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Sonshō-ji (尊勝寺 Sonshō-ji?) is a Tendai[1] Buddhist temple in northeastern Kyoto, Japan, established by Emperor Horikawa in fulfillment of a sacred vow.[2] It is known as one of the "Six Victorious Temples" (六勝寺 Rokushō-ji?),[3] which encompass monasteries enjoying extravagant Imperial patronage from their inception. They are sometimes identified as the "Superlative Temples" or the "Shō Temples" because of the middle syllable of the temple name.[4]


Sonshō-ji was founded in the early Heian period.[5] Saishō-ji and the other Rokushō-ji establishments had a particular function within the Imperial "cloister government" (院政 insei?). The Rokushō-ji were "sacred vow temples" (gogan-ji) built by imperial command following a precedent established by Emperor Shirakawa's Hosshō-ji.[6] Although these temple complexes were ostensibly established for a presumptively pious purpose,

the relationship of Emperors Shirakawa, Toba, Sutoku, and Konoe with Hosshō-ji and the other "imperial vow" temples and with the imperial residences that adjoined the temple complexes is quite revealing. Clearly the temples were not built simply as acts of piety but as ways of protecting estate income and a certain style of life. Evidently the building of new temples could serve as a coercive device to extract support from other kuge families and to justify the use of public taxes for the benefit of members of the imperial-house, the religious intent giving support to the political interest.[7]

The Rokushō-ji were also called the six "Superiority Temples;" and each were uniquely dedicated to an aspect of esoteric Buddhist ontology, as in

  • the "Superiority of Buddhist Law"[6] --
Hosshō-ji (法勝寺 Hosshō-ji?), founded by Emperor Shirakawa in 1077.[8]
  • the "Superiority of Worship"[6] --
Sonshō-ji, founded by Emperor Horikawa (Shirakawa's son) in 1102.[8]
  • the "Most Superior"[6] --
Saishō-ji (最勝寺 Saishō-ji?), founded by Emperor Toba (Shirakawa's grandson) in 1118.[8]
  • the "Superiority of Perfection"[6] --
Enshō-ji (円勝寺 Enshō-ji?), founded by Imperial consort Taiken-mon'in (Shirakawa's adopted daughter and the mother of Emperor Sutoku) in 1128.[8]
  • the "Superiority of Becoming"[6] --
Jōshō-ji (成勝寺 Jōshō-ji?), founded by Emperor Sutoku (Shirakawa's great-grandson) in 1139.[8]
  • the "Superiority of Duration"[6] --
Enshō-ji (延勝寺 Enshō-ji?), founded by Emperor Konoe (Shirakawa's great-grandson) in 1149.[8]

Construction of the main Amitabha Hall at Sonshō-ji in Kyoto took two years.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Abe, Ryuichi. (2000). The Weaving of Mantra: Kukai and the Construction of Esoteric Buddhist Discourse, p. 380.
  2. ^ Paine, Robert Treat et al. (1981). The Art and Architecture of Japan (3rd edition), p. 346.
  3. ^ Adophson, Mikael S. (2000). The Gates of Power: Monks, Courtiers, and Warriors in Premodern Japan, p. 388 n99.
  4. ^ McCullough, Helen Craig. (1988). The Tale of the Heike, p. 485; Yiengpruksawan, Mimi Hall. (1998). Hiraizumi: Buddhist Art and Regional Politics in Twelfth-century Japan, p. 216 n13.
  5. ^ Ponsonby-Fane, Richard Arthur Brabazon. (1956). Kyoto: The Old Capital of Japan, 794-1869, p. 114.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Varley, H. Paul. (1980). [ Kitabatake Chikafusa, 1359], Jinnō Shōtōki ("A Chronicle of Gods and Sovereigns: Jinnō Shōtōki of Kitabatake Chikafusa" translated by H. Paul Varley), p. 200.
  7. ^ Hall, John et al. (1974). Medieval Japan: Essays in Institutional History, p. 21.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Takagaki, Cary Shinji. (1999). "The Rokusho-ji, the six superiority temples of Heian Japan," p. 2.
  9. ^ Yiengpruksawan, Mimi Hall. "The Phoenix Hall at Uji and the symmetries of replication," The Art Bulletin (December 1995), n37.