Gansenji Temple is located in the quiet mountain city of Kizugawa, Kyoto. Embraced on all sides by mountain forest, the temple grounds burst into bloom in the spring and summer with camellias, plum blossoms, cherry blossoms, hydrangeas, and water lilies This has earned the temple the nickname “Temple of Flowers.” It is particularly well-known for its hydrangeas of which there are over thirty varieties and five thousand plants. The connection to hydrangeas is so deep that a hydrangea symbol is carved into the sign at the temple gate. Because the base of the temple’s Three-storied Pagoda, an Important Cultural Property, is located at the foot of a hill, its top can be viewed up close from the hilltop. The temple’s principal deity, a nearly 3-meter tall wooden statue of Amida Nyorai, is thought to be the oldest of its kind.
According to temple legend, Gansenji traces its origins to 729 when, by imperial edict, a Buddhist priest named Gyoki, famous for his work of spreading Buddhism to the common people, established the temple. This temple is said to have been named Gansenji in 813 by Emperor Saga (786–842), who expanded the temple complex, building structures to give thanks for the birth of his male heir. At its most prosperous, the complex is believed to have stretched nearly one kilometer in all directions with a total of thirty-nine structures. Unfortunately, these were all destroyed in the fires of war in 1221.
In 1442, the three-storied pagoda was constructed and remains to this day. The main hall and principal deity were restored in the Edo period (1603–1868) via a donation from the Tokugawa family, the ruling clan of Japan at the time. The current main hall was rebuilt in 1966.
Gansenji Temple has several Important Cultural Properties in its main hall and in the temple grounds. Perhaps the best-known are its principal deity, a nearly 3-meter tall wooden statue of the Amida Nyorai, the Lord of the Western Paradise, and its Three-storied Pagoda. Around the temple grounds are also many Important Cultural Properties made of stone, as the surrounding area is known for its quality granite.
In the center of the temple grounds of Gansenji, nestled in the hilly embrace of nature, is its towering Three-Storied Pagoda. According to temple legend, the pagoda was built by Emperor Ninmyo (810–850) between the years 834–847 as a memorial to a renowned priest. However, during restoration work in 1943, an inscription was discovered with the year 1442. Since most of Gansenji Temple’s structures were destroyed in a fire in 1221, it is believed that the date on the pagoda inscription is likely to be accurate, and that the current pagoda dates to the Muromachi period (1336–1573).
While most temple pagodas can be viewed only from ground level, there is an upward path that wraps around the pagoda at Gansenji Temple. This gives visitors the unique opportunity to view the 18 m structure from all sides as well as from above. A close inspection reveals twelve small, carved figures at the corners of each level, which seem to be supporting the rafters on their shoulders. These figures, called sumioni, or corner demons, each wear a different expression, and have been designated as Important Cultural Properties.
The pagoda is opened for public viewing during special periods. On the walls of the first floor are colorful Buddhist depictions that serve as a backdrop for an altar. The wooden statue of Fugen Bosatsu on an Elephant used to be enshrined here before it was moved to the main hall. Fugen Bosatsu is a bodhisattva often associated with mercy and intelligence. Gansenji Temple’s Fugen Bosatsu on an Elephant is thought to display a particular feminine grace, and has long been considered a divinity that aids women and leads them in the cycle of rebirth. Made in the Heian period (794–1185), it is designated as an Important Cultural Property.
Enshrined in Gansenji Temple’s main hall is its principal deity, a wooden statue of the Amida Nyorai, the Lord of the Western Paradise, who leads the dead to the land of bliss. This Seated Amida Nyorai is an Important Cultural Property of Japan and is nearly three meters tall. The fact that it is hewn from a single, enormous zelkova tree makes its size all the more impressive. The precise date of its creation was brought to light upon the discovery of an inscription inside the statue that notes its completion date over one thousand years ago in 946. Among the Seated Amida Nyorai statues with known creation dates, Gansenji Temple’s is thought to be the oldest. In addition to its remarkable size and age, it is also very well preserved. Vestiges of the original red dye of its clothes can still be seen on the left-hand side of the statue.
About 26 minutes by Nara Kotsu bus boud for "Jyoruriji", and get off at "Jyoruriji" and transfer to Kizugawa-city community bus Touo Line boud for "JR Kamo-eki Higashi-guchi", it takes about 7 minutes, and get off at "Gansenji". Close to the bus stop./About 25 minutes by Nara Kotsu bus bound for "Shimo Sagawa" or "Hirooka", get off at "Gansenji Guchi", and about 30 minutes on foot from the bus stop.