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.


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!



Mie-do, known as the Founder’s Hall, stands to the left of the bell tower. The current structure dates from the 17th century reconstruction. The metal work and lattice wooden shutters were originally part of Seiryu-den, a building on the imperial palace grounds that was built in the early 1600s.

The hall enshrines three figures who are important in the history of Shingon Buddhism and Ninna-ji Temple: Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi, founder of the Shingon sect; Emperor Uda, the founder of Ninna-ji Temple; and Prince Shōshin, the second abbot of the temple.

It is a small building at 10m on each side, but its hiwadabuki (pressed bark roof) and small stature is meant to invoke the image and quiet atmosphere of the temple at which Kukai himself is said to have lived.

Sutra Hall

The Sutra Hall
The Sutra Hall was completed in the mid 17th century. With double doors flanked by flower shaped windows, the Sutra Hall is a structure unified by Zen architectural elements. Inside, six Buddhist images including Sakyamuni, Manjusri, and Samantabhadra are enshrined. The inner walls are adorned with images of the eight great Bodhisattvas and the sixteen Arhats.

Inside, there is an octagonal rotating sutra shelf with 96 drawers on each side, equalling a total amount of 768 drawers in all. The drawers are filled with Buddhist scriptures.

Click the image below for a close up of the “sacred jewel” decoration that sits on roof of the Sutra Hall. Atop the Sutra Hall

Chū-mon: The Middle Gate


Standing between Nio-mon and Kon-do, Chū-mon serves as the entryway to the heart of the temple grounds where the five-storied pagoda and Kannon-do are found. This gate was built during the reconstruction of the temple in the early 17th century. Compared to Nio-mon and Chokushi-mon, Chū-mon may seem relatively simple in design, but it is a prime example of early Edo period architecture.Ceiling of Chū-mon
Fearsome statues can be seen on either side of the gate. On the left stands the Deva King Guardian of the West, and on the right the Deva King Guardian of the East.

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西方天 東方天