BLOGKyoto travel tips2019.04.24

Meet the KANNON at World Heritage "NINNA-JI"

ByKanna Ishihara

This "Kyoto travel journal" written by a local journalist will help you to make the most of your trip to Kyoto. This time, the journal tells you about the visit to Ninnaji in Kyoto to see the precious statue of Kannon (Goddess of Mercy), in advance of the special exhibition during the Spring and Autumn in 2019 for the completion of major repairs of the Kannon-do (hall for the Kannno statue)

Since ancient times, the "Kannon-do" has been closed to the public. It has been repaired over the last 6 years, and it will be specially opened for a limited time.

The "Kannon-do Important Cultural Property)" was originally built around 928, roughly 40 years after the completion of Ninnaji Temple. The Kannon-do was often burnt down and the current hall was rebuilt around 1640 (early Edo period). The major repair (Heisei Repair) for the Kannon-do has been taken place since 2012, and now, the beautiful hall is restored. We wish to celebrate the completion with many people and hope it brings many people in contact with the Buddha. Such a thought led to the Kannon-do, which has been kept closed to the public as a place of training for monks, to be specially opened for public for a limited time. You can see a statue of Kannon in the Kannon-do, that has rarely been seen by the public people for over 370 years.

After being swayed in a nostalgic tram commonly known as "Raden" of the Keifuku Railway, we arrived at "Omuro Ninna-ji Station" the nearest stop to the World Heritage Site Ninnaji Temple.


"Omuro Ninna-ji Station" the nearest stop to the World Heritage Site Ninnaji Temple.


A tasteful station building overlooking the gate of Ninnaji Temple

The tram ride that runs between temples and houses gives you a sense of nostalgia, which is a unique experience in travelling Kyoto.

If you look back the station after passing through the ticket gate, you can see the signboard which has an old station name "Omuro Eki" written from right to left with an old Kanji form, and it might be a good photo spot. The magnificent gate right opposite station is "Niomon (Important Cultural Property)," of the Ninnaji temple. Enjoy the view of the gate and purify your heart while walking toward to the temple, then go through the gate.


Take a walk through the precinct to the Kannon-do.


Irimoya-made style (building with a gabled, hipped roof) beautiful Kannon-do.

Walk from the Niomon gate to the Kannon-do through the "Joshin (purifying our hearts) Approach" and pass through the vermilion colored "Chumon gate (Important Cultural Property)" When you turn to the left (west side) while looking at the cherry trees which are famous for blooming late April, you will find a tall hall with an impressive wooden door. This is our purpose of visit to Ninnaji, "Kannon-do." It is characterized by the exquisite balance arrangement with the axis between Nioumon and Kondo, and five-storied pagoda (Important Cultural Property) on the east side.

Pray quietly in a mystic space where you cannot usually enter


33 Buddha statues will greet you there.

The Kannon-do was originally built more than 370 years ago and burnt down many times. The current hall was rebuilt in early Edo-era. Although many of the other halls that were built during the same period have purely traditional Japanese style, the Zen style (an architectural style derived from Chinese Song Dynasty architecture and brought into Japan with Zen sect of Buddhism during the Kamakura era) was used on some part of Kannon-do with traditional Japanese style. This mixed style is one of the highlights of this Kannon-do building.
When I stepped into the Kannon-do, I could see the "Honzon (Main Deity): Senju Kannon (Thousand armed Kannon)" at the centre of shumidan (the elevated alter to place the Honzon) right in front of me, "Fudo Myo'o statue" and "Gozanze Myo'o statue" on the both sides of the Senju Kannon, "Fujin and Raijin statues" front both ends. And also there are "Standing Nijuhachibushu Statues (the twenty-eight attendants)" that are the followers of Senju Kannon. In particular, the overwhelming presence of Senju Kannon shining in the middle... everyone will be fascinated by its gorgeous yet calm face.


The gentle face standing Senju Kannon statue

The Kannon-do is a mystical space that has almost never been opened to the public and quietly sitting in the center of popular temple Ninnji. The Kannon-do is still used today for important religious rites receiving Dhamma (which has only been transmitted to Ninnaji) from the priest in charge of a temple and also for young Buddhist monk's day to day hard training. Therefore, the Kannon Hall has an appropriate style for those important practices and became "most precious hall" that is rarely seen by the common people.


It is worth observing the expression and costumes of each Buddha
(※ We are taking a picture with special permission)


Joining palms together and pray quietly

There are 33 Buddha statues enshrined in the hall. "The view of the main deity, the almighty God Senju-Kannon with its many followers who have turned to good God by the Buddha's teaching is solemn and very impressive. It will be a very valuable opportunity to the public as they hadn't had a chance to get close to the Kannon like this before." Mr. Hayashi Tsuji, a monk of Ninnaji said. Among other Kannon, the Senju-Kannon can be said a specialist to help people. Senju-Kannon will reach out to you with 'thousands" of arms. 'Kannon' means 'to see the world'. This Senju-Kannon has 42 arms and 11 faces include the front arms that are joining palms. The Kannon is surveying the world in all directions and listening for the sounds of suffering.


Dynamic standing statues "Fujin (Wind God) and Raijin (Thunder God) "


Don't miss the expressions of 3 faces of King Asura

The "Standing Fujin / Raijin statue" looks like if it's going to start moving at any moment. They are located both ends of front side of the Senju-Kannon. Once upon a time, in an agricultural society, people believed that wind brings blessed rain and "Fujin" is the God of wind. Also, the "Raijin" was revered for the idea of the sound of thunder is a sign that Kami (God) is pleased and promise the good rice harvest, you will have plenty of food for 1 year. These dynamic statues are must-see.
The expression, poses, and costumes of "the twenty-eight attendants" followers of Senju-Kannon are all different and include a Buddha looks like a warlord or mountain hermit. Surely, you will be tempted to keep watching. "The colorful standing statue 'Ashra King' which has 3 heads with 3 faces and 6 arms is originally known as a god who loves combat. You don't want to miss it"

For the first time ever, encounter with the precious Kannon who protect Kannon-do secretly.


The wall paintings which are surrounding the Sneju-Kannon


Interview with one of Ninna-Ji monks Hayashi

here are hyper-colored wall paintings around the Senju Kannon and many gods. It is not only on the panel behind these statues, but also on all walls and pillars. This "Kannon-do sho-heki-ga (wall paintings)" has been kept close to the public without being published for more than 370 years. It was painted by an Ebusshi (an artist who drew Buddhist paintings and colors Buddhist statues) Tokuou Kimura, who was active in Kyoto around 1640 when the Kannon-do was rebuilt. This wall painting is valuable because the color is still fresh even though more than 370 years have already passed since it was painted. Various Kannon figures and scenes of saving people are drawn based on Kannon Sutra and you can enjoy the works in a dim light.


Sanjyu-San Kannon and Sanjyu-San Ougenshin, etc....


The painting of Cows and Horses which have a human face, the animal realm of the six realms.

Right in front of the shumidan (the elevated alter to place the Honzon), you can see the "Mt Fudaraku" where it is said that the Kannon lived. The drawing expresses the "Sanjyu-San Ougenshin" that Kannon changes its form according to the object to be saved. On the back of the shumidan, "Six Ways (six worlds) Deva realm, Asura realm, Human realm, Animal realm, Hungry Ghost realm, Naraka realm are depicted, where human beings go to one of them after death depends on how they live. That drawing might give an opportunity to not only adults but also children to rethink their daily attitude.
For example, the greedy child who says like "I want this, and that one too" goes to the Hungry Ghost realm "Gaki", and it is depicted as the foods turn to fire as soon as put it into the mouth. Another one is Animal realm the place for the people who envy other people's happiness and lives by instincts. The painting shows the scene of people are transformed into animals.


The Heaven, where Heavenly Girls dance and enjoy music


Hayashi talked about Six Way in front of the Kannon wall painting

Hayashi said, "In the paintings of the heavens, Heavenly girls dance, people smile and play music, and live gracefully. It is our ultimate goal to reborn into such a world of the heavens, however, even now, we are able to teleportation to one of those six realm worlds according to our time to time emotions. We are circling the six-realm world as we live. Therefore, it is important to balance our emotion at all the time, without getting angry, etc. It is up to how you handle your own feeling."
Above the six-worlds drawing, "Rokukannon (Six Kannons) that save each of six worlds stands with a serious face. Indeed, it is the epitome of life based on the Buddhist worldview.


"I wish many people come to see the Buddha's world closely."


You will enjoy every corner of the richly colored world.

"Senjyu-San Kannon" is also drawn on the north, east, and west side walls. It's good to look at each Kannon's face and figure and keep it in your mind, then remember it when you feel tired, want to have warm feelings...。

Why don't you come to visit Ninnaji this spring or autumn to see Kannon that welcome you with friendly eyes.

You can enjoy the followings together with Ninnaji visit

  • 3876.jpg

    ■Precious "Morning works" experience
    If you stay at "Omurokaikan" in the sight of Ninnaji Temple, you can experience the morning work at the non-public cultural property "Kin-do (National Treasure)". Listen to the sutra recitation and pray quietly in the light of a candle, makes you feel fresh.

  • 五重塔横006_600400.jpg

    ■Famous "Omuro Sakura"
    Omuro Sakura is famous for its late flowering since Edo period and it appears in many Waka songs. Many people come to visit Ninnaji Temple around April, when the Omuro cherry blossoms can be seen. It is government-designated scenic beauty since 1924 (Taisho 13)

  • 4657.jpg

    ■Variety of "pretty "Amulet"
    A real clover is used for "Happiness (Clover) Amulet" and is prayed for inviting many happiness. "Omuro Sakura Kaiun Amulet" is wished for good luck and good health. It is popular for a souvenir. 500 yen each.

  • 4645.jpg

    ■"Sakura Omikuji"
    The cherry blossom shape case contains a rolling Omikuji, and you can take the cherry blossom container back to your home and use it as an ornament. There are two color options, pink and white: 300 yen.

Kannon-do special exhibition informing

Heiseikan Ninnaji Kannon-do special exhibition
Spring May 15 (Wed) - July 15 (Mon/public holiday)
Autumn September 7 (Sat) - November 24 (Sun), 2019
Opening hours: 9:30-16:30 (last entry 16:00)
※The viewing time might be restricted by religious events. Please visit Ninnaji official website for more details.
Admission fee: 1,000 yen (include a memento) Free for high school students and under
※Free admission applies to high school students and under for the purpose of inheriting culture to the next generation.

World Heritage Shingon-Shu Omuro-ha Souhonzan Ninnaji

: 075-461-1155
:33 Omuro Ouchi, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto City
  • March-November 9:00-17:00 (last entry 16:30)
  • December -February 9:00-16:30 (last entry 16:00)
  • 15 minutes' by foot or 5 minutes by taxi from JR "Hanazono Station"
  • 40 minutes JR by city bus from "Kyoto Station"
  • 40 minutes by city bus from "Sanjo Station" (Keihan Electric Railway)
  • 30 minutes city bus from "Omiya Station" (Hankyu Electric Railway )
  • 25 minutes by city bus from "Saiin Station" (Hankyu Electric Railway )
  • ※ There are places and times that require an admission fee.

Kanna Ishihara

I was born and raised in Kyoto. I like the unique loose atmosphere of Kyoto and the way of being a world-famous city with keeping its traditions.

Kansuke Ihara

A prolific photographer who works extensively in advertising and magazines. He is also the mood maker of the shooting team. He likes Kyoto, where the old history and modern culture are well integrated. Shorinji Kenho Yondan.