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Head Temples

Temple Name: Tofuku-ji 東福寺

Mountain Name: Enichizan 慧日山

Address: 15 Honmachi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, 605-0981 Japan
Tel: 075-561-0087; Fax:075-533-0621



Tofuku-ji is the head temple of the Tofukuji branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism and number four of the Five Mountains of Rinzai Zen in Kyoto. Despite its relatively low rank among the Five Mountains, it has throughout its history been one of the largest and most important of the Kyoto Zen temples. It was established in 1236 by the chancellor Kujo Michiie 九条道家 (1192–1252), who desired to build in Kyoto a great Zen temple comparable in grandeur to the great temples of Todai-ji 東大寺 and Kofuku-ji 興福寺 in Nara. The temple name,Tofuku-ji, was taken from the “To” of Todai-ji and the “Fuku” of Kofuku-ji. Construction continued from 1236 to 1255. The original Buddha images of Tofuku-ji were among the largest in Japan: Tofuku-ji’s central image, of Shakyamuni, was 15 meters in height; the two side images of the bodhisattvas Avalokitesvara and Maitreya were 7.5 meters in height.

In 1243 Michiie designated as founding priest Enni Ben’en 圓爾辯圓 (1201–1280), a deeply learned monk with a background in Confucianism, Abhidharma thought, and the exoteric and esoteric Tendai teachings, and with seven years (1235–41) of intense Zen practice in China under the eminent master Wuzhun Shifan 無準師範 (J., Bujun Shipan; 1177–1249). In 1246 Enni took up residence in the precincts of the partially completed temple. At the time of Tofuku-ji’s founding, Zen was combined with Shingon and Tendai practices, which Enni was well prepared to lead. Through Enni’s efforts the Zen school, still relatively new to Japan at the time, won increasing acceptance and respect in the capital.

The temple suffered disastrous fires in 1319, 1334, and 1336, but was rebuilt on its original scale a little over twenty years after the 1336 conflagration. Subsequently Tofuku-ji enjoyed the patronage of important political figures like Ashikaga Yoshimochi 足利義持 (1386–1428), Toyotomi Hideyoshi 豐臣秀吉 (1536-1598), and Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康 (1543-1616), enabling it to maintain its position as the largest Zen temple in Kyoto. In 1881, however, it suffered another disastrous fire. Reconstruction work continued for decades, and was only completed in 1934, restoring Tofuku-ji to its original form. Its wooden temple architecture is regarded as the finest in existence today.


The twenty-two-meter high Sanmon (Mountain Gate), built in 1425, is the oldest and largest Zen sanmon in Japan. One its second floor are images of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Sixteen Arhats. It is designated as a National Treasure. From 1969 to 1978 it was completely restored at a cost of 2.5 million dollars. The Sodo (Monk’s Hall, built in 1347), Yokushitsu (Bath House, 1459), and Tosu (Toilet; fourteenth century), Shoro 鐘楼 (Bell Tower; fifteenth century), Niomon 仁王門 (Two Guardian Kings Gate; 1597), and many more buildings, all built in the classical style, are designated as Important Cultural Properties. Tofuku-ji is also noted for its many excellent landscape gardens, and for the beauty of its precincts during the autumn color season.