Rinnoji Temple is located in the Nikko National Park and is part of the Nikko UNESCO World Heritage Temples and Shrines. Nikko is located in the Tochigi Prefecture and can be easily reached from Tokyo by Train. Please read my Enchanting Nikko section for more information about directions to this temple.
Nikko Rinnoji Temple is also famously known as Rinnoji Sanbutsudo Temple. Sanbutsudo is the three Buddha Hall in the Rinnoji Temple precincts and the three Buddhas are designated as the Important Cultural Property of the Japan.
Rinnoji Temple Seal
The Nikko Temples are founded by Monk Shodo Shonin, a Heian era high priest and was known to have been born in the Tochigi Prefecture. Monk Shodo Shonin was credited with first exploring the Nikko National Park and the mountains that comprise it by going through many hardships. Monk Shodo Shonin is also responsible building the Chuzenji Temple on the banks of the Chuzenji temple at the foothills of the Mt. Nantai (Nantaisan).
Monk Shodo Shonin with firm beliefs in the virtues of Buddha, crossed the Daiya River, climbed the mountains near Nikko and built a hermitage, and named this place as Shihonryuji Temple. This temple later named as Rinnoji Temple. This was the origin of other Temples in the Nikko area.
During the Heian period, Tamura-maro Sakanoue, a brave warrior, gave prayers at this temple. When Monk Kobo Daishi Kukai a high Priest, visited the mountain, he founded Taki no Gongen and few other temples. Monk Jikaku Daishi Ennin a high priest of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism came to the mountain, he was responsible for building the Sanbutsu-do.
The picture of the above rising dragon, on the ceiling of the Holy Fire Temple (Dai Goma-do) in the Rinnoji temple precincts was painted by painter Hokusai Yoshihara. Hokusai Yoshihara had a Government sanctioned title of the holder of technique to select and preserve colors. The rising dragon was gorgeously painted all over the lacquered Japanese cypress board. Following the work of the Kano school in the Edo period, it took two and half years to finish it. (Source: Temple Brochure)
The Sanbutsu-do Hall or the Three Buddha Hall that was built by Monk Jikaku Daishi Ennin is the main worship hall (Hondo) for Rinnoji Temple (see above). The main objects of worship in the Hondo are three gilded wooden statues (they are breathtaking). The right side of the statue is the Thousand Armed Kannon, the center statue is the Amida Buddha and the one on the left is the horse headed Kannon. These three statues represent the three divine manifestations of Nikko.
Sorinto Pillar at Rinnoji Temple
Monk Jigen Daishi built this pillar in 1643 at the request of Shogun Tokugawa Iyemitsu. It's design imitates the treasure tower at the temples on Mt. Hei (Heizan, Tendai sect headquarters). It is a magnificent bronze piller of 15 meters high and 3 meters in circumference. This pillar contains one thousand volumes of holy Buddhist Sutras. The pillar is also the symbol of world peace and purifies the back demon gate of Nikko Toshogu Shrine.
During the Kamakura period these Temple were worshiped by the ruling clans of Japan, such as the Minamoto Shoguns. So much was the devotion of the ruling clans to these temples that Prince Nincho was appointed as the Head Priest of these temple. This marked the first time somebody from the Imperial family was appointed as a head priest of a Buddhist Temple.
Here is a video of this magnificent Nikko Rinnoji Temple: