Sennyuji (Mitera) 泉涌寺
Sennyuji Temple (Mitera) lies close to Tofukuji in south west Kyoto near the First Red Cross Hospital (Sekijuji). The name of this Shingon sect temple means "Bubbling Spring" and it has long been the location of a number of imperial tombs of emperors and empresses.
The large temple grounds of Sennyuji are home to a number of sub-temples the first of which is Sokujoin on your left as you climb the slope from Higashioji Dori. Sokujoin is dedicated to the worship of Amida and contains 25 Heian Period statues of boddhisattvas and a statue of Amida.
Sokujoin was supposedly first founded in the 10th century and has been moved around during its history. Sokujoin was settled in its present location in the Meiji Period.
Kaikoji is the next sub-temple on the left and was founded in 1228 and located in its present location since 1645.
Kaikoji is known for a wooden statue of the historical Buddha made in the Kamakura Period by the master sculptor Tankei and his son Unkei. The statue is over 5m tall and including the plinth and aureola a staggering 10m in height. Praying to the image is thought to cure diseases of the head and face.
Walking further up the hill brings the visitor to the Daimon Gate and the ticket office to enter the main Sennyuji Temple complex. Inside to the left is the Kannondo, a small temple dedicated to the Chinese consort Yang Kuei-fei (Yokihi in Japanese) the beautiful concubine of the last T'ang emperor Hsuan Tsung (713-756). Yang Kwei-fei's beauty was such that the emperor contrived to free her from her marriage to his son and take her as his concubine, from then on letting things of state fall to rack and ruin in his blind devotion to her. The emperor's negligence led to a rebellion, whereby he was forced to have Yang Kwei-fei strangled as part of his punishment. He later rued having done so, and sought to contact her via a Taoist priest in the underworld. After Yang Kwei-fei death's the distraught emperor is said to have had her immortalized in a statue of the Kannon Buddha. Legend has it that the priest Tankai brought the cypress wood statue back from China, though this is probably unlikely. The temple is popular with young Japanese women who come to pray for some of Yokihi's fabled beauty.
Opposite the Kannondo is Unryuin, known for its garden of cropped azalea and ancient pine trees. The main image here is of the Yakushi Buddha - the Buddha of medicine and healing.
Walking down the slope is the huge, Chinese style Butsuden or Main Hall with three seated images of Buddhas: Amida, Shaka Nyorai and Miroku. The ceiling has a painting by the celebrated Edo Period Kano Tanyu (1602-1674) of the Kano School of artists.
Other buildings here include the Reimeiden (Spirit Hall) with a cedar bark roof recalling the Gosho (Imperial Palace) in central Kyoto and the Shariden, which holds memorial tablets of deceased emperors, consorts, princes and princesses. Neither building is open to the public. At the rear of the complex are the Kaiedo and Gozasho (admission fee) which has a number of rare paintings and a garden.
Among the Imperial Tombs are those of the emperors Go-Horikawa (1212-1234) and Komei (1831-1867).
Walking to the west is the Raigoin - a sub-temple dedicated to Hotei, the plum, god of good-fortune and one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune - the Shichifukujin. The spring associated with Kukai is located here.
Close by is Imakumano Kannonji, the 15th temple on the 33 Kannon Pilgrimage route, with a two-story pagoda. A more modern trail that passes the temple is the Kyoto Trail (京都一周トレイル) a walkway that circles the ancient capital. The notice board at the temple says that it is a great place to hear cuckoos.
Hiden-in, is another small sub-temple on the back road to Tofukuji which provides temple lodgings or (shukubo).
Sennyuji Access - how to get to Sennyuji in Kyoto
27 Sennyuji-Yamanouchi-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-0977
Tel: 075 561 1551
Sennyuji is close to Tofukuji Temple and Sesshuji Temple. By train take either a Keihan train to Tofukuji Station or a JR Nara Line train to Tofukuji Station.
Kyoto buses 南5 and #208 from Kyoto Station, #207 from Shijo Kawaramachi Station, and the #202 bus all run close to the temple. The #202, #207 and #208 all stop at Sennyujimichi bus stop. Turn right past the First Red Cross Hospital and walk up the hill.
Judith Clancy's book Exploring Kyoto: On Foot in the Ancient Capital is an excellent guide to this area of Kyoto including Tofukuji, Sesshuji and Sennyuji.