Daitokuji, Kyoto

Daitokuji is the head temple of the Daitokuji school of Rinzai, a sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Located in the temple city of Kyoto, Daitokuji is considered one of the best places to experience Zen in Japan.


History of Daitokuji

Daitokuji was established in 1319 by Shohomyocho, also known as Daitokokushi. After its construction in the 14th century, the temple was frequented by Emperor Go-Daigo of Japan and its mountain was counted as one of the five sacred moutains. But after the Ashikaga shogunate was established, it was removed from the list and the shogunate chose to ignore it in favor of temples that had not openly opposed them.

The monks of Daitokuji accordingly decided to stay away from meddling in politics and to focus on Zen practices. But during the Onin War, some of its temples were burned down. The temple was subsequently rebuilt by rich merchants of Sakai, Osaka. After the Ashikaga shogunate fell, many daimyo donated and supported Daitokuji. Many of Daitokuji's temples were constructed before and in the early Edo period. The first of the three gates was constructed in 1526.

Ikkyu and Sen no Rikyu are two of many famous people who had been influenced by Daitokuji. Legend has it that Sen no Rikyu completed two of Daitokuji's three gates in 1589 and this was his undoing. He placed a statue of himself on top of the second gate, and Hideyoshi Toyotomi realized that he and everyone else who passed through the gate to enter would be looked down on by the statue. According to the legend, he ordered that the offending statue be removed and that Sen no Rikyu commit seppuku. While history does record that Sen no Rikyu commited seppuku, the reason is not known for certain.

What to See

The mountain in which the Daitokuji complex was built is known as Ryuhozan (Dragon Treasure Mountain). Daitokuji is surrounded by 24 subtemples, which together form a kind of temple village. The main temple and some of the subtemples are open to the public and display Zen architecture and design, including gardens and tea ceremony rooms. There are two high-quality vegetarian restaurants on the grounds, and some of the temples offer Zen meditation lessons.

Among the most interesting subtemples are Kotoin, which is famous for its maple trees (particularly spectacular when the leaves turn color, usually in mid November) and moss garden; and Daisenin, whose small rock garden is considered one of the best. Ryogenin features a miniature Zen garden that is reportedly the smallest in Japan, and Zuihoin is noted for its natural simplicity.

Getting There

From Kyoto Station, Daitokuji is best accessed by the Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station, from where the temple complex is a 5 minute bus ride or 15 minute walk.

Quick Facts on Daitokuji

Site Information
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:35.043500° N, 135.746067° E
Address:Kyoto, Japan
Lodging:View hotels near Daitokuji
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

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© Chris Gladis
© Roberto Chinnici

Map of Daitokuji, Kyoto

Below is a location map and aerial view of Daitokuji. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.