Sanzen-in Temple Ohara

Kyoto Temples & Shrines: Sanzen-in Temple

Sanzen-in Temple 三千院

Sanzen-in is a beautiful temple located in the north east of Kyoto in the picturesque village of Ohara. Sanzen-in is particularly well-known for its amazing autumn colors.

Sanzen-in is a Tendai sect temple established by the founder of Tendai Buddhism, Saicho aka (Dengyo Daishi 762-822), in the late 8th century.

Saicho was also the founder of Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei also fairly close in the north eastern part of Kyoto.

Sanzen-in Temple is one of five Monzeki Temples in Kyoto where members of the Imperial family traditionally served as head priests (abbots). The other Monzeki temples in Kyoto are: Bishamondo, Manshuin, Myohoin, and Shoren-in.

Sanzen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
Sanzen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto
Sanzen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
Sanzen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto

History of Sanzen-in

Sanzen-in dates from around 784 or later but the temple was rebuilt in 860 by the priest Joun on the orders of Emperor Seiwa.

An image of Yakushi-Nyorai, the Buddha of Healing, possibly carved by Saicho, was installed in the temple and members of the imperial line began to serve as abbot with the second son of the Emperor Horikawa from the 12th century onwards.

Sanzen-in Buildings & Gardens

Sanzen-in Temple's main buildings are connected by wooden walkways. The Kyakuden or Guest Hall offers views of the Shuheki-en Garden (The Garden That Gathers Green) with a small pond and artificial hill. This building was the residence of the abbots of the temple and has many treasures on display in its tatami rooms including painted screens (byobu) and decorated sliding doors (fusuma).

The Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall (Hall of Rebirth in Paradise) is located in a moss garden and is the oldest structure in Sanzen-in, originally dating from 985. It was built by the priest Enshin (942-1017). The building contains a 2.3m-tall, gilded statue of the Amida Buddha flanked by the attendant deities (bodhisattvas) of Kannon and Seishi, both of which are kneeling.

The other buildings in Sanzen-in were originally reconstructed from the Shishiden (Ceremonial Hall) of Kyoto's Imperial Palace from 1596-1615 but all were reconstructed in the 1920's. The ceiling of the Shinden (Main Hall) is shaped like the bottom of a boat and decorated with mandalas painted by Enshin. The Shinden also contains an image of Amida with Kannon and Fudo Myo-o in attendance.

Sanzen-in's most famous garden space is the Yusei-en (Pure Pleasure Garden) and includes moss, cryptomeria and maple trees with azaleas and stones bordering a carp-filled pond. The view is one of striking beauty.

Sanzen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
Moss-covered stone figure, Sanzen-in Temple, Kyoto
Sanzen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
Sanzen-in Temple wall, Kyoto, Japan

Sanzen-in Access

Sanzen-in Temple
540 Ohara Raikoin-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 601-1242
Tel: 075 744 2531
Hours: 9am-5pm
Admission: 700 yen

By bus to Sanzen-in take a Kyoto bus #17 (white color) from Kyoto Station to the Ohara bus stop and then walk about 10 minutes. You can also pick up the #17 bus at Demachiyanagi Station. The journey from Kyoto Station takes an hour and a bit in total. Alternatively, take an Eiden Line train from Demachiyanagi Station to Yase-Hieizanguchi Station and then change to bus #19. You can also get on bus #19 at Kokusaikaikan Station on the Kurasama Line of the Kyoto subway.

Ohara is outside the area covered by the 1-day Kyoto bus pass.

Sanzen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
The approach to Sanzen-in Temple in winter, Kyoto, Japan

Ohara Attractions

There is much to see in Ohara besides Sanzen-in. Other important temples in Ohara include the Jakko-in Nunnery, Raigo-in Temple, Housenin (Hosen-in), one of the so called bloody temples of Kyoto and Jikko-in, the latter two sub-temples of Shorin-in Temple.

Also in Ohara are the tombs of two emperors: Go Toba (died 1239) and Juntoku (died 1242) and the so-called Soundless Waterfall or Otonashi-no-taki near Raigo-in.

The road up to Sanzen-in from the bus stop is lined with souvenir shops selling local produce, restaurants and there are a number of traditional Japanese inns or ryokan to stay in Ohara. Recommended ryokan in Ohara include Gyozanen Onsen Ryokan, Ohara no Sato and Ohara Sanso.

Sanzen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
Moss-covered stone figure, Sanzen-in Temple, Kyoto

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