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ˆê‹xŽ›  Ikkyūji Temple


Last update June 3, 2011

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ACCESS: Take the Kintetsu Kyoto Line and get off at Shin-Tanabe Station. Then take the Keihan bus to Ikkyuji-Michi (ˆê‹xŽ›“¹) stop, located at five minutes' walk from the temple. (

A Little Wabi with Touch of Sabi
Staging Verdant Spring and Vermilion Autumn, Light and Shade Harmony in Pure Serenity.

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A Cozy Refuge in a Small Town
If you are tired with famous bustle-hustle spots in Kyoto city and want to forget about your "Must-See-in-Japan" list for a while, this may be a nice retreat. It's calm and quiet, simply because a few people would visit. But even a less frequented place doesn't have to be a mediocre nowhere of small significance, and flamboyant architecture and big Buddhas are not always a fancy for everyone.

Officially named Shū-On-An, Ikkyūji Temple belongs to the Daitokuji School of the Rinzai Denomination, and enshrines Shakyamuni (Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism) Tathagata as the principal image of worship. The temple was originally built in the Shōō Era (1288 - 1292) and named Myōshōji. It was heavily damaged in a war during the Genkō Era (1331 - 1334). Later in 1456, a monk named Ikkyū restored the reduced temple premises and made them his hermitage, where he lived for 25 years until his death at 88. He renamed the temple Shū-On-An, and it is now popularly called Ikkyūji (literally; One Rest Temple) after his name. More than hundred years after his death the temple was again reconstructed by the feudal lord named Maeda Toshitsune in the Edo period (1603 - 1867).

Almost melted within the fabrics of a nondescript small town, the gate of Ikkyūji Temple hardly stands out. But once you find it and step inside, you can sense serenity and purity of the air the premises release. If it's spring, bright light verdure of young tree leaves will cleanse and moisten your eyes, and in autumn, vivid maple red will heighten and brighten your mood. Walking up the flagstone slope to the inner grounds, you may be sure it's one of real Japanese hidden wabi-sabi spots.

After purifying your hands at the lavabo or Mitarashi (literally hand washing area; metaphorically means to cleanse your body and mind to enter a sanctuary) and paying the admission at the fee collecting booth, the temple is all yours for hours' peaceful stay. You can leisurely stroll up and down among gardens, sit on the Engawa corridor to contemplate a well-combed white pebble garden for a while, or enjoy a small talk with a lady at the vending counter over a free cup of kelp tea she would serve. For those who have the guts to try some odd and fantastic taste and flavor, there is Ikkyuji Natto (the fermented soybeans, special recipe by the monk).

Pathway to the Main Hall
Up the slope and passing the Bath House, you will see a narrow path straightly penetrating a small gate, which gives you a square-framed glimpse of the main hall ahead. Feel the clean air in tranquility. But don't forget to watch your step too. On both sides of the flagstone path, there lie carpets of thick, well-cared green moss, adding refreshing and soothing atmosphere to the landscape.

Hōjō in Sophisticated Style of Humbleness
"Hōjō" refers to monk's living quarters and this one was rebuilt by the afore-mentioned lord Maeda in 1650. It can be accessed through Naka-mon (the Middle or Inner Gate), a cultural asset of Kyoto Prefecture, by descending the stone steps leading to the entrance of the Kuri (kitchen) building. In front of the building, a rare 400-year old pine tree called Shidare-Matsu (Drooping Pine) magnificently shows itself with the branches extending downward. The Kuri building was rebuilt together with Hōjō and is also listed as an Important Cultural Property of Japan. Before removing your shoes to enter Kuri, just check the Kamado cooking hearth installed at the inner left side. At the front you will see the dining room with carefully polished wooden flooring centered around a fireplace.

Hōjō is located at the extension of Kuri joined by a wooden floor. You can stand still on the floor for a moment. If it is a fine day and you are careful, you may see the darkness inside the building and brightness outside creating a harmonious contrast of light and shade. It is fascinating to peek a dazzling white garden out of uniquely-shaped frame of shades molded by the interior structures.

Spreading along the Engawa passageway of Hōjō to the south is a white pebble garden decorated with cycad, sasanqua and dwarf azalea plants. It is a typical Zen (a Buddhist denomination) garden in the Edo period. The carpet of white pebbles represents as a whole a water body and the meticulously grooved lines indicate its flows. The east garden uses multiple rocks, bushes and trees to describe a picture of sixteen Arhats (a Buddhist who has attained enlightenment) on their missionary journey. On the north you can view a Hōrai (Mt. Penglai; the legendary mountain in which hermits used to live) garden rendered in the Kare-san-sui (mountain and dry water) style. Waterfall streams originated in the mountain flowing into a sea is depicted by elaborated combination of rocks.

Meet the Monk Ikkyū
Absorbed in serenity with some of your mundane thoughts washed away, you may want to know about the monk whose name has become that of the temple. So, who is Ikkyū anyway? To many Japanese, he is a TV anime character in his teens and well known for witty spirit, portrayed based on the same monk. Born in Kyoto as an offspring of Emperor Gokomatsu, he was a Zen master, not an usual, but odd and eccentric one. Compared with all the other monks who shaved their head, he stopped shaving and let the hair and beard grow rampantly. He enjoyed taking alcohol and meat, even having physical relationships with women--all deemed as acts of a precept-breaker. But some theory says his eccentric deeds were meant to awaken people from binds of superficial formality and traditions and guide them to essences of Buddhist teachings.

There are three ways to meet him: three statues placed within the temple premises. The first and most important one (an important cultural property) is located at the Buddha room of Hōjō. Carved out of wood, the statue gives you a hint that the monk was indeed strange. It holds Ikkyū's real hair and beard, actually harvested from his own head and face in his life and planted by himself on the statue. The other statues can be found on the ground near the main hall. One is old and the other is new, portraying the monk in an old and younger age respectively.

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