Tenryu-ji, located in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto, is the head temple of the Tenryu-ji school of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. It’s a 15-minute walk from JR Sagano Line Arashiyama Station, or a 10-minute walk from Hankyu Line Arashiyama Station.
The founder of the temple is Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358), the first shogun of the Ashikaga Shogunate. As a Zen temple deeply related to the Ashikaga shogun family, this temple was ranked top among Kyoto Gozan, or the five great Zen temples of Kyoto. It has an excellent garden and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.”
The temple is located in the center of the Arashiyama area crowded with tourists. It has lush green precincts and can enjoy shakkei (borrowed scenery) of surrounding hills like Kameyama. In fall leaves turn red beautifully and are lighted up at night. If you go a little south, the renowned Togetsukyo Bridge is spanning the Oi River.
Where Tenryu-ji now stands used to be the grounds of Danrin-ji, a temple established in the mid-ninth century by Tachibana no Kachiko, also known as Empress Danrin, the chief consort of Emperor Saga. Danrin-ji was abandoned in the following centuries, and in the mid-thirteenth century, Emperor Gosaga and his successor Emperor Kameyama created a villa here.
Tenryu-ji was established on such a land in 1339 by Ashikaga Takauji to hold memorial services for Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339). Takauji was once the emperor’s subordinate but rebelled, forcing the emperor to flee to present-day Yoshino in Nara Prefecture.
Muso Soseki, a highly respected Zen master, took charge of the temple. When building Tenryu-ji, Takauji and former emperor Kogen donated land for the construction cost, but that wasn’t enough. Takauji, taking advice from Soseki, resumed trade with the Yuan dynasty of China to afford the cost.
The temple complex of Tenryu-ji was thus completed in 1344. Tenryu-ji was destroyed by fire eight times since then but was reconstructed every time.
The eighth time was in 1864, and most of present buildings were reconstructed after the Meiji Restoration, except for sub-temples Shogen-ji, Jisai-in, and Kogen-ji. These three subsidiary temples preserves temple complexes built in the Edo period.
Where to eat around Tenryu-ji
Restaurant Arashiyama is a popular eating place close to Tenryuji, from the window of which you can see the wonderful scenery of Arashiyama including the Togetsukyo Bridge and the mountains beyond.
There are many tofu dishes and obanzai (a Kyoto domestic boiled cuisine) using seasonal foods on the menu, along with a buffet of 60 kinds of dishes. For customers coming as a group, the restaurant offers special dishes using yudofu, steaks, or Kyoto pork. The chef even does live cooking performance sometimes.
There are a souvenir shop and a footbath in the restaurant, too. On holidays, this site will be very crowded.
Where to stay around Tenryu-ji
Suiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Kyoto
Suiran, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Kyoto, formerly Suitei, reopened in 2015 as the first Luxury Collection Hotel in Japan, the top hotel brand Starwood Hotels & Resorts operates.
It is one of the top luxury hotel brands in the world with some distinctive features. Here at this hotel, if you make a reservation, you can enjoy nature-inspired open-air onsen, one in a bathtub made with bamboo from Arashiyama and another in a tub made of stone.
This facility is situated in the middle of the Arashiyama district and thus suitable for touring the area including Tenryu-ji. It also offers a transportation service from Kyoto Station by taxi.
Tenryu-ji is a prominent Zen temple with a long history. It’s a large temple but was much larger in the past and even the Togetsukyo Bridge was part of it.
Its precincts are beautifully maintained, and in fall you can enjoy red and yellow foliage illuminated at night. There are many attractions in the Arashiyama area other than Tenryu-ji, also.