Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Manpuku-ji Temple and Its Amazing Vegan Fucha Ryōri

Byōdō-in (平等院) isn’t the only temple you can visit in Uji. Two stations away from Uji Station, Manpuku-ji (萬福寺), close to JR Ōbaku Station (黄檗駅), is a less-known but magnificent and culturally rich religious facility that has 23 Important National Cultural Properties. The temple is the head temple of Japan’s Three Great Zen Schools, Ōbakushū (黄檗宗). In addition, you can reserve to enjoy the Fucha Ryōri for lunch!

Table of Contents

Japan’s Three Great Zen Schools

After Zen Buddhism was brought to Japan, three Zen schools were widely accepted. Amongst the three, Rinzaishū (臨済宗) and Sōdōshū (曹洞宗) were influenced largely by Japanese culture. The only Zen school that retains most of Chinese Buddhism is Ōbakushū. This is why when you visit a temple that belongs to Ōbakushū, the buildings and the Buddha statues are of Chinese style.

Furthermore, instead of the usual Shōjin Ryōri (精進料理), where each person has a tray filled with small dishes, these temples serve Fucha Ryōri (普茶料理), which are usually shared between four people sitting around a round table.

Manpuku-ji’s History

Ōbakusan Manpuku-ji (黄檗山萬福寺) in Uji was erected by Ingen Ryūki (隠元隆琦), a high priest of the Rinzai sect in China’s Ōbakusan Manpuku-ji in the Fujian province (福建省). In 1654, ultimately accepting Kōfuku-ji’s (興福寺) head monk’s repeated invitation, Ingen visited Nagasaki with his 20 disciples when he was 63. He then spent the following three years staying at Kōfuku-ji in Nagasaki and Fumon-ji (普門寺) in Takatsuki City in Osaka.

Originally, Ingen only planned to stay in Japan for three years. However, the Japanese followers strongly hoped the Zen master would stay in Japan longer and lobbied the Edo Shogunate. So in 1658, Ingen traveled to Edo (Tokyo) and gained an audience with the 4th Shogun, Tokugawa Letsuna (徳川家綱). Gaining the respect of the Tokugawa Shogunate and Emperor Go-mizuno’o (後水尾法皇), Ingen was granted a piece of land of approximately 300 square kilometers in Uji in 1660.

Using the land, Ingen established a temple that replicated the one in China he came from in 1661. This demonstrates the virtue of “Never Forget Where We Came From”. The temple was also named Ōbakusan Manpuku-ji. It is now the head temple of Japan’s Ōbakushū School.

Because of Manpuku-ji’s connection with China, the 1st to the 13th head monk of the temple were from China. This is why the temple’s Buddhist ritual is the same as those from the Ming dynasty. The pronunciation used for chanting is also in Chinese pronunciation.

As the Rinzai sect in Japan was localized to the Japanese culture, Ōbakushu was separated into a different school in 1876.

Master Ingen’s Impact on the Japanese Society

So why did the Japanese in the Edo period longed for Ingen’s visit so badly?

Apparently, Ingen was a talented monk. Aside from being the 32nd head of China’s Rinzai Zen Buddhism, he also mastered art, medical science, music, history, literature, lithography, and tea (Sencha). Originally a farmer, he also helped the Japanese cultivate crops such as kidney beans, bamboo shoots, watermelons, and lotus roots. Thus, apart from spreading the Buddha’s teaching, the Japanese culture was largely influenced by the new knowledge Ingen brought over.

It is said that kidney beans are called Ingen beans in Japan because of this part of the history.

Ingen is also the man who brought Chinese-style monk cuisine to Japan. It is now known as Fucha Ryōri. Because Chinese cuisine involves a lot of stir-frying and deep-frying, the cooking style requires a significant amount of sesame oil, so Ingen’s arrival also made the use of plant oil in cooking common in Japan.

The Must-See Spots in Manpuku-ji

Manpuku-ji’s monastery is in the style of the late Ming dynasty in China. Connected by covered hallways, rituals and ceremonies can be held without delay, even on rainy days.

As the temple was supported by the Tokugawa shogunate, the family hollyhock crest can be seen across the precinct.

Sōmon Gate (総門)

Before passing Manpuku’ji’s gate, look up! The 4 ridge‐end tiles look like a fish!

However, they aren’t fish but Makara, a legendary sea creature in Hindu mythology. They are commonly found to decorate the gates of sanctuaries and temples in Asia. The idea is similar to the guardian dogs/lions found at Japanese shrines.

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In front of the Sōmon across the road, there are two wells called Ryūmokusei (龍目井). Ingen dug them up during the winter. The entire temple is the body of a dragon, and the wells are the eyes of the mythical creature. Because the dragon symbolizes the emperor who held the most power and wealth, the dragon is also used as a metaphor to describe someone successful. So Ingen built the temple, hoping that Manpuku-ji would become a place where everyone visiting it would achieve something great.

In addition, the dragon is also a guardian of the temple.

Sanmon Gate (三門)

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Sanmon Gate beyond the Sōmon Gate is a two-layered tower gate. You will find an ordination stone (戒壇石) at its side. It is to remind those passing the gate that it is the temple’s precinct beyond this point, and therefore, alcohol and pungent vegetables, such as garlic, are prohibited.

While all temples in Japan have a Sanmon Gate, the characters used in a Zen temple differ. Instead of “山門”, meaning mountain gate, it is written as “三門”, representing the gates that free us from Buddhism’s three 3 earthly desires: greed, anger, and foolishness.

If you are interested in the calligraphy of Master Ingen, check out the two plaques hung at Sanmon. The Ōbakusan (黄檗山) and Manpuku-ji (萬福寺) were written by the master.

Sekijō (石條)

The approach in the temple, which runs vertically and horizontally within the precincts, is in a special form named Sekijō. The square flat stones are laid out in a rhombus shape and are sandwiched by two stone strips. The design used scales on the back of a dragon as a motif. These approaches represent the dragon’s body.

In China, the dragon pattern represents the emperor. Only the chief priest and highly regarded priests can walk on the rhombus pattern of the approach. Monks in training could only walk on the long, narrow stone roads on both sides.

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Worshipers nowadays are allowed to walk on the rhombus pattern too.

Tennōden (天王殿)

Because Manpuku-ji is of a Chinese style, between the mountain gate and the Hondō, a Tennōden stands. Like a Chinese temple, Maitreya Bodhisattva (弥勒菩薩), the Four Heavenly Kings (四天王), and Skanda (韋駄天) are enshrined there.

The worship hall’s x-shaped railing is also of a Chinese-style design. The wooden 110.3cm Maitreya Bodhisattva statue was made in 1663.

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To the right of Tennōden, there is a small hut by the side of the white wall. It enshrines a former monk of Manpuku-ji. After leaving the temple, he opened a Sencha tea shop in Kyoto‘s Higashiyama area. Thanks to him, Sencha is now commonly consumed in Japan.

The openwork on the hut’s door is of a bat pattern. Although the Japanese hold a spooky image towards bats, this isn’t the case in China. Because the pronunciation of bats in Chinese sounds like the word ‘blessing’, it is considered a symbol of good fortune.

The Main Worship Hall: Daiōhōden (大雄寶殿)

The name of the main worship hall, Daiōhōden, is also from China. It is equivalent to a Hondō in typical Japanese temples. The Daiōhōden in Manpuku-ji is the only worship hall in Japan built by the teak from Southeast Asia.

The Buddha enshrined in the middle is the Gautama Buddha (釈迦如来). By his side are his two disciples, Mahakassapa (摩訶迦葉) and Ananda (阿難陀). The Eighteen Arhats (十八羅漢) are enshrined to surround them.

Among all the statues, the one that stands out the most is the statue of Venerable Pindola Bharadvaja (羅怙羅尊者). It is probably the most famous statue in Manpuku-ji due to its unique design. It is a statue of Pindola Bharadvaja opening his stomach with both hands, and there is a Gautama Buddha’s face inside!

The statue, completed in the mid-17th century, expresses the Buddha’s teaching that everyone has a Buddha’s heart. If we change our way of thinking and let go of our desires, the Buddha’s heart will be revealed, allowing us to reach Buddha’s state one day.

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Another thing you should pay attention to is the hallway ceiling of Daiōhōden. The roundish ceiling takes the dragon’s body as a motif. This type of ceiling is called Ōbaku Tenjō (黄檗天井) or Jabara Tenjō (蛇腹天井). In China, it is called Enrō (檐廊).

Lastly, check out the small wooden doors at Daiōhōden’s front entrance where the peach images are curved. The fruit is treated as an amulet against evil spirits.

The Round Windows and the Broken Swastika-Patterned Railing

A Chinese style feature commonly found in Manpuku-ji is the round-shape window. If you have been to a couple of Japanese-style houses, you will soon realize that the windows in the traditional buildings are rectangular. The round windows representing the sun and the moon are mostly found in Chinese-style buildings, such as Manpuku-ji.

Another rare feature that you will find in Manpuku-ji is the broken Swastika-patterned Railing. This pattern can be found at Hottō Hall (法堂). It is where Dharma talks are delivered, which is probably why a broken Swastika pattern (卍くずし) is used as decoration.

Saidō (斎堂) and the Wooden Fish (木魚)

At the left-hand side of the entrance of the monk’s dining hall, there is a wooden fish hanging from the beam. It is a fish-shaped ritual tool called Kaipan (開梆). Time is announced to the entire precinct by hitting the fish’s belly.

Because the fish never closes its eyes, the image reminds the monks to devote themselves to learning and practising Buddha’s teachings. Moreover, the wooden ball at its mouth contains an important teaching. It represents Buddism’s three 3 earthly desires.

As the fish’s stomach is hit to produce sounds, it is as if a monk is helping the fish get rid of its earthly desires. So when those trained in the temple hear the sound, he is reminded to let go of his earthly desires.

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Many might not be aware, but the wooden fish was brought to Japan by Ingen. Originally, it had a fish shape. The round ones that are used nowadays are its evolved form. So if Ingen didn’t bring the wooden fish to Japan in the late 17th century, it would be one less thing at a Japanese altar that appears in most Japanese dramas or movies.

Opposite Kaipan, there is a metal plate hanging at the same position. It is called Unpan (雲版). It has a similar role as Kaipan and is used to notify the time of breakfast and lunch, as well as the morning chanting.

Another special thing at Saidō is a stone stand placed in front of the hall called Sabadai (生飯台). It is where food for the ghosts and spirits is placed.

Junshōban Wooden Plate (巡照板)

Besides the wooden fish, another 5 wooden plates are placed at different spots in the temple. They are called Junshōban. For the last 800 years, the wooden plates have been hit at 4 am and 9 pm to wake everyone up and to send people to bed. As the monk knocks on the wooden plate with a mallet, he also reads out the 5 phrases written on it:

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  • 謹白大衆 (Kinpedachon): Respectfully addressing the public
  • 生死事大 (Sensusuda): Living in the present is the most important thing
  • 無常迅速 (Ujyanshinso): Death strikes suddenly and mercilessly
  • 各宜醒覚 (Kogishinkyo): Realize what you need to achieve in this life
  • 慎勿放逸 (Shinufani): Don’t let what makes you happy and comfortable hold you back.

The monks are reminded to keep improving one’s self to reach enlightenment when they hear these phrases.

Kaisandō (開山堂)

Passing the Sanmon Gate, instead of heading straight, if you turn left, you will arrive at the two-story Kaisandō where Ingen is enshrined. The railing there is also Swastika-patterned. On the 1st and 15th of every month, the monks living in Manpuku-ji would gather there to worship the master. On the 3rd of each month, a ritual is also held.

As Ingen passed away on the 3rd of April, a special ritual is held on the day each year. Besides Manpuku-ji’s monks, monks from other temples are also invited to join the ritual.

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Mampuku-ji’s Fucha Ryōri

At Mampuku-ji, you can enjoy the Fucha Ryōri (普茶料理) brought by Master Ingen. The word “Fu (普)” means common, and “Cha (茶)” means tea. So Fucha means serving tea to everyone, and Fucha Ryōri is a meal shared equally with everyone at the table. Initially, Fucha Ryōri is served to the participants after a ritual. Compared to the Japanese style Shojin Ryōri, Fucha Ryōri has a richer flavor.

Like other temples serving Fucha Ryōri, the below dishes are included in Mampuku-ji’s Fucha Ryōri menu served at Ōryōkaku (黄龍閣) at the back right corner of the precinct, next to the temple office. Food is served in traditional tatami mat-covered rooms. Instead of sitting on the floor, you will sit at a table.

  • 筝羹 (Shunkan): A dish that uses seasonal vegetables and dried food that are colorfully arranged on a large plate. In addition to simmered, steamed, fried, and grilled dishes, sushi is sometimes served to reset your taste buds.
  • もどき (Modoki): A dish that is made to imitate a meat or seafood dish.
  • 雲片 (Unpen): Vegetables left over from cooking are chopped, fried, and thickened with arrowroot. Based on the teachings of Buddhism, this is a representative dish of Fucha cuisine, where all ingredients are used to minimize food waste.
  • 麻腐 (Mafu): Basically a sesame-infused tofu.
  • 寿免 (Sume): A clear soup made from kombu seaweed. Karaage tofu or sweet potato is usually added to the soup.
  • 油茲 (Yuji): A dish in which the ingredients and batter are seasoned and deep-fried. In addition to vegetables, there are also deep-fried konjac, steamed buns, and pickled plums. A dish in which the ingredients and batter are seasoned and deep-fried. In addition to vegetables, there are also deep-fried konjac, steamed buns, and pickled plums. After desalting, the pickled plum is simmered in sweetened soy sauce, seasoned, coated with batter, and then deep-fried.
  • 浸菜 (Shintsai): A dish with a light flavor among other dishes. Use seasonal ingredients to complement other dishes.

Reserve Your Fucha Ryōri Session at Mampuku-ji

Mampuku-ji offers 3 different Fucha Ryōri courses. All of them require a reservation by 12 pm 3 days beforehand. To book, please call +81-774-32-3900 between 9 am to 4:30 pm.

  • Special Fucha Set “Aoi” (特別普茶御膳「あおい」): 9,900 yen per person. Before your meal, a monk will greet you and show you around the temple.
    • A minimum of 2 people is required to reserve.
  • Special Fucha Plan (特別普茶プラン): 6,600 yen per person.
  • Fucha Bento: 3,300 yen per person.

The temple only serves Fucha Ryōri from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm from Wednesday to Sunday. Please arrive by 1 pm.

In addition to the meal cost, you will also need to pay the temple’s admission cost.

Mampuku-ji’s Opening Hours, Admission Costs, and Access Information

  • Mampuku-ji is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
    • The last admission is at 4:30 pm.
  • The admission fee is:
    • 500 yen for adults
    • 300 yen for elementary and junior high school students
  • Mampuku-ji is a 5-minute walk from JR Ōbaku Station (黄檗駅).
    • From Kyoto Station, take the JR Nara Line (奈良線). The train trip takes around 25 minutes.
    • If you come from Gion/Shijo, take Hakyu’s train service and change to Keihan Uji Line at Chushojima Station (中書島駅).

Restaurants Around Mampuku-ji That Serves Fucha Ryōri

Mampuku-ji used to have many sub-temples around it. While many have been lost, a few were turned into restaurants serving Fucha Ryōri, available during lunch on extended hours. So if Manpuku-ji’s lunch hours don’t suit your itinerary, you can reserve with one of the restaurants around the temple.

For more information, refer to our article on Vegan-Friendly Restaurants in Uji!