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Daitokuji, founded in 1326 as a Rinzai Zen monastery by Shūhō Myōchō (Daitō Kokushi, 1282–1338), occupies a vast forested precinct at Murasakino in northwest Kyoto. Built initially with imperial patronage, Daitokuji rose to the head of the Gozan (Five Mountains) system. After its destruction by fire and war in the 1450s to the 1460s, patrons from the warrior and merchant classes funded Daitokuji's renewal under the leadership of IkkyŪ Sōjun (1394–1481). After demotion from the Gozan ranks in 1486, Daitokuji became independent.

Daitokuji consists of the main complex (garan) of gates and communal structures aligned on a northsouth axis, surrounded by semi-independent subtemples (tatchū) spreading out in all directions. Each subtemple includes an abbot's quarters, which served as a mortuary site (bodaisho) for both patrons and abbots who are jointly commemorated on the central altars and in mortuary precincts. Many of these abbots' quarters are surrounded by dry landscape gardens, with interior spaces graced by paintings produced by the finest painting workshops of the sixteenth and later centuries. Subtemple storehouses contain an extraordinary inventory of paintings, calligraphies, books, documents, and other objects, many of them imported from China and Korea. Today most of the twenty-three remaining subtemples are closed to the general public except during designated openings.

Perhaps even more than Zen, Daitokuji owes its continuing reputation and patronage to the world of tea (chanoyu) in the lineage of Sen no Rikyū (1522–1591). In 1589 Rikyū rebuilt Daitokuji's Sanmon Gate, and designated the Jūkōin subtemple as his family mortuary site.

See also:Japan, Buddhist Art in; Monastic Architecture


Covell, Jon Carter, and Yamada Sōbin. Zen at Daitokuji. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1974.

Kraft, Kenneth L. Eloquent Zen: Daitō and Early Japanese Zen. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1992.

Levine, Gregory P. "Switching Sites and Identities: The Founder's Statue at the Zen Buddhist Temple Kōrin'in." Art Bulletin 83, no. 1 (2000): 72–104.

Karen L. Brock