Tofukuji Temple

Tofukuji Temple

Travel Guide


Tofukuji Temple is a large Zen temple in Kyoto that is particularly famous for its spectacular autumn colors and massive entrance gate called Sanmon Gate. Tofukuji Temple has historically been one of the principal Zen temples in Kyoto. It was one of the five temples of the Five Mountain System and is a head temple of one of the schools of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism.

The temple was founded in 1236 at the behest of the powerful Fujiwara clan. Its name is a combination of the names of two great temples in Nara that were also associated with the Fujiwara, Todaiji Temple and Kofukuji Temple.

Its original buildings were burned but were rebuilt in the 15th century according to the original plans. About this time it flourished as one of the Five Great Temples of Kyoto. Its many compounds and subtemples survived the ravages of war and fire until the late Meiji period when the Butsuden (Buddha hall) were burned. However, it even now retains the magnificent scale characteristic of a medieval Zen temple.

In autumn, people come from all over Japan to see Tofukuji Temple's autumn colors. The most popular view is of the Tsutenkyo Bridge, which spans a valley of lush maple trees. The view from the bridge is equally spectacular, and the 100 meter long, covered walkway becomes extremely crowded when the colors reach their peak, usually around mid to late November.

Tofukuji Temple - Sanmon Gate (entrance gate) Tofukuji Temple - Zendo (Zen meditation hall) Tofukuji Temple - Tosu (lavatory in a Zen temple)
Sanmon Gate (entrance gate) Zendo (Zen meditation hall) Tosu (lavatory in a Zen temple)


Temple Complex

Several parts of Tofukuji Temple's temple grounds are free to enter, including the area around some of its largest and most impressive buildings. The 22 meter tall Sanmon Gate is the oldest Zen gate of its kind, dating back to 1425. The Gate was designated in 1952 to be one of the Japanese National Treasure Buildings. It is two stories high and five bays wide. The central three bays are doors. The upper floor of the great gate holds a number of Buddhist statues dating from the Heian Period and thought to have been created by Jocho, a noted sculptor. The ceiling of the Sammon is decorated with paintings by Mincho (aka Cho Densu 1352-1431) and his desciple Kandensu. Behind the gate is the Hondo (main hall), which is even larger but is a recent reconstruction from 1934.

Surrounding those two massive structures are a number of temple buildings that date back to the early Muromachi Period (1333-1573) and are rare examples of surviving Zen architecture from that era, including the Zendo (meditation hall), Shoro (belfry), Yokushitsu (bath) and Tosu (lavatory in Zen temple).

Tosu in Tofukuji Temple is the oldest and biggest one in Japan. Today it is used as a zazen hall, but originally it used to be a huge toilet. The literal meaning of “tosu” is being in charge of the East, but most tosu buildings seem to be located on the Western side of the monastery compounds. Today, in Tofukuji Temple and most other Zen monasteries, the monks flush their toilets. Some even have washlets.

The Hojo, the head priest's former living quarters, is one of Tofukuji Temple's two paid areas. Rock gardens were often built alongside hojo buildings, but the gardens at Tofukuji Temple's Hojo are unique for surrounding the building on all sides. Each garden has a different character. The South Garden depicts a world based on Chinese Mythology: the white sand in the front is the sea, four rocks are legendary islands, and five hillocks are five important Zen temples in Kyoto or China. The West Garden is in a checkerboard pattern with azaleas. It represents rice fields. The North Garden depicts abstractly the idea that Buddhism spread from India to Eastern Asia: Moss-covered checkerboard patterns gradually fade into green. The East Garden was designed to represent the Big Dipper with seven stone columns. In Zen rituals, priests use dippers for purification. All four gardens are deeply related to Buddhism and the Asian life style, and so the plants, stones, and sand in the gardens are familiar to us. The Hojo was most recently reconstructed in 1890 while the gardens are relatively modern creations dating from the late 1930s.

The other paid area consists of the above mentioned Tsutenkyo Bridge and Kaisando Hall, which serves as the mausoleum of the temple's first head priest. The stone path in front of the Kaisando is flanked by contrasting gardens on both sides, a dry rock garden on the left and a lush pond garden on the right. The Kaisando and its gardens were last reconstructed during the Edo Period (1603-1867).

Tofukuji Temple - Checkerboard pattern of Hojo garden Tofukuji Temple - Tsutenkyo Bridge Tofukuji Temple - Komyo-in (subtemple)
Checkerboard pattern of Hojo garden Tsutenkyo Bridge Komyo-in (subtemple)



Currently, the Tofukuji Temple complex includes 25 subtemples, though in the past the number has been as high as 53.

Some of the subtemples are well known such as Komyoin Temple, Dojuin Temple and Fudain Temple. In the Komyoin Temple, there is a modern karesansui (dry landscape garden) called Hashin-tei Garden laid out by Shigemori Mirei in 1939. Shigemori designed the garden with three Buddhist triads and rocks that are placed in lines that emanate from the large stone in the middle of the garden - likened to rays from the Buddha. Dojuin Temple features a moss garden and it has Fudomyoo (Acala) which is Important Cultural Property. Fundain Temple features the garden which is designed by Sesshu Toyo (1420-1506). Sesshu Toyo was the most prominent Japanese master of ink and wash paining from the middle Muromachi period.


Tofukuji Temple's large nehan-zu painting depicts Buddha on his death bed. This massive image (7 x 14 meters) is the second largest in Japan. The image at nearby Sennyuji Temple is the largest of its kind in Japan, measuring 8 x 16 meters. Both images are rarely displayed, most recently in 2003 for three days only.

A 1238 portrait painting of Wuzhun Shifan along with an inscription by an anonymous author was brought to the temple by Enni in the 1240s and remains there today. Plaques of Wuzhun's calligraphy is also kept at Tofukuji Temple.


Travel Advice


- Kyoto Gozan includes Tenryuji Temple, Shokokuji Temple, Kenninji Temple, Tofukuji Temple and Manjuji Temple. The head temple presiding over the Gozan in Kyoto is Nanzenji Temple.

- Among these subtemples in Tofukuji Temple, Syokakuan Temple is known as Writing Brush Temple because of its Writing Brush Burial Mound. Shokakuan Temple holds a ceremony for worn-out writing brushes on every November 23. In the ceremony, the worn-out writing brushes will be thrown to the fire while praying for the improvement of academic records. It is said that people who touch the smoke, he or she can write neatly.

- It is a tradition to view the autumn leaves from the Tsutenkyo bridge.


There are two lines of pots, each line has 36 pots. These pots were used from Muromachi period (1336-1573) to Meiji Restoration. In Zen temples, the toilet is one of the three important training places (three silent places). Three important training places in Japanese Zen Buddhist temple: Tosu, Sodo and Bath room. There are strict regulations etiquette in the toilet such as talking is prohibited.

Autumn Leaves

Tofukuji Temple is a spot to see autumn leaves. Please see Autum Leaves in Tofukuji Temple.



Address 15-778 Honmachi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
Phone 075-561-0087
Admission Free
Tickets required for facilities
Hours 09:30 to 16:30 April to October
08:30 to 16:30 November to the first Sunday of December
09:00 to 16:00 the first Sunday of December to March
Entry until 30 minntes before closing
Closed Open 7 Days a Week
Duration 30 minutes
Getting There By Train
10 minute walk from Tofukuji Station on JR or Keihan Electric Railway.
Take City Bus No.202, 207 or 208 to the Tofukuji bus stop, then walk approximately 1 minute.

By Car
Take Meishin Expressway to the Kyoto-higashi or Kyoto-minami exit. It is approximately 30 minutes from exit.
Parking Parking available

Attractions in Japan