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Head Temples

Temple Name: Shokoku-ji 相国寺

Mountain Name: Mannenzan 万年山

Address: 701 Shokokuji Monzen-cho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, 602-0898 Japan
Tel: 075-231-0301; Fax: 075-212-3591



Shokoku-ji, number two of the Kyoto Five Mountain Zen temples, was founded in 1382 upon imperial request by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu 足利義満 (1358–1408), the third Muromachi shogun. The construction, which was regarded as a national project, was completed in 1392. The Zen master Shun’oku Myoha 春屋妙葩 (1311–1388) was originally designated founding abbot, but Myoha insisted that the honor be posthumously accorded to his own teacher, Muso Soseki 夢窓疎石 (1275–1351). The temple was placed at the top of the Five Mountains system, and served as a center of the Muso lineage of Zen. It suffered destruction by fire on several occasions, first in 1394, soon after its construction (after which Yoshimitsu helped finance its restoration), and thereafter on several further occasions, most notably in 1425 and during the Onin Wars (1467–77), but it managed to maintain its active role in the Zen culture of the Muromachi period. 


After the Muromachi period it won the support of government leaders such as Toyotomi Hideyoshi 豊臣秀吉 (1536-1598), his son Toyotomi Hideyori 豊臣秀頼 (1593–1615), and Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康 (1543-1616), all of whom helped finance the temple’s reconstruction. The Hatto (Dharma Hall) was reconstructed in 1605 with Hideyori’s aid, and in 1609 Ieyasu donated the Sanmon (Mountain Gate). Emperor Go-Mizunoo 後水尾 (r. 1611–1629) donated an imperial palace building to serve as the Kaisando 開山堂 (Founder’s Hall). Other buildings were reconstructed as well, but the temple was again destroyed during the conflagration of 1788. In 1807 the imperial family donated another palace building to serve as the new Kaisando, and the Hojo (Abbot’s Quarters) and Kuri (Monk’s Living Quarters) were completed, restoring Shokoku-ji to much of its former splendor. At present it serves as the head temple of the Shokoku-ji branch of Rinzai Zen, with over ninety affiliated temples, including the famous Golden Pavilion and the Silver Pavilion temples in Kyoto. The Hatto, designated as an Important Cultural Property, is presently the oldest hatto building in Japan. The central image is of Shakamuni Buddha made by the noted Buddhist sculptor Unkei 運慶 (1148?–1224), and there is a dragon painting on the ceiling done by Kano Mitsunobu 狩野光信 (1565–1608). The Kaisando houses a famous image of Muso Soseki.