Rinzai-Obaku Zen | The Official Site of the Joint Council for Japanese Rinzai and Obaku Zen

Top > Head Temples - Myoshin-ji Temple

Head Temples

Temple Name: Myoshin-ji 妙心寺

Mountain Name: Shobozan 正法山

Address: 64 Hanazono Myoshinji-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, 616-8035 Japan
Tel: 075-461-5226; Fax: 075-464-2069


Myoshin-ji, “Temple of the Wondrous Mind,” is the headquarters of the largest of the fourteen schools of Japanese Rinzai Zen Buddhism. It was established in 1337 by the cloistered emperor Hanazono 花園 (r., 1308–1318), who converted his country residence into a temple and asked his teacher, the Zen master Shuho Myocho 宗峰妙超 (1282-1337), to suggest a suitable first abbot. Shuho recommended his disciple Kanzan Egen 關山慧玄 (1277–1360), who was then doing post-enlightenment training in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture. Kanzan was formally invited, and returned to Kyoto to take the post of abbot. The emperor, following Shuho’s death, continued his Zen practice under Kanzan, commuting to Myoshin-ji from his residence at what is now the subtemple Gyokuho-in 玉鳳院. Kanzan was renowned for the simplicity and austerity of his lifestyle.

After Kanzan’s death (said to have occurred while the master was standing by a tree, dressed in his pilgrimage clothes), Myoshin-ji went into a period of decline. For a time the name was changed to Ryu’un-ji 龍雲寺, and the temple was placed under the control of Nanzen-ji. In 1432 the fourth abbot, Nippo Soshun 日峰宗舜 (1368–1448), restored the temple buildings as well as the name Myoshin-ji. Not long thereafter Myoshin-ji was burned during the Onin War (1467–1477), but was rebuilt by Sekko Soshin 雪江宗深. (1408-1486), the sixth abbot of the temple.

Following that time Myoshin-ji has prospered. The main buildings of the temple today were built during the later Muromachi period (1333–1568), when Myoshin-ji attracted the support of many of the country’s leaders. The temple precincts were expanded in 1509 through acquisition of property from the nearby imperial temple Ninna-ji 仁和寺. In the sixteenth century Myoshin-ji instituted the four-branch system of administering its subtemples; the four branches are the Ryosen-ha 龍泉派, Tokai-ha 東海派, Reiun-ha 靈雲派, and Shotaku-ha 聖澤派. Myoshin-ji grew substantially during the Meiji era (1868–1912), a period when the present administrative system was organized and the precursors of Hanazono University and Hanazono High School were established.

There are now forty-seven sub-temples within the Myoshin-ji compound, and more than three thousand affiliated temples throughout Japan. The temple precincts are laid out in the classical Zen monastic pattern, in which, starting from the south, the Sanmon 山門 (Mountain Gate), Butsuden 佛殿 (Buddha Hall), Hatto 法堂 (Dharma Hall), and Hojo 大方丈 (Abbot’s Quarters) are aligned toward the north, with the Yokushitsu 浴室 (Bath House), Kyozo 經藏 (sutra library) to the east of this south-north axis and the Sodo 僧堂 (Monk’s Hall) to the west. Many of the buildings in Myoshin-ji are National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. The temple bell (the oldest in Japan, cast in 698) is also a National Treasure, as are many of the paintings, hanging scrolls, sliding screens, and other art treasures in the possession of Myoshin-ji and its subtemples.