Kenninji is very close to the Kyoto’s main shopping centre, just to the east of the river and south of the Gion entertainment district. It’s not one of Kyoto’s best known temples but it provides an oasis of peace in the centre of the city. Founded by Eisai in 1192 it was the first place in the capital that taught Zen and is still an important temple for the Rinzai school.
Today Kenninji consists of groups of traditional and austere buildings surrounded by some classic Zen gardens. On the ceiling of the meditation hall there are some fine pictures of circling dragons.
Dogen probably first came to Kenninji in 1214, and came to study there under Myozen between 1217 and 1223. He was also based at the temple for three years when he returned from China.
One of the buildings we visited in Kyoto was the Renge-o-in, a large temple complex about a mile east of the main railway station. It’s a very popular destination for visitors to the city and is usually called the Sanjusan-gendo or “Hall of 33 Bays” because the building contains 1001 golden life-sized Kanzeon statues on an altar that takes up 33 bays of the building. A ‘bay’ is the space between two pillars
This is one of the biggest temple buildings in Kyoto. The present hall was built in Dogen’s time to replace an earlier building destroyed by fire in 1249. Amazing that such a vast building should have survived wars and earthquakes for 800 years. To house all those statues it is nearly 120 metres (390’) long and 54 feet wide. The thirty three bays provide a reminder of the number of transformations that Kanzeon is said to employ to save all beings. The main statue on the altar is a double life size thousand armed Kanzeon flanked by an army of 500 golden Kanzeons on either side. In front are life-sized statues of the twenty eight guardian deities.
This building is a very powerful representation in carved wood and metal of those opening chapters in many Mahayana scriptures which invoke a vision of the crowds of Bodhisattvas, Devas, Heavenly Guardians and arahants that gather to hear the Buddha teach. The crowds of humans that throng through the long gallery somehow add to this impression. It’s not possible to photograph the statues inside but there are many reproductions of them available in Buddhist art books and I bought a book of stunning photographs in the gift shop.
Longest wooden building…
It’s true Walter (who recommended I visit this place), nothing can prepare one for being in the presence of this array of statues. They fill the space and fill ones being. Put simply, being here ‘blew me away’! The noise and bustle of the visitors, tours guides, children etc. just faded into the background.
Horyuji is about 12 miles south west of the city of Nara. The temple was one of the first to be built in Japan and it’s early history is associated with Prince Shotoku who introduced Buddhism to the country. In 1993 it became the first site in Japan to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Three areas within this very large complex of buildings and grounds covering more than 300 acres are open to visitors. The Saiin Garan (Western Precinct) is the best preserved as a set of buildings and contains what is thought to be the world’s two oldest surviving wooden structures – parts of which survive from the sixth century. The Kondo (Main Hall) houses a bronze Asuka period statue of Shakyamuni cast in honour of Prince Shotoku, and next to it stands the Goju-no-to, (Five Storey Pagoda), another sixth century building.
In the centre of the site is a modern gallery and museum completed in 1998 containing many early Japanese Buddhist statues and other treasures.
Here are a few photos that show the part of temple visiting which, I must say, I enjoy. The children are obviously curious about me and given half a chance they start to ask questions and we get into conversations, all be it simple ones.
We visited Todaiji on a Saturday, the children were in their uniforms non the less. The park around Todaiji is famous for its tame, cheeky, deer. School children often wear their uniforms outside of school time, girls wear a variety of sailor suit uniforms and boys uniforms are modeled on Prussian Army uniforms. There is an explanation….
This was our first visit of the day, the second one being Umpukuji in the afternoon.
The priest came and picked us up from the station in his car and was able to fit us into his busy schedule for a two hour visit. Zuikoji was the family temple of Suigan Yogo Roshi and now is run by his son and his wife. (Priests of the Soto School in Japan may marry unlike the priest in our Order.)
Suigan Roshi helped Rev. Master Jiyu with making translations of a number of chapters of the Shobogenzo both while she was living at Sojiji and also when she moved to Umpukuji. These temples are about ten miles distant from each other.
While visiting here Iain and I were each given a fan with calligraphy done by Suigan Roshi which we will both treasure.
The temple gardener was putting up a prop for a tree limb in danger of falling down and breaking. Helping elderly trees in this way is common practice in Japan.