Daigoji monastery, (near) Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, JP

Raw data

Daigoji is located at the foothills of Mount Daigo in the southeastern outskirts of Kyoto City. Its founder, Shôbô (Rigen Daishi), a member of the imperial family, studied Shingon Buddhism from age 16 to 22 under Kûkai (Kobô Daishi) at Jôganji monastery in Kyoto, and was ordained at Tôdaiji in 853. He studied Kegan, Hossô, and Sanron scriptures at Gangôji and Tôdaiji until the age of 27. Then he spent several years as a wandering acetic. On returning to Jôganji in Kyoto, whose abbot was a member of the powerful Fujiwara courtier family, Shôbô received imperial permission to be a lecturer or preacher (kôshi) at the Yuima’e ceremony of 869, which was conducted by monks of Nambu Kôfukuji monastery for the benefit of the imperial court. Shôbô surprised his peers with his discourse on two opposing doctrines, the Daijôkijô treatise explaining Mahayana Buddhism, and the Shômon kenjô (Śrāvaka) teachings associated with Hinayana or Theravada Buddhism. Emperor Seiwa, who was present at the ceremony, no doubt became aware of Shôbô’s rising star.

Shôbô continued to practice mountain acetic training, and was inspired by a dream to found a small mountain hermitage dedicated to the Kannon bodhisattva of mercy (Avalokitesvara). There, he enshrined two sculptures of the Kannon, the Juntei Kannon and Nyoirin Kannon. He named the mountain (and subsequent hermitage) “Daigo,” a term that refers to the most nourishing of foods, which Lotus Sutra compares to the teachings of the Buddha.

The hermitage was expanded into a monastery with an upper and a lower precinct under the patronage of the retired emperor Daigo (posthumously named after the temple), who took monastic vows at Daigoji and built the hall for the main object of worship, Yakushi (Bhaisajyaguru). Shôbô’s fervent prayers are said to have answered Daigo’s desire for an heir; Daigo’s chief consort gave birth to twin boys. Later, Daigo’s sons Emperor Suzaku and Emperor Murakami patronized Daigoji’s growth and development. Shôbô also had a close friendship with the ill-fated scholar and Minister of the Right, Sugawara no Michizane, in whose memory he built a shrine for his statue. Shokaku, the 14th abbot of Daigoji built the Sanboin cloister in 1115, which is famous for its garden designed in 1598 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Daigoji reached its peak of prosperity during the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and Muromachi period (1333–1568) with 27 cloisters in the upper precinct and 60 in the lower precinct.

- Okada et al. (1976: 77–91)

Between 904 and 907, Emperor Daigo contributed three major halls: The Shakadô, Yakushidô, and Godaidô. Shôbô was succeeded by his disciple Kangen, who was superindent of Ninnaji, and a former abbot of Tôji and Kongôbuji (Kôyasan). Under Emperor Daigo’s 919 order, only monks in the lineage of Shôbô could assume the office of abbot. A similar imperial decree in 1018 resulted in preventing Tôdaiji monks in Nara from becoming abbots of Daigoji. After 1018, the abbots were invariably descendents of Emperor Daigo.

Emperor Daigo and two of his sons, Suzaku and Murakami, along with various imperial consorts, were buried at Daigoji. A five-story pagoda was erected in 952 in memory of Daigo. Abbot Shôkaku began enlarging the monastery in 1115 by building the Sanbôin, an important center of Shingon learning, which was the first of the Daigoji gomonzeki, or “The Five Aristocratic Temples of Daigoji,” headed by abbots from the imperial family.

- Shively & McCullough, eds. (1999: 501-502)

Shôbô (Rigen Daishi) gave Daigoji its name after discovering a well of sacred water on Mount Daigo, said to have been revealed to him by a local Shinto god. The monastery sided with the Northern Court during the Nanbokuchô era of the 14th century, when the imperial family was split into two competing courts.

Today, Daigoji is divided into upper and lower campuses. The five-story pagoda of 952 is presumed to be the oldest surviving wooden building in Kyoto. Six of the buildings are national treasures and ten are considered cultural assets. They date mainly to the Edo period. Among the roughly 2000 treasures is a fine collection of Kamakura-period sculpture, mandala, and portraits of Shingon masters, including a famous drawing of Kukai.

-Sekai isan Kyôto Daigoji. http://www.daigoji.or.jp/index.html

The main object of worship is Yakushi Nyôrai. The original precincts extended over a wide area from the top of Daigo-zan to its foothills. Members of the imperial family commended land, built cloisters and staffed them with monks. For instance, in 1116 Emperor Toba ordered the construction of a major hall of the Sanbôin cloister, assigning 15 monks to it.

Buildings were destroyed in the Ônin War. Warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi donated 1550 koku to repair the five-story pagoda and other buildings.

- Tamamuro (1992: 549-50)

Input by: Lizbeth H. Piel, Jun 09, 2010

Kyoto, Japan Page
Other names: Kioto,Kyōto
Lat 35.0000 Long 135.7500
Input by: tmciolek, Jun 10, 2010

Final data (and their sources)

Last updated: 14 Jan 2013

Lat/Long coordinates' accuracy:
The monastery in question is assumed to be situated actually no farther than 200 m from the point defined by the coordinates below.

Location of Daigoji monastery, JP.

General location of the Daigoji monastery, JP.
Lat 34.9500 Long 135.8190
Mapping & images: Falling Rain Genomics (http://www.fallingrain.com), 2010.

Google Map link:


Final data - explanatory notes

1. Monastery's name

  • Daigoji 醍醐寺. Alternative English spelling: Daigo-ji

2. Monastery's modern country & province

  • Japan: Kyoto Prefecture

3. Monastery's alternative/historical names

  • [missing data]

4. Monastery's lat/long coordinates

  • Approx., Lat 34.9500 Long 135.8190 - based on visual identification of the Daigoji monastery in a satellite image, in maps.google.com - tmciolek, 10 Jun 2010.

5. Other known nearby Buddhist monasteries

6. Modern name of the known nearest city, town, or village

  • Kyôto-shi (Kyoto City), Fushimi-ku, Daigo-Higashiôji-chô

7. The settlement's alternative/historical names

8. The settlement's coordinates

9. Monastery's major Buddhist tradition

  • Mahayana

10. Monastery's Buddhist sub-tradition

11. Date-early

  • 874 CE - Weinstein (1999: 501-502)
  • MBM chrono-tag 0867-99c - tmciolek 14 Jan 2013
  • 0867-99c 0900-32c 0933-66c 0967-99c 1000-32c 1033-66c 1067-99c 1100-32c 1133-66c 1167-99c 1200=> dated-el

12. Date-intermediate

  • 12th century construction of Samboin and for other sub-temples. – Weinstein (1999: 502)

13. Date-late

14. Details of contacts with other monasteries

  • In the late 10th century, there was a link between Ninnaji, Tôji, and Kongôbuji (Kôyasan). –Weinstein (1999: 501)

15. Type of evidence regarding the monastery

  • Documents, architecture

16. Additional notes

  • “By 1155 the Daigoji complex consisted of 42 main halls (dô), 4 pagodas, 3 imperial villas (gosho), 4 sutra repositories, and 183 dormitories to accommodate monks.” – Weinstein (1999: 502)

17. Corrections & addenda to this page were kindly provided by

  • [missing data]

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