Connect with us


Kyoto Temple Recreates Gochi Nyorai National Treasure in a New Garden

Visitors welcome for 6 days only: Anshoji Temple in Kyoto is opening its new garden recreating the essence of its original 5 wisdom buddhas in May and June.



Shuno Fujita, head priest at the Anshoji in Yamashina-ku, Kyoto, explains how the Gochi Henmyotei Garden represents an image of the Gochi Nyorai. May 2, 2024 (©Sankei by Sachimi Tanaka)

Kyoto today boasts an incredible number of renowned temples. But the fact is that many of its most famous temples in the past have disappeared forever or have been downsized or relocated. 

One such temple that is only a shadow of its former self is Anshoji in Yamashina Ward. The temple belongs to the Koyasan Shingon sect. 

It was founded in 848 by Keiun, a priest who had studied in China, at the request of Fujiwara no Nobuko. She was the concubine of Emperor Nimmyo and also mother of Emperor Buntoku. Thereafter, the temple long had a close connection to the imperial family

Its original layout near the tomb of Emperor Tenji was similar to the world-famous Daigoji Temple. There was a kamidera (upper temple) on the top of a mountain as well as a shimodera (lower temple) at its base. 

The five seated wooden Gochi Nyorai statues (from the Anshoji website)

The vast temple complex housed a number of sculptures depicting divinities important to early Japanese esoteric Buddhism. An Eleven-faced Kannon and the Gochi Nyorai (Five Wisdom Buddhas) collection of interrelated buddhas (gobutsu) were among them. The gobutsu were represented in the Kongokai ("Diamond World") mandala, which is of prime importance in Shingon. These five nyorai (tathagata) are associated with the five forms of wisdom in esoteric Buddhism. 

Recovering From the Burning of Kyoto

However, during the tumultuous civil war period preceding the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate, most of Kyoto was burned down. Furthermore, the Anjoji was abandoned, with its temple treasures scattered. Later during the Edo period, the temple was rebuilt on its current site near the Yamashina Canal leading from Lake Biwa. 

Seated Jizo Bodhisattva statue and flower ceiling painting at Anshoji Temple on May 2. (©Sankei by Sachimi Tanaka)
The eleven-faced Kannon Bodhisattva statue enshrined in the Kannon-do hall is said to have been created during the Nara period. (©Sankei by Sachimi Tanaka)

Treasures of the Temple

Experts believe the Gochi Nyorai wooden statues were crafted shortly after the temple was founded. However, they have not been kept at the Anshoji for around 120 years. The group of seated statues is believed to be the oldest surviving set of Gochi Nyorai statues.

There are five tathagatas that comprise the Gochi Nyorai. They are Dainichi Nyorai at the center surrounded by buddhas governing each of the four directions. Namely, those are Ashuku (east), Hosho (south), Amitabha (west) and Fukujoju (north). Fire destroyed the Tahoto pagoda in which they had been housed in 1906. However, the statues survived the disaster and are now kept at the Kyoto National Museum. So, they have been away from their original home, Anshoji, for 120 years. 

A National Treasure

The Gochi Nyorai set was designated a national treasure in 2019. It had previously been an important cultural property. To celebrate the elevation in status, Anshoji's head priest, Shuno Fujita (68) created a new garden. 


Dubbed the Gochi Henmyotei Garden, it symbolically recreates the Gochi Nyorai in an artistic configuration of moss, white sand, and five stones in the center. It had been a rather listless garden with pine trees and red weeping cherry trees. Now it has been transformed into a bright, shiny rock garden that invites contemplation. 

The five stones in the Gochi Henmyotei Garden are meant to represent the Gochi Nyorai (five wisdom buddhas). (©Sankei by Sachimi Tanaka)

Creating the Gochi Henmyotei Garden

Although the temple is normally not open to visitors, it is opening this year (2024) for limited public viewing. 

Since Fujita became chief priest of the temple in 2018, he has dreamt of turning it into an "open temple" that welcomes visitors. Ideally, it would preserve its valuable collection for future generations while making it accessible to worshippers. Included are the standing Eleven-faced Bodhisattva, an important cultural property dating from the Nara period, and a seated statue of Jizo made in the late Kamakura period

Several companies have provided support for his plan. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, repairs have proceeded in stages within the temple precincts. They include repairs to the Kannon-do main hall, where the 11-Faced Kannon is enshrined, and the Seiryuden, which is believed to have been the original core of the temple. These efforts culminated in the creation of the garden. 

Fujita says, "I would like many people to see the Gochi Nyorai garden which spreads the light of wisdom throughout the world." 

He adds emphatically, "Even if we can't restore Anshoji to its original form, we would like to get it looking like it formerly did." 

Fujita also dreams of rebuilding the Tahoto pagoda. That would be an initial step on the path to enshrining the seated Gochi Nyorai set at Anshoji as they were in the past. 

Seiryu-Gongensha, where male and female dragons are expressed using moss, in the Anjoji Temple garden in Yamashina Ward, Kyoto.(©Sankei by Sachimi Tanaka)

Special Opening to Visitors

Anshoji will be open to visitors from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM on May 18 and 19. It will also be open on June 8 and 9, and June 16 and 17. (No entry after 4:30 pm). 

The temple is also considering allowing viewing on an irregular basis from September.

What: Anshoji Temple


Where: Yamashina-ku, Kyoto

When: May 18-19, June 8-9, June 16-17 

Entrance fee: 500 yen

For more information: Check the temple's website for updates or call the temple: 0957-22-0318.


(Read the related article in Japanese.)

Author: Sachimi Tanaka