Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Rinnō-ji – The Temple that Houses Sendai’s Best Garden

Rinnō-ji was originally erected in 1441 by Date Mochimune (伊達持宗), the 11th head of the Date clan, to pray for his grandmother. Later on, together with the relocation of the Date clan, the temple was transformed a couple of times until the completion of the Sendai Castle in 1602, when Date Masamune moved it to the current location, guarding the castle’s northeast direction against the demons.

Unfortunately, except for the Niōmon Gate, the temple was burnt down in a fire hazard in 1876. The Hondō Hall (本堂) was only completed by a monk called Mugai Oshō (無外和尚) in 1915, who then spent the rest of his life designing and building the temple’s magnificent garden until he passed away in 1943.

The garden he created boasts the best in Sendai and is one of the most famous in the Tōhoku region. It is the reason that many tourists visit Rinnō-ji.

Tip: A zen session is held from 6:25 pm to 8 pm on Saturdays. No reservation is required.

Niōmon Gate (仁王門)

© 一般社団法人東北観光推進機構

Rinnō-ji’s Niōmon Gate was built in 1691 under the order of Sendai Domain’s 4th lord, Date Tsunamura (伊達綱村). The gate guarded by the two Niō (Deva kings) statues is the only temple structure with a history of more than 330 years. The approach stretches from the gate is lined with greeneries and small Buddha statues, making it a peaceful and gorgeous spot in the precinct. In autumn, the passageway is a popular fall foliage hunting spot in Sendai.

Tip: For all cat lovers out there, cats are regularly spotted around the staircases leading to the Hondō Hall.

The Bell Tower and Donkeys at Rinnō-ji

The bell tower in front of the Hondō Hall and the bell was built in 1920. However, the government took the bell in World War Two to make weapons and fighter jets. So the temple didn’t have a bell until 1958.

At the back of the bell tower, you will most likely encounter two donkeys. The two friendly donkeys are named Rinrin (輪輪) and Jinjin (寺寺).

Ⓒ photo-ac.com

Rinnō-ji’s Japanese Garden

Rinnō-ji’s garden’s entrance is located in the building on Hondō’s right. Unlike many temples, the garden’s gate is unmanned. To pass through the gate, all you need to do is insert the admission fee into the ticket gate. If you don’t have coins, there is an exchange machine for you to utilize.

Following the stone pavement, you will walk past a 7.8-meter tall pagoda. It was placed to pray for those who past away in the war and has 2,600 Heart Sutra (般若心経) buried underneath it.

Ⓒ photo-ac.com

The garden’s gorgeous pond is just a couple of steps away from the five-story pagoda. When you get close to the pond, the Koi fish will most likely gather around you (*´ω`).

If you happen to visit the temple in early to mid-April, you will get an extra stunning view with the cherry tree covered in pink flowers.

Hōrōkaku (宝楼閣)

The three-story pagoda at the back of the pond was completed to commemorate the temple’s 500-year anniversary in 1981. Inside the pagoda, there is a Gautama Buddha sitting statue.

If you are interested in seeing the Buddha, come on either the 1st or the 15th of the month.

Rantei-dō (蘭庭堂)

So we have mentioned that Rinnō-ji was erected to pray for the wife of Date Mochimune. If you wonder which worship hall is for her, it is the Rantei-dō at the far back of the garden.

The patterns engraved on the worship hall’s door are the Date clan’s family crest. The one that looks like a flower with eight smaller circles surrounding a large circle in the middle is called Kuyōmon (九曜紋). The one at the right is an image of two sparrows circled by bamboo. Both of the crests look extra shrining when contrasted by the black door.

The Best Time to Visit Rinnō-ji

  • May: The fresh green and azalea season
  • June and July: Iris
  • July: Lotus
  • November: Fall foliage
  • January to early February: Snow season

Rinnō-ji’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information

  • Rinnō-ji is open from 8 am to 5 pm.
  • The admission fee to the temple’s garden is 300 yen.
  • From JR Kitayama Station (北山駅), it is around a 10-minute walk.
  • From Kita-Sendai Station (北仙台駅), it is around a 20-minute walk.
  • If you plan to take Sendai City Bus, get off at Rinnōji-mae (輪王寺前).

IMAGINE (イマジネ)

If you plan to visit Rinnō-ji and are wondering where to have breakfast or lunch, the bakery IMAGINE just next to Kita-Sendai Station can be a great choice. The bakery with a simple but fashionable appearance is popular among the locals.

In addition to the savory and sweet bread and cakes, it also has a deli session. The second floor of the shop is a cafe space. So whether you would like to take away or dine in, IMAGINE can cater to your needs.

Just note that due to changes in consumption tax, you can’t eat the food you bought from the bakery on the first floor in the cafe space on the second floor. So if you want to dine in, stick to their cafe menu. If you can’t finish the food, they can pack it for you to enjoy later.

As not all menu items are vegetarian and most of the products contain eggs, you can utilize the phrases in our Essential Japanese Travel Phrases for Vegetarians and Vegans article to order the food you can eat.

Tip: As the bakery is quite popular, if you plan to dine in but also want to take away some products from the first floor, you can ask the staff to reserve them for you before you head to the cafe.

IMAGINE’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • IMAGINE is open daily from 7 am to 8 pm except on Mondays.
    • If Monday is a public holiday, it will close on the next business day.
    • It will close early at 7 pm on Sundays.
  • The breakfast menu is served from 7 am to 10 am.
  • The lunch menu is served from 10 am to 2:30 pm.
  • IMAGINE is just a 2-minute walk from JR Kita-Sendai Station (北仙台駅).

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