The Inspiration for Ryokaku-tei

Ryokaku-tei Tea House

Ninna-ji has two tea houses, Hito-tei, which sits on manmade hill beyond the pond in the North Garden, and Ryokaku-tei which is surrounded by trees behind Remeiden. In winter when the trees have lost their leaves it will be much easier to see Ryokaku-tei than is it now, but if you peer between the tree branches from Remeiden, you should be able to catch a glimpse of it.

Ryokaku-tei was originally the residence of the painter Ogata Korin (1658-1716) and was moved to Ninna-ji during the Tempo Era (1830-1844). When Ryokaku-tei was built, it was designed to resemble a famous tea house called Joan (joe-ahn). Joan was built in Kyoto in 1618 by Oda Uraku, tea master and the younger brother of the infamous Oda Nobunaga. The tea house was moved from Kyoto in the late Meiji period and came to its present location in Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture in the 1970s. You can see a couple of pictures of Joan here. The buildings are really quite similar, but you know what they say — imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.




Kuro-shoin is the second of two reception halls in Goten. Kuro-shoin was used as the more formal of the two. The formalities of the two rooms may be switched, but buildings with the names “shiro-shoin” and “kuro-shoin” are common in courtly architecture and can be found at other temples and palaces as well.

The “shiro” (“white” in Japanese) in Shiro-shoin once referred to the emphasis on unpainted woodwork in the interior of the rooms while the “kuro” (“black”) in Kuro-shoin referred to the use of black lacquer in the rooms. You’ll notice at Ninna-ji there is actually little difference in the woodwork of the two rooms now, but at one time this was a difference that set the two buildings apart and resulted in their names.

Like several of the buildings in Goten, the present-day Kuro-shoin is a reconstruction. The current building was once the residential quarters at a Shingon temple named Yasui Monzeki, a temple that no longer exists today. The building was moved to Ninna-ji and reconstructed with a few structural changes. The reconstruction was completed in 1909. The paintings in the rooms of Kuro-shion were completed in 1937 by Domoto Inshō.





The “sacred jewel” decoration on the roof of Reimeiden establishes this building as a worship hall. The present building was completed in 1890. There is a complete altar erected inside with the Medicine Buddha (Yakushi Nyorai) as the principle image.

The original statue of the Medicine Buddha that was enshrined within Reimeiden was stored out of public view until it was analyzed in the 1980s to verify its age. In 1986 the statue was discovered to be very old recreation of an even older statue. It is believed that the original was destroyed in 1103, and the statue that remains at the temple to this day was completed over the span of one month during the same year, making the current statue over 900 years old. In 1990 the statue was declared a National Treasure of Japan, it holds the record as the smallest National Treasure at only 21.9cm tall including the halo and pedestal.

Monzeki Temple

Painting of Retired Emperor UdaNinna-ji is known as a monzeki temple. This denotes that the temple has a history of imperial family members joining the temple to become Buddhist priests. The word monzeki was also used to refer to the former emperor or prince who had become the head priest of the temple.

The first emperor to abdicate the throne and join a Buddhist temple was Ninna-ji’s first monzeki, Emperor Uda. This started a long chain of head priests who were part of the imperial family. After the Meiji Restoration, the practice of sending imperial family members to serve at temples was stopped, but out of tradition head priests at Ninna-ji continue to be referred to as “monzeki.”

Five-Storied Pagoda

Five-Storied Pagoda

The five-storied pagoda at Ninna-ji was completed at the end of the Ka’nei era (1624 – 1644). It was built about the same time that the taller five-storied pagoda at Tōji Temple was constructed. Pagodas constructed during the Edo period (1603 – 1868) tend to have roofs that are all approximately the same width, the pagoda at Ninna-ji demonstrates this characteristic. Pagodas that have roofs which become smaller with height are built in an earlier style dating back from the Heian and Kamakura periods.

The pagoda at Ninna-ji is a total of 36.18m (118.7ft) tall. Inside the first story, five Buddha images are enshrined amongst colorfully painted walls and posts. Although it is not possible to see from the outside, on the inside there is one main pillar in the center of the building that reaches up through all five floors surrounded by one pillat at each of the four corners. This type of engineering combined with the flexibility of wood makes pagodas flexible and resistant to earthquakes. Historically pagodas are very strong and durable structures, with the notable exception of a severe weakness to fire.

Hito-tei Tea House

Hito-tei Tea House

Hito-tei was constructed during the Kansei Era (1789 – 1801), and is the oldest building in Goten at over 200 years old. The tea house underwent some repairs after the Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, but, unlike other structures in Goten, it has never needed to be rebuilt. The main room within Hito-tei is 4.5 tatami mats large (7.29m² or 23.9ft²) and the interior walls are finished with a thrown straw technique. The building is covered by a gently curved grass-thatched roof.

Hito-tei was a tea house frequented by members of the imperial family and was a favorite of Emperor Kokaku, the great-grandfather of Emperor Meiji. Tea houses normally have low entrances which require all guests to bow their heads as they enter the ceremony room, but Hito-tei is remarkable because it lacks this common feature. Due to the royal status of Hito-tei’s patrons, the entrance into the tea room is a “nobleman’s entrance,” a doorway tall enough to walk through without bow one’s head.

North Garden



The original Kannon-do was built in 951, but was lost to fire during the Onin War. The present building is a reconstruction from the 17th century. Kannon-do has a hip-and-gable roof covered in tiles, and is a rather tall structure for a building from the early Edo period. The principle image enshrined within Kannon-do is the Thousand-Armed Goddess of Mercy (Thousand-Armed Kannon) and the inside of the building is painted with colorful images of Buddhist deities.

It is a little difficult to gauge the size of the building from this picture, but imagine a person standing next to the building with their head coming just over the height of the railing and it will give you a better idea of the size. Kannon-do is usually closed to visitors, but the next time it is open to the public you can expect a post about it on this blog!