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Kennin-ji (Kyoto) Deep Japanese History (No. 001)

 

Welcome to Kennin-ji! Founded in 1202, it is the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. Zen temples are known to provide an air of serenity and sublimity to dwellers and guests alike. Kennin-ji is no exception, despite its location in the center of the city and next to the geisha quarter in Gion district.

 

 

日本語のブログはこちら ⇒  英語で日本を学ぼう 建仁寺・京都 (JPN)

 

 

Zen in Japan

 

Before Zen introduction to Japan, the predominant Buddhist sects, such as Shingon and Tendai, held the power along with the aristocrats who dominated politics in Kyoto.

 

Kennin-ji was originally founded to educate people about the 3 teachings of Zen, Tendai, and Shingon. Later, Kennin-ji became the "Zen-specific" Buddhist temple with the help of a prominent Zen monk, Rankei Doryu (蘭渓道隆) from Song dynasty China.

 

Rankei Doryu is the founder of Kencho-ji (建長寺), in Kamakura, Kanagawa, where Samurai's government was instituted. Zen Buddhism had a strong connection and affinity with samurai.

 

 

Zen and Samurai

 

Kennin-ji was also founded during the Kamakura period, the first rule of samurai family in Japan.

 

Before the Kamakura period, politics in Kyoto were very corrupted by the most powerful aristocratic family, the Fujiwara clan. This caused Japan to erupt in large scale civil wars.

 

 

Kyoto was still the capital city where the imperial family and aristocrats prevailed. Samurai government needed to keep them under its control with a combination of power and faith.

 

Samurai needed the new faith to support their ideology and mentality. Soon, Zen sects, including Rinzai school, gained popularity among them because of its practice-oriented belief system.

 

 

Zen Buddhism was reinvigorating for Japanese Buddhism because it lost popularity prior to its introduction.

 

Zen and China

 

Eisai, the founder of Kennin-ji, went to Song (宋 sou) Dynasty China to learn the Zen teachings because it was mainly developed in China.

 

The first Zen temple in Japan is Shofukuji, in Fukuoka, which was also founded by Eisai.

 

Hakata port was very important because it was the largest travel hub to China and the Korean peninsula.

 

 

Many Zen Buddhists worked as mediators between China and Japan for trading and cultural exchanges.

 

 

Art Treasures of Kennin-ji

 

Kennin-ji is home to some of the greatest Japanese artworks. Wind and Thunder Gods, Twin Dragons, and Cloud Dragon are well-known among many here.

 

Supported and respected by samurai, the fine works show dignified and somewhat-intimidating beauty. The beauty and elegance sought by samurai seem distinctly different from those of aristocratic ones.

 

 

The Wind and Thunder Gods / 風神雷神図 fuu-jin-rai-jin-zu

 

The best-known work and the national treasure, made by Tawaraya Sotatsu (俵屋宗達).  

 

 

Twin Dragons / 双龍図 sou-ryu-zu     

 

The dragons drawn on the ceiling, in 2002, are "five-clawed". A dragon with five claws was the symbolic feature exclusive to the imperial family. This work could be a product of the Post-War era in Japan.

 

 

Cloud Dragon / 雲龍図 un-ryu-zu

 

A dynamic dragon in the clouds on 4 sliding doorway paintings, painted by Kaihou Yusho (海北友松).

 

 

Zen has become an English word.

 

The most popular translated English word for zen is "meditation". However, zen is widely accepted as an English word.

 

Its first introduction to the western world is Mr. Daisetsu Suzuki's work. Zen may appear to be meditation but "zazen" (座禅) specifically means "seated meditation".

 

 

English / Japanese Translation

 

Here are ENG/JPN brochures of Kennin-ji. And I put some commentaries for the terms used on it as well. It helps to dig a little deeper.

 

 

The Name of Kenninji / 建仁寺  

 

建: build, establish  仁: love, benevolence 寺: temple, Buddhist monestary

 

The name "Kennin 建仁" came from the regnal year of Japan. The imperial court alone granted the permission for a temple to be named after the regnal year.

 

Other than Kennin-ji, Enryaku-ji (延暦) in Shiga , Kencho-ji (建長) in Kanagawa, Ninna-ji (仁和) in Kyoto, and Kan'ei-ji (寛永) in Tokyo have the regnal years in their names. All of them were connected with those with immense power at the time.

 

 

 

the founder of the temple / 開山 kai-zan

 

In Japanese, "establish or founding a temple" is expressed as "open a mountain (開山)" because a mountain is a good place for monks to stay in and practice the ascetic training.

 

Sometimes a monk's name, pronounced as learned in history class, is different from the name actually used in the temple. "栄西" is the founder of Kennin-ji, but his name is widely known as "Eisai", but "Yousai" is his official name in Japan.

 

 

 

Rinzai school / 臨済宗 rin-zai-shu

 

Kinnin-ji belongs to the Rinzai school, which is one of the 5 main schools in Chinese Zen sect. Rinzai is named after Rinzai Gigen (臨済義玄), the founder of the Rinzai-school which originates from China.

 

 

 

Dharma Hall / 法堂 ha-tto

 

"Dharma" means the Buddhist precepts in Sanskrit. The founder of the Zen Buddhism is Bodhidharma, whose name came from Dharma.

 

 

 

Main Gate / 三門 san-mon

 

 "3, three" is pronounced as "san" in Japanese. This gate is obviously just one but is called "three-gates" literally. The reason for its plurality is that there are the 3 gates through which Buddhist monks attain the enlightenment or Buddhahood.  

 

 

 

Imperial Messenger Gate / 勅使門 cho-ku-shi-mon

 

Many prestigious temples in Kyoto have this type of gate that only Emperor's messengers were allowed to go through. 

 

 

 

Cho-on-tei Garden / 潮音庭 cho-on-tei

 

Cho-on-tei means the garden of the sound of the tide.

 

 

 

The Toyo-bo Teahouse / 茶席「東陽坊」 cha-seki to-yo-bo

 

Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who unified Japan in the Warring States period, held tea ceremonies here.

 

The Name of Kenninji / 建仁寺  

 

建: build, establish  仁: love, benevolence 寺: temple, Buddhist monestary

 

The name "Kennin 建仁" came from the regnal year of Japan. The imperial court alone granted the permission for a temple to be named after the regnal year.

 

Other than Kennin-ji, Enryaku-ji (延暦) in Shiga , Kencho-ji (建長) in Kanagawa, Ninna-ji (仁和) in Kyoto, and Kan'ei-ji (寛永) in Tokyo have the regnal years in their names. All of them were connected with those with immense power at the time.

 

 

the founder of the temple / 開山 kai-zan

 

In Japanese, "establish or founding a temple" is expressed as "open a mountain (開山)" because a mountain is a good place for monks to stay in and practice the ascetic training.

 

Sometimes a monk's name, pronounced as learned in history class, is different from the name actually used in the temple. "栄西" is the founder of Kennin-ji, but his name is widely known as "Eisai", but "Yousai" is his official name in Japan.

 

 

Rinzai school / 臨済宗 rin-zai-shu

 

Kinnin-ji belongs to the Rinzai school, which is one of the 5 main schools in Chinese Zen sect. Rinzai is named after Rinzai Gigen (臨済義玄), the founder of the Rinzai-school which originates from China.

 

 

Dharma Hall / 法堂 ha-tto

 

"Dharma" means the Buddhist precepts in Sanskrit. The founder of the Zen Buddhism is Bodhidharma, whose name came from Dharma.

 

 

Main Gate / 三門 san-mon

 

"3, three" is pronounced as "san" in Japanese. This gate is obviously just one but is called "three-gates" literally. The reason for its plurality is that there are the 3 gates through which Buddhist monks attain the enlightenment or Buddhahood.  

 

 

Imperial Messenger Gate / 勅使門 cho-ku-shi-mon

 

Many prestigious temples in Kyoto have this type of gate that only Emperor's messengers were allowed to go through.

 

 

Cho-on-tei Garden / 潮音庭 cho-on-tei

 

Cho-on-tei means the garden of the sound of the tide.

 

 

The Toyo-bo Teahouse / 茶席「東陽坊」 cha-seki to-yo-bo

 

Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who unified Japan in the Warring States period, held tea ceremonies here.

Official Website:

http://www.kenninji.jp/english/

 

Opening hours:

10:00 - 17:00 (March-October)

10:00 - 16:30 (November-February)

 

Entrance Fee (Admission):

Adults: 500 yen

High and JHS students: 300 yen

ES students: 200 yen