The eminent Tang-dynasty Chinese Buddhist priest Jianzhen (688–763), better known by his Japanese name of Ganjin, was a highly respected master of the Vinaya (Ch: Jielü) school, which is grounded in legal codes of conduct (precepts) and ordination procedures for the Buddhist clergy. Despite his prominent position in his homeland, Ganjin agreed to leave it for Japan in order to establish the Ritsu (or Risshū) school on the invitation of Yōei and Fushō, two Japanese monks dispatched by Emperor Shōmu. After making five failed attempts to cross the sea, and going blind in the meantime, Ganjin finally reached Japanese shores on his sixth trip in the year 753. Thereafter, based out of Nara’s Tōshōdai-ji Temple, he oversaw the reception in Japan of the orthodox Chinese interpretation of the Buddhist precepts, which dramatically improved the quality and legitimacy of Japanese Buddhism.

The concept of vinaya (J: kairitsu), or precepts, comprises both the rules of discipline (J: ritsu) of the monastic community and the moral and ethical standards (J: kai) that members of the clergy and laypeople should follow in their day-to-day lives. Studying the vinaya involves reassessing the meaning of Buddhism and of what it is to be a Buddhist cleric. For this reason, dedicated monks living in times of major social change have often looked back to these fundamental precepts before launching movements to reform and revitalize Japanese Buddhism. This was particularly the case during the Kamakura period, which saw the emergence of a series of brilliant priests from temples in or around the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto. They include Kakujō (1194–1249) of Tōshōdai-ji, Eison (1201–1290) of Saidai-ji, Shunjō (1166–1227) of Sennyū-ji, and of course Gyōnen (1240–1321) of Tōdai-ji, whose 700-year memorial is being celebrated with this exhibition. These scholar-monks gained widespread followings by engaging in social welfare projects that reflected vinaya disciplinary codes and mores. Vinaya regulations continued to remain relevant even into the relatively stable society of the early modern period through revival movements led by such notable priests as Myōnin (1576–1610) and Jiun (1718–1805).

This exhibition honors the memory of Ganjin, venerated as one of the true founders of Japanese Buddhism, with a selection of treasures preserved through the centuries at Tōshōdai-ji. These objects, together with masterworks from other temples associated with the vinaya and its revival over the ages, trace the Buddhist legacy of Ganjin and the various luminaries who emerged as his spiritual successors in Japan.

General Information

Exhibition Title Priest Gyōnen 700th Memorial Special Exhibition
The Buddhist Legacy of Jianzhen (Ganjin) and His Successors
Period March 27–May 16, 2021
Some artworks may be rotated during the exhibition period.
Venue Kyoto National Museum, Heisei Chishinkan Wing
Transportation JR, Kintetsu Railway, Keihan Railway, Hankyu Railway, City Bus
Closed Mondays
*The museum will be opened on Monday May 3 and closed on Thursday May 6, 2021.
Hours 9:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (Entrance until 5:00 p.m.)
Audio Guide Fee 600 yen (includes tax)
Time approx. 35 min
Language Japanese, English
9:00 a.m.-4:45 p.m.
Organized by Kyoto National Museum; Tōshōdai-ji Temple, Headquarters of the Risshū Sect ; Nikkei Inc.; The Kyoto Shimbun Co., Ltd.; NHK (Japan Broadcasting Station) Kyoto
With the special cooperation of Midera Sennyū-ji Temple, Headquarters of the Sennyū-ji Branch of the Shingon Sect;Saidai-ji Temple, Headquarters of the Shingon Risshū Sect;
Tōdai-ji Temple, Headquarters of the Risshū Sect, Headquarters of the Kegon Sect (alphabetical order)
With the support of Iwatani Corporation, Casio Computer Co., Ltd., Nissha Co., Ltd., Nippon Express Co., Ltd., Mitsui Fudosan Co., Ltd.
Exhibition Guide All about the Buddhist Precepts and Jianzhen (English)