 – 22:00
  • Admission fee: 800 yen

Official website


The nearest train station is the Higashiyama Station on the Tozai subway line, which is 8 minutes away on foot. For those taking the bus, bus no. 5 should take you to Jingu-michi, in which then the temple is just less than a 5-minutes walk away. Shoren-in is just beside Chion-in thus making this a great combined visit.



4 thoughts on “Art and Gardens at Monzeki Temple, Shoren-in

  1. Pingback: Kurama-dera, the Mystical, One-of-a Kind Buddhist Temple – Japan Wonders

  2. Pingback: Basking in the Sun at Yuzen Garden, Chion-in – Japan Wonders

  3. Pingback: Sanzen-in, the Moss Garden, and the Laughing Buddhas – Japan Wonders

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