Kennin-ji Temple

#kenninji #zen #gion #higashiyama

Kennin-ji Temple is located at the end of Hanamikoji(花見小路), the main street of Gion district, renowned for the Geisha and Maiko’s world. The austere Kennin-ji, the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, contrasts sharply with the night lively “floating world”. This is an interesting aspect of Kyoto’ culture and its adaptability in absorbing different “view point” of life.
This morning it was sprinkling, and that was perfect to go to visit Kennin-ji Temple, because it is very close to where I live. I felt the light rain that had a spring’s scent.

Kennin-ji Temple(建仁寺)

The temple was founded in 1202 by the monk Eisai. He travelled to China twice during his lifetime, and came in contact with the Zen sect. He introduced Zen and the culture of drinking tea to Japan. The tea helped monks to keep awake during the night meditations and to cure some illness. Also the monk Kukai brought back the tea’s culture from China in the 800s, but at that time it did not become popular as later with Eisai.
Kennin-ji Temple belongs to the Rinzai tradition, one of the three Zen branches in Japan (the other two are Soto and Obaku). Over the centuries the temple has suffered from fires, and was rebuilt few times. Today, the temple complex is formed by the main building of the Abbot’s Quarter, Hojo, the Dharma Hall, Hatto, an exquisite teahouse, the Sanmon Gate and the Imperial Messenger’s Gate. Other sub-temples are also in its precincts.

The incredible wooden structure

Few people were walking in Hanamikoji street as it was still early. I entered into Kennin-ji here. The main building Hoji is ont the right side. I went in and had a look at the ceiling. Big wooden pillars show how the construction is made. 

TThe Thunder and Wind Gods

Then I took off my shoes and got my entrance ticket. The work displayed in the first room is a replica of “The Wind and Thunder Gods” by the painter Tawaraya Sotatsu, (俵屋宗達:Edo period). The original is a National Treasure conserved at Kyoto National Museum. This work is a special feature of Kennin-ji.

The round patterns

Following the corridor I went first to the left side where the big Zen garden is located because I wanted to try to be alone before other visitors could arrive. And I was. It was raining gently while some sunrays were shining through the clouds. The wet stones, the white sand ranked in long wavy patterns, the green of the plants and moss sparkling with the drops of rain...I stared at the garden and felt the essence of the simplicity and beauty of the Zen concept pervading me. After a while the voices of other visitors nudged me to move on.

The long stripe patterns in front of the Hojo

Bodhi Dharma painting in a big hall of Hojo

I walked along the corridor looking at each room where there are nice wall or sliding doors with ink paintings on them. Some of them were made by a sixteenth century artist, Kaihoku Yusho. I like his landscapes and dragons’ works. It is possible to take photos of the rooms.

The mysterious garden with the three Universe’ s symbol. Can you see them?n

Then I got to a little square garden. It is designed to contain the three symbols, circle, triangle and square, based on the famous calligraphic work of Sengai Gibon, representing the Universe. Try to find the three figures in this garden!
I continued to look around enjoying the calm of this place.

The gate of the Toyo-bo Teahouse and the bamboo fence in Kennin-ji style

Toyo-bo Teahouse

I found a shelf with plastic slippers on it, I put on one pair and walked outside in the direction of the Toyo-bo Teahouse. The rain started again. Black stones mark the path to the entrance of the teahouse. The teahouse is a typical example of Sen no Rikyu ‘s style, a tea master who developed the tea ceremony during the sixteenth century. I looked inside through the low entrance. The soft light in the bare room seemed to be the only ornament reflecting the spirit of the tea ceremony.

Inside of the teahouse. Light bright a modest heart

Behind the window, take this corridor to the Dharma Hall

Dharma Hall

At the end of my visit I went to the Dharma Hall, facing the main big Zen garden, on the left side there is a corridor joining to the Dharma Hall. You need to wear the slippers available on the shelf. Cross the little two gates and …surprise!

The dragons as they are from the central position

The Dharma Hall has one large room, and there is an altar with a Buddhist statue at the centre. The ceiling is the attraction. The two dragons were painted by Koizumi Junshaku to commemorate the 800-year anniversary of Kennin-ji ‘s foundation. It was installed in April 2002. The artist needed two years to complete it. The work was created in the gymnasium of an elementary school in Hokkaido, as its proportions are remarkable.
I always enjoy looking at the dragons while I walk slowly to the right side and at the corner again right. It is important to keep an “eyes contact” with the dragons, and it seems they have turned from the initial position. It is an optical effect or my fantasy? Please try and tell me if you see it in the same way!

The dragons as they are after I moved slowly on the right side of the Hall

There are tea plants in the precinct. The flowers bloom in automn

I went back to the Hojo’ s exit, and I took a leaflet. I found this sentence: “Dragons are believed to be protectors of the Buddhist teachings. They are also considered to be gods of water, sending the nourishing rain down onto followers”.
Then I understood this morning light rain was a divine blessing.