Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Zensui-ji: A Stunning Temple to Source Sacred Water

While Zensui-ji (善水寺) isn’t close to the other two temples of Konan City (known as Konan Sanzan), it is still a temple that is worth the travel. Like Chōju-ji and Jōraku-ji, Zensui-ji has a beautiful precinct and houses a national treasure. In addition, the temple with a Healing Buddha as the main image has sacred water for visitors to take home!

Table of Contents

Zensui-ji Temple’s History

The same as Jōraku-ji, Zensui-ji was also established between 708 – 715 at the request of Emperor Genmei (元明天皇). The primary purpose of the temple’s erection was to pray for the country’s well-being and prosperity.

If you love to examine old Buddha statues, your time at Zensui-ji will be heavenly.

Zensui-ji Wasn’t Called Zensui-ji Initially?

When the temple was erected, it was named Wadō-ji (和銅寺), derived from the name of the era at the time. So why was the name changed? It has everything to do with Saichō (最澄) and the establishment of Enryaku-ji Temple.

Enryaku-ji in Mt. Hiei was founded in 788. Two years later, Saichō was seeking building materials (i.e. wood) to build more worship halls. But at the time, transporting wood from other mountains close by was hard work, as you can imagine. The easiest way to complete the task is to utilize the Yasu River (野洲川). However, there was a problem: the water flowing down the river wasn’t enough due to the continued good weather.

As a monk with some spiritual power, the obstacle wasn’t as challenging.

Saichō decided to perform a ritual of praying for rain to increase the water levels in the Yasu River. While looking for a suitable venue to perform the ritual, he saw a ray of light shine from the mountains of Iwane. Seeking the light source, he ended up at the Momotsutai Pond (百伝池) in Zensui-ji. The object that was glowing was a Healing Buddha statue.

So Saichō performed the ritual in front of the statue for seven days. Upon completion, the Buddha granted Saichō’s prayer, and the region received adequate rainfall, which enabled the wood to be transported to Mt. Hiei.

Because of this event, Zensui-ji was converted into a Tendai sect temple with the Healing Buddha as the main image. Furthermore, Momotsutai Pond’s water is said to have healing power after the Healing Buddha emerged from it during the ritual. In fact, when Emperor Kanmu (桓武天皇) fell ill, Saichō presented the water after some prayers. The emperor recovered soon after he drank the water.

So, to show his appreciation, Emperor Kanmu gave the temple the name Zensui, describing its fine water.

Unfortunately, except for the main worship hall, all buildings in the precinct were destroyed when Oda Nobunaga took down Enryaku-ji.

Ganzan Daishi-dō (元三大師堂)

Soon after you pass the ticket booth, you will encounter a bell tower built in 1663 at the side of the road. The worship hall opposite it is called Ganzan Daishi-dō (元三大師堂), restored in 1713.

Ganzan Daishi is the 18th head of the Tendai sect Jie Daishi (慈恵大師). Some also referred to him as Ryōgen (良源). Inside the worship hall, there is a life-size statue of Jie Daishi.

If you are curious about where Jie Daishi got his nickname (Ganzan Daishi), please refer to our Mt. Hiei article.

Zensui-ji’s National Treasure – Hondō (本堂)

Not too far from Ganzan Daishi-dō, the cypress bark roofed main worship hall was designated a National Treasure in 1954.

The worship hall’s reconstruction was completed in 1366. More than 30 Buddha statues are enshrined inside the worship hall on the Shumi-dan altar (須弥壇)! Inside the miniature shrine, the main image of the Healing Buddha is enshrined.

The hidden Healing Buddha is surrounded by two of the kings of heaven in Hindu mythology (梵天立像・帝釈天立像), the Four Heavingly Kings (四天王), and the Twelve Divine Generals (十二神将) who protect Healing Buddha’s Dharma.

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

Even in Kyoto, you can hardly find a temple with as many Buddhas enshrined under one roof. Plus, you won’t be pushed around at Zensui-ji!

Because photography isn’t allowed in the worship hall, you can check out some statues’ photos in advance on the official website HERE.

As a side note, many of the statues in Hondō were designated as important national cultural properties.

Zensui-ji’s Garden

The garden is where the magical Momotsute Pond is located. It was transformed into a strolling garden designed for visitors to adore the pond in 2012.

In the small worship hall on the small island in the pond, the Benzaiten is enshrined.

On the right-hand side of Momotsute Pond, there is a fountain where you can source the sacred water that cured Emperor Kanmu’s illness. If you don’t have a water container, you can get one from the shrine’s office with a donation.

Other Worship Halls at Zensui-ji

There are a couple more worship halls in the temple’s precinct with different Buddhas and deities enshrined.

Just above the water fountain, there is a Rokusho Gongen-sha (六所権現社). It is the guardian shrine of Zensui-ji and has the gods of Ise (伊勢), Kasuga (春日), Hachiman (八幡), Kamō (賀茂), Atsuta (熱田), and Kashima (鹿島) enshrined.

Beyond Rokusho Gongen-sha, at the highest point of Zensui-ji, there is a Gyōja-dō (行者堂). In ancient times, the area used to have many practitioners of Shugendō (修験道) who performed mountain worship.

If you want to know more about what Shugendo is, refer to our article on Mt. Yoshino.

Walking down the path next to the bell tower, you will find a Jizō-dō (地蔵堂) for Jizō Bodhisattva and a Kannon-dō (観音堂) for Kannon Bodhisattva. The Kannon-dō, established in 1696, has a sitting Kannon statue made in the Heian period.

Walking further away from the temple, close to a bamboo grove, this was where some of the 26 sub-temples were located. Back then, the temple thrived as a large Tendai school training ground with more than 100 disciples.

Zensui-ji’s Autumn Foliage Season

  • Zensui-ji’s fall foliage season usually starts in mid-November and ends in early December.
  • In 2023, the Konan Sanzan Autumn Festival (湖南三山紅葉めぐり) was held from 9 am to 4 pm from the 10th to the 30th of November.

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

  • From JR Kōsei Station (甲西駅), If you plan to take the Konan City Community Bus, get off at Zensuiji (善水寺)
    • Refer to our Konan Sanzan article for information about how to get to the bus stop.
  • The temple is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
    • From November to February, the temple closes early, at 4 pm.
  • For trip planning, allow 30 – 40 minutes at Zensui-ji
  • The admission fee is
    • 600 yen for adults
    • 300 yen for high school students
    • Free for elementary school students and below

Tip: If you understand Japanese, check with the temple to see if the monk has time to give you a brief tour around Zensui-ji.

Discover the Other Two Temples of Konan Sanzan

Click the photo for more information about Konan Sanzan!

At the south of Japan’s largest lake, Lake Biwa, three temples were erected in the early 8th century. Each has a worship hall designated as a National Treasure in its precinct. Together, the three Tendai sect temples have been known as the Konan Sanzan.

Besides Zensui-ji, which we have just introduced, the other two temples are also worth a visit.

For more information, refer to our Konan Sanzan article!