Renge-ji Temple (Sakyo-ku Ward, Kyoto City) (蓮華寺 (京都市左京区))

Renge-ji Temple is a Tendai Sect Buddhist temple located in Sakyo-ku Ward, Kyoto City. Its sango (literally, "mountain name"), which is the title prefixed to the name of a Buddhist temple is Kimyozan (Mt. Kimyo). It is known for the chisen kanshoshiki teien garden (literally, pond appreciation style garden) constructed in early modern period.

Summary

Renge-ji Temple is situated on the bank of the Takano-gawa River (Kyoto City), one of the sources of the Kamo-gawa River (the Yodo-gawa River system), beside Saba Kaido (Mackerel Road, now National Highway Route 367) which leads into Kyoto City. However, it was originally a Ji Sect temple named Sairaiin Temple located at Shichijo Shiokoji (the area around the present-day Kyoto Station) that was destroyed by fire during the Onin War and rebuilt in 1662 during the early Edo period by the Kaga clan retainer Chikayoshi IMAEDA. It is said that the Enryaku-ji Temple monk Jitsuzobo Jisshun was invited to serve as kaisan (first head priest) following this reconstruction. Because a Tendai Sect monk was invited to serve as head priest and the fact that the temple precinct was previously the site of a temple named Renge-ji Temple, the newly rebuilt temple was given this name and devoted to the Tendai Sect. Its inclusion in the Tendai Sect was finalized by Enryaku-ji Temple on Mt. Hiei becoming the Honzan (head temple) and it becoming a branch temple of Jitsuzobo of Enryaku-ji Temple.

Kamitakano was where Chikayoshi's grandfather Shigenao had earlier built a small thatched hut. Shigenao was a samurai from Mino Province who was invited to the Maeda clan after entering the service of Hidetsugu TOYOTOMI. He entered the Buddhist priesthood in his last years, took the name Soji Kyoshi and secluded himself in a small thatched hut where he engaged in the cultured pursuits of writing poetry, painting and the tea ceremony. He believed Buddhism so much and wished to build a temple in Kamitakano, however, passed away in 1627 before his wish came true. It is thought that Chikayoshi built Renge-ji Temple at the request of his grandfather in order to pray for his soul in the afterlife.

The journal of Doyu KUROKAWA's visit Renge-ji Temple in 1681 (included in "Tohoku Rekiran no Ki" (Records of looking around Tohoku region)) says that the Renge-ji's construction was carried out with the cooperation between the poet and calligrapher Jozan ISHIKAWA who built the Shisen-do hall, the scholar of Neo-Confucianism Junan KINOSHITA, the Kano School artist Tanyu KANO, Obaku Sect founder Ingen Ryuki Zenshi, and the 2nd chief priest Mokuan Seito Zenshi; and the 1786 publication "Shui Miyako Meisho Zue" (Images of Famous Places in Kyoto) includes an image of the temple precinct. It was the cooperation of these men of culture that resulted in Renge-ji Temple possessing its Obaku Sect style buildings and early Edo period archetypal pond appreciation style garden.

Precinct

Sanmon Gate

The sanmon gate dating from the time of the temple's founding remains standing today. Upon entering the sanmon gate, the stone-paved path leading to the kuri (monks' living quarters) comes into view.

Belfry

A Zen style building with a hinoki cypress bark covered pavilion roof and lattice sides. The hanging bell bears an inscription reading '2nd Obaku Sect High Priest Mokuan Tozan' and has the same shape of the bell at Manpuku-ji Temple.

Stone Buddha Statues

Upon entering the sanmon gate, what is said to be approximately 300 stone Buddha statues are standing to the left. These were excavated during the construction of the Kyoto City Streetcar Kawaramachi Line. The area around Kawaramachi-dori Street was formerly the bank of the Kamo-gawa River, and served as a place in which the bodies of those who died in conflicts and natural disasters as well as the executed were abandoned. The stone Buddha statues created to pray for the dead were buried by the flooding of the Kamo-gawa River but unearthed during construction work and are used to conduct memorial ceremonies. These statues all depict Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana) which surround a central statue of Jizo Bosatsu (Jizo Bodhisattva).

Storehouse

Stands to the right of the path (not open to the public). Retains signs of its use as a mixed terakoya (Edo period temple elementary school) until 1872.

Garden

At the end of the path stands the shoin (drawing room) which is joined to the kuri (monks' living quarters). From the visitor reception desk in the kuri, visitors first pass through a small room housing Amida triad statues before entering the shoin. This room is used for regular religious rites.

Chisen Kanshoshiki Teien Garden

The eastern side of the shoin is open, allowing a view of the garden. This garden is thought to have been restored during 1661 and 1673, and this is supported by the records of Jitsuzobo as well as the style of the garden but the garden's designer is unknown. It has been proposed that the garden was created by Jozan ISHIKAWA or Enshu KOBORI but they had both already passed away before the period in which the garden has been dated. Although the style of the garden makes it highly unlikely that it was designed by Jozan ISHIKAWA. There is a possibility that the garden was created by somebody related to Enshu KOBORI as he had connections to the Kaga clan cultural policy and his disciples did create gardens for the clan, but there are differences in the style of the garden.

The garden maintains Jodo (Pure Land) Sect style with the opposite shore of the pond representing the Pure Land Paradise. Jodo Sect gardens such as this are referred to as chisen kaiyushiki teien (lit. pond stroll style gardens) as they were designed to allow people to walk around the pond but the small garden at Renge-ji Temple is a chisen kanshoshiki teien designed to be appreciated from the shoin.

Garden Layout

An abundantly flowing spring is located within the garden's inner area and this creates the pond around which the garden is centered. The pond has been created in the shape of the Japanese character for 'water' and is called 'suijikei' (lit. Water Character Shape). In the front right hand side of the pond is a rock named funa-ishi (lit. boat rock). Gardens in which funaishi are placed are rare but the funaishi at Renge-ji Temple is especially so as it is shaped like an incoming ship. The majority of the gardens with funa-ishi are shaped like outgoing ships. An outgoing ship heads toward the paradise (Pure Land) on the opposite shore to causes one to contemplate Nirvana. On the other hand, an incoming ship represents the idea of heading for this world from Nirvana.

A kame-shima (turtle island) and tsuru-ishi (crane stone) stand in the front left of the pond. A stone lantern called Tojinbo Marugata (lit. Round Shape of a Chinese Hat) stands atop the kame-shima island which is composed of large rocks and connected to the shore via a stone bridge. To the side of this is a standing tsuru-ishi stone in the shape of a crane.

To the rear left of the kame-shima is a stone arrangement in the shape of Mt. Penglai (China). On this Mt. Penglai, stands a stone monument in which is engraved a biography of Shigenao IMAEDA, a composition by Junan KINOSHITA and writing by Jozan in characters used on seals. The base of the stone monument is a stone arrangement representing a turtle and qilin (Chinese unicorn). According to ancient Chinese thinking, the turtle dominated the land and the qilin dominated the sky, with a combination of the two representing the entire universe. It is therefore interpreted that the works surrounding the stone monument serve to pray for its eternal existence. To the rear right of the Mt. Penglai stone arrangement is a round lantern of the same shape but half the size of that on the kame-shima island that gives the impression of depth.

Main Hall

The main hall stands to the right of the shoin. Two stone lanterns known as rengejigata toro (lit. Renge-ji Temple shape lanterns) stand in a location at the front of the main hall and at the rear as seen from the shoin. Rengeji toro lanterns are defined as 'A unique shape characterized by a hexagonal base with lotus petals and a column that is circular with an expanded center section. The platform is a hexagon with lotus petals and adorned with an arabesque pattern. The fire box is also hexagonal with square holes in the front and rear, and the hood is a long steep slope like a dome roof with nine sections on which an orb is mounted' and are said to have been popular with tea ceremony masters.

Renge-ji Temple belongs to the Tendai Sect but Obaku Sect monks were also involved in its construction and the main hall is of a completely Obaku Sect style. A temple name plate written by Jozan ISHIKAWA hangs at the entrance to the main hall. On shumidan (An altar made of fine timber, generally with paneling, hame) at the center of the hall is the principal image Shaka Nyorai statue housed within a raden zushi (a miniature temple with mother-of-pearl inlay work). This early Ming dynasty Chinese raden zushi predates the temple and is assumed to have been imported by the Kaga clan. To the left of the principal image is a statue of Amida Nyorai with the hands forming jobon gesho mudra (hand gesture of Upper grade: lower birth). The statue itself dates from the Kamakura period but the pedestal and halo were created during the Edo period. To the right of the principal image is another raden zushi which houses a statue of Fudo Myoo that is hidden from the public.

The ceiling was once decorated with a painting of a dragon believed to have been painted by Tanyu KANO but this was lost during the Meiji period before being restored by the Buddhist artist Kocho NISHIMURA in 1978.

Cultural Properties

Higashi shiokoji Renge-ji monjo (documents of Renge-ji Temple of Higashi Shiokoji)

Portrait of Shigenao IMAEDA (painted by Tanyu KANO)

Teien koezu (old sketch map of the garden) (painted by Tanyu KANO)

The temple once possess 2 Important Cultural Property designated color on paper Sanno Reigenki (Miracles of Sanno-jinja Shrine, created during the Muromachi period, donated by Chikayoshi IMAEDA) but these came to be owned by the Kuboso Memorial Museum of Arts, Izumi after the Second World War.

Annual Events

January 1 to 3: Otoshi Hajime (New Year's festival)

March 23: Shunki Higan-e (Buddhist services performed on the spring equinox)

August 13 to 16: Urabon-e (Feast of Lanterns)

August 24: Segaki (service for the benefit of suffering spirits)

September 22: Shuki Higan-e (Buddhist services performed on the autumn equinox)

November 24: Ojuya (an important Buddhist rite in the Pure Land sect) and Tendai Daishi-e (a Buddhist memorial ceremony for Tendai-daishi)

Access

From Kyoto Station: Take Kyoto Bus number 17 or 18 (only runs on Saturdays and holidays) for 46 minutes

From Kyoto City Subway Karasuma Line Kokusai Kaikan Station: Take Kyoto Bus number 19 for 5 minutes

In both cases, alight at 'Kanbashi' bus stop and walk

From Eizan Electric Railway Eizan Main Line Miyake Hachiman Station: Walk for 10 minutes