Kenninji Temple – Kyoto’s Oldest Zen Temple

It is said that Zen originated in China and was brought to Japan in the 13th century by the Chinese ascetic priest Eisai. Zen is notably based on the practice of sitting meditation (zazen in Japanese) that leads to Buddha’s enlightenment. Zen’s devotees seek to live in the present moment and experience reality, without hope or fear. Incidentally, Eisai was also responsible for bringing the culture and practices concerning green tea to Japan.

Kenninji is a Zen temple located just south of Kyoto’s famous Gion geisha district, was founded by the priest Eisai and was built in order to further the teaching and development of the Zen sect. The temple serves as one of the head temples of the Rinzai Sect of Japanese Buddhism and is ranked third among the five great Zen temples of Kyoto and considered to be the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto.

When visiting Kenninji, the atmosphere of the buildings and grounds has an immediate effect on all your senses.

All the buildings found on the grounds of Kenninji are lacking in any sort of ostentatious displays; nothing flashy or gaudy whatsoever. The effect is meant to be felt, an impressive simplicity meant to refresh visitors. Kenninji consists of several large halls and gates with about two dozen smaller buildings arranged around them.

Most of the grounds are open to the public; however, visitors must pay an entrance fee to enter the main buildings at the complex’ center. Once inside the paid grounds, visitors can explore the interiors of the main buildings and enjoy a variety of gravel and moss gardens.

Visitors can also admire images of dragons painted on the interior sliding doors and a gilded folding screen adorned with one of the most famous images of the wind and thunder gods. Another visually striking artwork at the temple is the twin dragons painted on the ceiling of the adjoining Dharma Hall. Just figuring out how to get from one hall to the other is a kind of genius test and those who successfully navigate the complex gate system must surely be on the road to enlightenment.

In addition, photography is allowed in all areas in Kenninji Temple, so it is a great place to make wonderful memories of your travels in Kyoto!

Lastly, if you want to visit Kenninji Temple – this temple is located at the southern end of the Hanamikoji Street in Gion. The closest train stations are Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Line and Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line, about ten minutes on foot from the temple.

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