Eating Traditional Temple Food at Tenryu-ji in Kyoto | Vegan Shōjin Ryōri
About Tenryu-ji Temple
Tenryu-ji is a Rinzai sect zen buddhist temple in Arashiyama, in the west of Kyoto. It was established in 1339 by the shogun Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358) with the Zen master Muso Soseki (1275-1351) as founding abbot. Soseki was also a famous garden designer and constructed Tenryu-ji's garden, which is still in its original form.
Tenryu-ji was built to ease then spirit of the former Emperor Go-Daigo (1288-1339). As the donated estates were not enough to found the construction, two trading ships were sent to China and the profits from that were used for the new temple. It was consecrated in 1345 and has been designated first among Kyoto's five major Zen temples.
Tenryu-ji got destructed by eight major fires in 1358, 1367, 1373, 1380, 1447, 1468, 1815, and 1864. As the ones of 1445 and 1468 were particularly severe, with financial support from shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) the temple was able to be rebuilt in 1585.
After the last major fires, while Tenryu-ji was still being rebuilt, most of the four square kilometers of arable land owned by the temple was confiscated by the Meiji government, which left the temple with less than a tenth of the property it had previously owned.
Tenryu-ji continued its rebuilding efforts through the late nineteenth century. Some of it's buildings were moved, some reconstructed and a few new ones were added. Tenryu-ji got a form close to how it is now after 1934.
Opening Hours: 8:30 to 17:00 (entry until 16:50) No closing days
Admission: 500 yen (an extra 300 yen for entrance into the temple buildings)
Address: Japan, 〒616-8385 Kyoto, Ukyo Ward, Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho, 68
Official Website: http://www.tenryuji.com/en/
Eating Traditional Temple Food at Tenryu-ji
What is Shōjin ryōri?
First of all, let's make it clear what exactly temple food is. Shōjin ryōri (精進料理) is a type of buddhist cuisine that exists all over Asia. It was brought to Japan togehter with the concept of Buddhism in the 6th century, but spread across the country as a particular way of eating in the 13th century with the rise of Zen Buddhism.
Shōjin ryōri's literal meaning is "devotion food". It is called that way as a form of respect to the gifts received from the bounty nature of the land and sea.
Rules in shōjin ryōri:
五法 gohō: 5 generally used methods for for preparing the food are stewing, boiling, steaming, roasting and leaving the food raw.
五色 goshoku: 5 primary colors used are red, green, white, black and yellow. This was the food pyramid of Japanese antiquity. It was believed to provide a healthy balance of nutrients.
五味 gomi: 5 flavors used are sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory (umami)
Shōjin ryōri often includes tofu made by soy beans or sesame, vegetables like daikon radish, eggplant and konjaku. Other seasonal vegetables are used as well.
Foods which are usually omited: meat, fish, dairy, eggs, onion, garlic (nowadays some restaurants use egg or dashi made from fish, so make sure to ask beforehand)
Shigetsu is one of the most popular restaurants for shōjin ryōri in Kyoto as it is located inside the Tenryu-ji Temple complex. Because you have to pay the entrence fee for Tenryu–ji's beautiful garden, I recommend combining both experiences.
As you enter the garden and follow the path, you will see a sign pointing to the restaurant. When you enter, you first need to take off your shoes at the entrance and then ring a bell to call the staff.
After checking your reservation you will be lead to the tables. In traditional Japanese style, the food is served on a low table sitting on tatami mats, which is a great experience!
They have three set meals with changing ingredients depending on the season. You have to do a reservation at least one day in advance.
The cheapest one costs 3300 yen. The middle one costs 5500 yen and the most expensive one 8000 yen. Plus the entrence fee for the garden which is 500 yen. The difference between the sets is the amount of dishes that come with it. All sets come with a can of tea. You can have a look at them at the homepage here:
About the Food
We chose the set for 3300 yen, which in my opinion was quite a lot of food. It included rice, soup and five side dishes which all looked really beautiful. Most dishes were served at the same time, but two of them arrived a bit later.
One thing I noticed is, that most dishes in shōjin ryōri are served cold. Same with this meal.
Besides a bowl of rice and soup there was sesame tofu, tsukemono (Japanese pickles), baked eggplant with miso, steamed vegetables, nama-fu (raw wheat gluten) as well as a wagashi (traditional sweets) and melon for dessert.
As you see, shōjin ryōri includes a huge variety of foods which makes the meal balanced and healthy. I liked especially the creamy sesame tofu and the rich, flavorful soup. I didn't like a few of the vegetablea because as a western person I am used to strong seasoning which was lacking. However, if I got used to it I'm pretty sure I'd love them as well.
Example of the dishes included (they change seasonally, so it probably won't be completely the same):
All in all, even though the food was not cheap it was a special and great experience. If you want to try traditional Japanese food but without consuming animal products like fish, shōjon ryōri is the way to go!
68 Susukinobaba-cho, Saga-Tenryuji, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, 616-8385 Japan
(Inside the Tenryu-ji garden)
11:00-14:00 Reservation required! (you can find an English form on the website)
Interested into other cafés in Arashiyama as well?
Read about Saganoyu, a former public bathing house converted to a stunning café here:
Read about Arashiyama´s Rilakkuma Café Rilakkuma Sabo here:
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