Kenninji Temple

Kenninji Temple: A Haven of Japanese Art and Design


Located near the bustling streets of Hanamikoji and Shijo in Kyoto, Kenninji Temple offers visitors a serene and tranquil retreat. As the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, the temple’s expansive grounds and two karesansui (dry landscape gardens) provide a peaceful setting away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Kyoto. Kenninji Temple is not only a place of spiritual significance but also a repository of artistic masterpieces that showcase the rich cultural heritage of japan.

Don’t Miss

1. The Golden Folding Screen of Wind and Thunder Gods
One of the most remarkable artworks at Kenninji Temple is the golden folding screen depicting the Wind and Thunder gods. This masterpiece, created by Tawaraya Sotatsu, is a replica of the original housed at the Kyoto National Museum. The screen portrays the powerful gods against a backdrop of shimmering gold leaf, creating a mesmerizing visual spectacle.

2. The Tea Jar Procession Every May
Every May, Kenninji Temple hosts a traditional tea jar procession. This event pays homage to the temple’s deep connections to the origins of tea drinking in Japan. The procession symbolizes the historical significance of tea in Japanese culture and serves as a reminder of the temple’s role in promoting the tea ceremony as an art form.

3. The Dry Landscape Garden Based on a Conceptualization of the Universe
One of the highlights of Kenninji Temple is its dry landscape garden, which is said to be a conceptualization of the universe. Inspired by the famous circle, square, and triangle ink painting by the monk Sengai, this garden offers visitors a serene and contemplative space. Take your time to explore the garden and appreciate its intricate design, which reflects the Zen philosophy of simplicity and harmony.

A Peaceful Setting Away from the Bustle of Downtown Kyoto

Although Kenninji Temple’s site dates back to the 13th century, few remnants from this period remain. The original temple buildings, like much of Kyoto, were destroyed by fire. However, one of the oldest structures that survived is the Yatate-mon, or Arrow Gate. This gate bears the scars of the Onin War, a devastating conflict that engulfed Kyoto and led to the destruction of many historical sites.

Artistic Masterpieces

Kenninji Temple is home to numerous important works of art and design, including paintings, sculptures, and a Zen garden. Apart from the golden folding screen of Wind and Thunder gods, the temple houses other masterpieces that showcase the artistic prowess of Japanese artisans. When you enter the Main Hall, don’t forget to look up at the ceiling, where a mural of twin dragons awaits your gaze. This recent addition to the temple’s artwork is a testament to the continuous evolution of Japanese artistry.

Discover the Origins of Zen and Tea Drinking

Kenninji Temple holds a significant place in the history of Zen Buddhism and tea drinking in Japan. Its founder, the monk Eisai, introduced Zen Buddhism to Japan after his journey to China in the early 1200s. Eisai’s teachings laid the foundation for the Soto sect of Zen, which had a profound influence on Japanese culture. Zen Buddhism not only emphasized meditation but also permeated various arts, including the tea ceremony.

The connection between Zen and tea drinking is evident in the tea room commissioned by the shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a powerful figure in Japanese history. This tea room, located within the temple grounds, serves as a testament to the enduring legacy of the tea ceremony. The annual tea jar procession in May further highlights the temple’s deep ties to the origins of tea-drinking in Japan.

Zen Design

Kenninji Temple’s dry landscape garden is a testament to the Zen philosophy of simplicity and harmony. Inspired by Sengai’s famous ink painting, the garden represents a conceptualization of the universe. As you explore the garden, take your time to appreciate the meticulous arrangement of rocks, gravel, and plants, which create a serene and meditative atmosphere. Spending at least an hour in the temple grounds allows you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the Zen garden and experience a moment of tranquility.


Kenninji Temple stands as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Japan. Its tranquil atmosphere, coupled with the presence of artistic masterpieces, offers visitors a unique opportunity to connect with the country’s spiritual and artistic traditions. From the golden folding screen of Wind and Thunder gods to the Zen garden that symbolizes the universe, every corner of Kenninji Temple tells a story of Japan’s past and present. A visit to this temple is not only a journey through time but also an exploration of the profound connection between art, spirituality, and everyday life in Japan.

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Address And Maps Location:

584 Komatsucho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto-fu

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