Shuon’an is popularly known as Ikkyuji due to its association with Ikkyu Sojun, the famed Buddhist priest and Zen master who revived the temple in 1456. A wooden statue of him is enshrined at the temple. This statue was created by one of his disciples during the final year of the priest’s life and is said to have been embedded with Ikkyu’s own hair after his passing. The temple is also renowned for its gardens, which were designated a National Important Place of Scenic Beauty. There are ten Important Cultural Properties of Japan at Shuon’an Ikkyuji Temple, including the Main Hall, the Hojo (Abbot’s Hall), and the statue of Ikkyu. The grounds also house a Museum Treasury with writings from Ikkyu, items used by previous emperors, and other treasures.
According to temple legend, Shuon’an was originally established between 1288 and 1293 as a Zen Buddhist training monastery. It was devastated by a fire during a war in the early 1330s and subsequently fell into ruin. However, in 1456, the famed Buddhist priest and Zen master Ikkyu Sojun revived the temple. Ikkyu continued his travels, but later came back to settle at Shuon’an, spending the last years of his life here before passing away at the age of 88. He was buried in the Sojun Obyo mausoleum in the annex of the temple.
Ikkyu was a Zen Buddhist monk and poet. Born in Kyoto in 1394, he is thought to have been an illegitimate child of the emperor at the time. He was initiated into the community of temple ascetics at the age of 6. While he did devote himself to the study of Zen under renowned teachers, he is best known as a priest who worked outside formal institutions. Because of his vagabond-like travels and sharp wit, he also gained a reputation as being somewhat of a troublemaker. His eccentricity has been understood to express key tenets of Zen Buddhism.
Ikkyu became a talented poet, and his poetry collections are still treasured. He contributed greatly to infusing traditional poetry and art with the ideals of Zen Buddhism.
The Hondo Main Hall, built between 1429 and 1441, is designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan. Its construction is believed to have been ordered due to the religious conversion of the shogun at the time and is the oldest extant example of Chinese Tang-style temple architecture in the Yamashiro and Yamato areas (southern region of Kyoto prefecture including parts of Nara prefecture). Tang-style architecture is perhaps most distinguishable by the gable and hip roof covered in cypress bark. Enshrined in the hall is Shuon’an Ikkyuji Temple’s principal deity, a wooden statue of Shaka Nyorai in a seated position. Shaka Nyorai is the Japanese name for the historical Buddha, or Prince Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism.
The structures of Shuon’an Ikkyuji Temple are surrounded by traditional Japanese Zen rock gardens of stunning beauty. The temple is a prime spot to enjoy the richness of nature during the four seasons, particularly the cherry blossoms in the spring and the changing foliage in the fall. Hojo Garden, which surrounds the Hojo (Abbot’s Chamber), has been designated a national historic site of scenic beauty.
Each area of the garden has distinctive features. To the north is a traditional rock garden designed to reimagine the sacred Mount Horai. Mount Horai is a mythological mountain that is home to the Immortals. It is also said that the souls of the deceased gather here after death. The 2 m–tall stone found in the northeastern corner of the garden is called the “Kannon Stone.” In the eastern garden are stones of various sizes that represent the sixteen defenders of Buddhism. The southern section is designed to recall the sea and consists of a classical Zen garden with lush greenery, including azaleas and large sago palms on its western end. Clockwise from the north, the different segments of the Hojo Garden represent the journey from Mount Horai, the path to the sea, and finally the sea itself.
About 15-minutes on foot from JR Gakkentoshi Line "Kyo-tanabe" station./ About 20-minutes on foot from Kintetsu Kyoto Line "Shin-tanabe" station./ About 5-minutes by taxi from each station.