In 1967, the Somon, or main gate, which was built from beech, was relocated to the current site from the old Kayanomiya Palace in Kyoto. Since the late Edo period (1600-1867), the palace had been on the campus of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. In 1965, Hideo Kambara, the founder of Shinshoji, took over ownership of the Kayanomiya Palace. While the palace’s residence was destroyed by fire and does not exist today, the gate has survived here as it was in Kyoto, and greets visitors. The hengaku, or framed calligraphy of the temple’s name, was written by Master Taigan Kobori, the high priest of the Kenninji temple sect.
The Shodo, which literally means “Pine Hall,” stands behind the main gate and is the temple’s office building, as well as the visitor information center. The building was designed by renowned architect and architectural historian Terunobu Fujimori, who often uses natural materials and plants in his designs to create buildings that seem to grow from the earth. Pine is a symbolic tree in the Sanyodo and Setouchi regions, and the most closely associated with Zen. With the tree as the theme of his design, Fujimori created a building that is integrated with the natural surroundings. He planted a pine tree on top of the slanted roof, which is thatched with hand-bent copper plates and resembles a rocky mountain, and installed pine-tree logs with shaved surfaces as corridor pillars.
The Kuri, or communal hall and kitchen in the priests’ living quarters, is one of the shichido garan, or the seven essential halls composing the ideal Buddhist temple compound for monks to practice Buddhism. In Zen, all daily-life activities, including having meals and cleaning the space, must be regarded as an opportunity to practice Buddhism. At Gokando, visitors can experience it by eating meals in the same way as monks do in Rinzai-sect Zen monasteries. Udon noodles in hot water, a treat for monks, are served in jihatsu, a set of five bowls, with the long, thick unsui chopsticks used by monks.
Hours open: 11:00-14:30
The Shuroken is a tea ceremony room that replicates the Omotesenke school teahouses Zangetsutei, Fushinan and their garden, which were destroyed in the Great Fire of Tenmei in 1788. Famous teahouse specialist Masao Nakamura designed it based on ancient design plans. After the Great Fire the style of Omotesenke buildings and gardens changed, but Fushikisai Horinouchi had recorded the details of Zangetsutei, Fushinan and the garden before the fire. Other documentation about their overall layouts and tea ceremony rooms remain with us today. Nakamura used this surviving information to create Shuroken. Renowned tea gardener Kinsaku Nakane offered his guidance to faithfully recreate the roji, or tea garden, around the building. Visitors can enjoy tea with sweets in the tearoom.
Hours open: 10:00-16:00
Architect Masao Nakamura designed this tea pavilion, a recreation of the tearoom designed by Sen no Rikyu in his final days in his Juraku Residence in Kyoto at the end of 16th century. While no documents showing the original tearoom remain today, it is inferred that the Sen family’s third tea master, Sotan, created a one-and-a-half tatami mat teahouse that resembles Rikyu’s original tearoom. Although Sotan’s tearoom was destroyed during the days of the family’s fourth master, Koshin, who became the founder of the Omotesenke school, Nakamura created Ichiraitei by referring to the specifications of Sotan’s tearoom as recorded by Koshin.
This building was moved to its present location from Eigenji temple, the headquarters of the Rinzai sect's Eigenji school in Shiga Prefecture. In 1377, when Ikkeijun was the temple’s head, Gankuin, or Hall of Emptiness, was originally built as Koshinan, a memorial for the first head priest Shoto Kokushi (Zen master Jakushitsu Genko). In 1563, the original building was burned down by soldiers and in 1647 the 81st abbot and Zen master Nyosetsu Mongan reconstructed it as the living quarters for the abbot and a study place for the monks. After its relocation to Shinshoji’s campus, it has been used as a café, where visitors can enjoy tea, sweets and yudofu (hot tofu).
Kaisando is a memorial to the virtue of Shinshoji’s first head priest and Zen master, Ekishu Soshin. He was born in Oita in 1896, and entered the Buddhist priesthood at Shozuiji temple in Katada Town, Shiga Prefecture, at the age of 11, under the supervision of the temple’s master, Otomo Sochu. Ekishu worked hard to enlighten people while serving as the master of Shozuiji temple and Daisenin, and the administrative officer of Daitokuji temple, before becoming the seventh president of the Kenninji sect in 1954. In 1965, he was invited to be the head priest of Shinshoji temple. He passed away in 1989, at the age of 92. The building is a replica of Fudodo at Koyasan Kongobuji temple, an architectural masterpiece from the Kamakura period. Worshippers pray to its statue of Ekishu Soshin, created by Murata Toen, a famous potter who worked in Kyoto. The framed calligraphy was written by Zen master Tainen Matsuo, the former president of the Engakuji sect.
The bathhouse is one of the seven regular buildings (temple gate, lecture hall, Buddha hall, meditation hall, living quarters, lavatory, bath) of a traditional Zen Buddhist temple, and the place where Battabara Bosatsu (Bhadrapala Bodhisattva) is worshipped. In Zen, the study and practice of Buddhism underlies every daily routine. Washing off the dirt both physically and spiritually plays an important role in the daily practice.
- Hours open: 10:00-16:00
- Fee: Adults 800 yen
- High school and university students 600 yen
- Elementary and junior high school students 400 yen
- ※The fee includes a towel.
- ※Free for children 6 years old and younger.
Daitetsudo (Private only)
Shinshoji temple assumed ownership of the 250-year-old building for monks’ Zen practice at Kenchoji temple in Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture, and relocated it to today’s location. After relocation, the original thatched roof was restored. The hall is one of the few Zen halls in Japan featuring a plan called shihotan, a unique arrangement of tan spaces, where acolytes practice Zen, placed in four directions. A Zen monk uses only a half-tatami mat space to sit for Zen meditation, and a one-mat space to lie down to sleep at night. Therefore, a practitioner is allowed to use only a one-tatami mat space in the hall.