Temples & Shrines: Tofukuji
Tofukuji Temple 東福寺
- Zen temple.
- Located in southeast Kyoto.
- Huge open temple complex.
- Largest Zen temple gate in Japan.
- Stone and moss garden.
- 23 sub-temples in Tofukuji complex.
- Takes its name from Todaiji and Kofukuji in Nara.
- Perfect for fall colors.
Tofukuji Temple is a massive complex that was founded in 1236 and built in the ensuing decades. It has been plagued by fire on many occasions: it was destroyed in 1319, 1334, and 1336, and burned again in the 15th century.
The temple is best known for its massive gate - at 22 meters it is the largest in any Japanese Zen temple - and its Zen gardens within the Hojo (Abbot's Hall). The gate was built in 1425 - then taken apart, fixed, and rebuilt in the 1970s. The stone Zen gardens surround the Abbot's Hall on all four sides and each is different in character and design. The gardens are named from the cardinal points thus: northern garden, eastern garden, southern garden and western garden.
The garden by Mirei Shigemori (18961975) features a stone zen garden, and, in the rear, a moss garden. Tofukuji Temple is especially beautiful in the fall and is also known for its azaleas and hydrangeas in summer.
The upper floor of the great gate holds a number of Buddhist statues dating from the Heian Period and thought to have been created by Jocho, a noted sculptor. The ceiling of the Sammon is decorated with paintings by Mincho (aka Cho Densu 1352-1431) and his desciple Kandensu.
The Main Hall (Hondo) was rebuilt in 1932 and the ceiling painting of a dragon is by Insho Domoto.
Tokufuji owns many rare paintings by artists such as Sesshu (1420-1506) and Kichizan Mincho aka Cho Densu (1352-1431). A huge 11.9m x 7.9m scroll by Mincho depicting the Buddha's Entry into Nirvana is shown to the public annually on March 15.
The beautiful grounds have some beautiful maples in autumn and are known for their hydrangea in summer. A small stream, known as Sengyokukan runs through the garden traversed by three bridges, the most famous of which is the Tsuten Bridge, which features in a ukiyoe by the artist Hiroshige.
The garden (shown in the photograph below) around the Hojo (Main Hall) is the work of Mirai Shigemori (1896-1975) who installed them in 1939 using mostly moss and gravel to complete a beautiful whole.
The sub-temple Sesshuji contains another famous rock garden attributed to the painter Sesshu called tsurukame-no-niwa - the crane and tortoise garden as the rocks depict these two creatures. Sesshu's most famous garden is in Yamaguchi.
Stone and moss garden at Tofukuji Temple by Mirai Shigemori
Tofukuji is the headquarters of the Tofukuji school of the Rinzai sect of Japanese Buddhism.
Admission: 400 yen for adults (to sub temples).
15-778 Honmachi, Higashiyama-ku
Tel: 075 561 0087
A visit to Tofukuji Temple can be combined with seeing nearby Fushimi-Inari, Fushi-Momoyama Castle and the Gekkeikan Sake Museum. Fushimi-Inari Taisha is also on the Keihan Line two stops south towards Nara and one stop on the JR Nara Line.
Tsuten Bridge at Tofukuji Temple, Kyoto
Tofukuji temple is ten-minute walk from JR or Keihan Tofukuji Station. Alternatively take city bus #208 from Kyoto Station.
Cycling from Kyoto Station to Tofukuji takes around 20-25 minutes.