Tenryu-ji Temple

Kyoto temple, Tenryu-ji Temple, Ashikaga Takauji, Emperor Go-Daigo, cherry blossom season,  Arashiyama, Kyoto, zen temples, zen Buddhism, Buddhist temple, Japanese temple, Japanese Imperial history, Jim Caldwell Redondo Beach, Five Great Zen Temples, UNESCO W

Kyoto’s Tenryu-ji Temple with reflection in pool
Photography by Jim Caldwell

Tenryu-ji, more formally known as Tenryū Shiseizen-ji, is a Zen temple located on a slope of the Arashiyama district of Kyoto.  The importance of Teyryu-ji’s in Kyoto’s history and culture cannot be understated.  It is ranked first among the city’s “Five Great Zen Temples”.  Also called “heavenly dragon temple”, the temple is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list and Tenryu-ji is the head temple of the Tenryu-ji branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism.  Tenryu-ji’s historical significance also completely intertwined with the battle for imperial control and direction of Kyoto and Japan.

Its venerated history started at its roots with the great landowner and shogun Ashikaga Takauji and Ashikaga family as a dedication to the Emperor Go-Daigo, the Gautama Buddha, and its first chief priest Musō Soskice.  Ashikaga Takauji became central figure in the turmoil for control over the Kyoto’s emperorship during the mid 1300s.  At first he supported Go-Daigo and the fight to wrest control from the Hojo family.  Go-Daigo attempted to model his control as an imperial dictatorship, one in which he would become the most powerful ruler in the East.

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Kyoto temple, Tenryu-ji Temple, Ashikaga Takauji, Emperor Go-Daigo, cherry blossom season,  Arashiyama, Kyoto, zen temples, zen Buddhism, Buddhist temple, Japanese temple, Japanese Imperial history, Jim Caldwell Redondo Beach, Five Great Zen Temples, UNESCO W

Kyoto’s Tenryu-ji Temple in fall colors
Photography by Jim Caldwell Redondo Beach

When Ashikaga went on an unsanctioned trip to the eastern part of Japan to quell the Nakasendai Rebellion, he grew increasingly dissatisfied with Go-Daigo.  At this point, Go-Daigo turned on Ashikaga, ordering Nitta Yoshisada to go to battle against and destroy Ashikaga.  While Ashikaga defeated Nitta at the battle of Battle of Takenoshita, Ashikaga would, in turn, be defeated by Kusunoki Masashige and Kitabatake Akiie.  After regrouping over the next year, Ashikaga would take up arms against Go-Daigo again, forcing Go-Daigo to flee.  Ashikaga enthroned the Jimyōin-tō emperor, Kōmyō, and officially began his shogunate with the enactment of the Kenmu Law Code.

In order to fund the development of the Tenryu-ji temple, Ashikaga assigned all the profit generated by the trading vessel Tenryujisen be used for its construction.  The prosperity of the Tenryujisen and the temple became intertwined, leading to the development of Kyoto’s venerated temples.  Numerous battles and eight fires over the centuries eventually destroyed the temple’s buildings.  The current buildings would eventually be rebuilt during the Meiji Period, the late 1800s to early 1900s.

When visiting the Tenryu-ji temple, plan on spending some time in Arashiyama.  While Kyoto’s Arashiyama district may be considered touristy there are a number of great landmarks to see, including the Togetsukyo Bridge, the Sagano Bamboo Grove, the Jojakkoji Temple, final home of Empress Dowager Kenrei-mon-in.

Entrance Fee: Adults and High School Students 600 yen
Junior High School Students 350 yen
Elementary School Students 100 yen

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Jim Caldwell
Redondo Beach

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