Main buildings. Left to right:
Sanmon, Butsuden, Hattō
Basic information
Affiliation Buddhism

Myōshin-ji (妙心寺 Myōshin-ji) is a temple complex in Kyoto, Japan, and head temple of the associated branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The Myōshin-ji school is by far the largest school in Rinzai Zen, approximately as big as the other thirteen branches combined: it contains within it about 3,500 temples throughout Japan, together with a handful overseas, of the approximately six thousand total Rinzai temples, and also has nineteen associated monasteries, of the total of forty monasteries and one nunnery.


Emperor Hanazono, who sponsored the foundation of Myōshin-ji, after taking the tonsure

The grounds of the temple were formally a palace for the Emperor Hanazono. Hanazono abdicated in 1318 and took the tonsure (became a monk) in 1335, and in 1342 donated the palace to found the temple; the district and many places in the area are named "Hanazono" in his honor. The head temple was founded in 1342 by the Zen master Kanzan Egen (関山慧玄, 1277–1360), third patriarch in the influential Ōtōkan lineage.

Nearly all of the buildings were destroyed in the Ōnin War in 1467. However, many of them have been rebuilt, initially under the leadership of Sekko-Soshin Zenji (1408–1486), the sixth patriarch. The present buildings were primarily built during the following 150 years (late 15th through early 17th century),[1] and today the gardens of Myōshin-ji are a nationally designated Place of Scenic Beauty and Historic Site.[2]

The temple's bell, known as Okikicho, is the oldest-known example of a Buddhist bonshō ("temple bell") in Japan, as well as being the oldest bell in the world still in use. It was cast in 698.[3]


A difference between this and other schools of Rinzai Zen is that the Myōshin-ji school does not necessarily follow the set of established kōan for the sake of testing one's stage of enlightenment. Rather the Myōshin-ji school allows the master to specifically tailor kōan to a student's needs and background. This method diverges from the traditionally accepted canon of kōan.


External image
妙心寺山内図 "Myōshin-ji temple map" (Japanese)[4]

The complex is quite sprawling, and features a number of winding paths flanked by high walls, so it is easy to become disoriented. As is usual in Japanese temple construction, the main buildings are located on the axis from the south gate, in the south-west quadrant of the complex. There is a main north–south path connecting the north gate and the south gate, starting parallel to the main buildings, then continuing north, flanked by veering slight, and ending at the north gate. There is also an east–west path leading east from the main buildings (starting in the west at Tenju-in, passing between the hattō and butsuden, then ending in the east, after a curve, at Tōrin-in). In addition to the direct north–south path, there is a longer path that proceeds east from the north gate, winds past Keishun-in, then terminates in the east–west just south of Daishin-in. In addition to these main routes, there are a number of side paths. These paths are all lined with sub-temples, generally with a single entrance.



The complex is located between Ichijō Street (一条通 ichijō-dōri, first street) to the north and shimotachiuri-dōri (下立売通) to the south, and can be entered from the north or south. There are two main gates: one to the south, and one to north; there are also side entrances that do not pass through a gate. At the south there is a large gate that is not open, as it is a chokushi-mon (勅使門, imperial envoy gate) (hence only opened for imperial envoys), but next to it is the main south gate (南総門 minami-sōmon). Just inside both the north and south gates are small information booths, providing maps and directions.

A number of train stations are located nearby:


There are 40-odd sub-temples (塔頭 tatchū) of the main temple (Myōshin-ji states 46, but lists 49), of which 30-odd are within the grounds of the main complex, and 10 are in the surrounding area. These include:[5]

Within the grounds
Open year-round
Seasonal openings
Limited admission (conditions apply)
Closed to public


Off the grounds
Open to the public
Limited admission
Closed to the public


Affiliated temples

Temples in the Myōshin-ji school, but not sub-temples the main complex include:


Hanazono University, the Rinzai university, was established by Myōshin-ji in 1872, and is located some distance to the southeast of the temple complex. In the southeast corner of the square plot of the temple complex proper is the associated Hanazono High School, just across a small river.


Abbots have included:

See also


  1. The Head Temples of Zen Buddhism
  2. "妙心寺庭園". Agency for Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  3. Rossing, Thomas (2000). Science of Percussion Instruments. World Scientific. p. 179. ISBN 978-981-02-4158-2.
  4. 境内のご案内 "Precincts guide" (Japanese)
  5. 妙心寺塔頭 "Myōshin-ji sub-temples" (Japanese)


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Coordinates: 35°01′23″N 135°43′13″E / 35.02306°N 135.72028°E / 35.02306; 135.72028

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