Temple Name: Tenryu-ji 天龍寺
Mountain Name: Reikizan 靈龜山
Address: 68 Saga Tenryuji Susukinobaba-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi 616-8385
Tenryu-ji, located in the Sagano district in the western outskirts of Kyoto, is the head temple of the Tenryu-ji branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. It was established in 1339 by the shogun Ashikaga Takauji 足利尊氏 (1305–58) in memory of Emperor Go-Daigo 後醍醐 (1288–1339), who died in the mountains of Yoshino following the civil war that brought the Ashikaga family to power. The eminent Zen master Muso Soseki 夢窓疎石 (1275–1351) was appointed the temple’s founding abbot.
In order to finance the temple’s construction, Takauji’s younger brother Tadayoshi 直義 (1306–1352) and Muso Soseki commissioned a vessel, known as the “Tenryu-ji Ship,” on a trade mission to Yuan-dynasty China. In 1342 the new temple was designated number two of the Kyoto Five Mountain monasteries. By 1345 the major buildings of the temple were complete, and the temple was opened in a great ceremony combined with a memorial service for Emperor Go-Daigo. A year later Soseki constructed a Sodo (Monk’s Hall) capable of accommodating a thousand monks.
In the centuries since its founding Tenryu-ji has been ravaged by fires a total of eight times, first in 1358 and again in 1367; on both occasions the Zen master Shun’oku Myoha 春屋明葩 (1311–1388), Muso Soseki’s disciple, helped restore the temple. Fires occurred again in 1373, 1380, 1447, and 1468 (when it was torched during the Onin Wars). Some reconstruction occurred, but it was not until after 1585, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi 豐臣秀吉 (1536-1598) lent his support to the temple, that full scale restorative works could begin. Further fires occurred in 1815 and 1864 (when Tenryu-ji was again torched during disturbances surrounding the end of the Tokugawa shogunate). Most of the present buildings thus date only to the Meiji period (1868–1912). However, the landscape garden behind the Hojo (Main Hall) is one of the oldest in Japan, retaining the same form as when it was designed by Muso Soseki in the fourteenth century. Known as the Sogenchi 曹源池 Garden, it was the first Special Historical Scenic Area named by the Japanese government, and in 1994 it was designated by the United Nations as a World Cultural Heritage site.