UNESCO World Heritage Site: Enryaku-ji

Many foreign tourists interested in exploring Kyoto's religious and cultural heritage make it a point to visit the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)," which are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In early November, you will have an even more compelling reason to visit, thanks to an unusual collaboration with contemporary art held at Enryaku-ji. Overlooking Kyoto on Mount Hiei, the historic Buddhist monastery Enryaku-ji 延暦寺, founded in 788, is the headquarters of the Tendai sect and one of the most significant monasteries in Japanese history.

Great Lecture Hall at Enryaku-ji | 663highland [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

KOMAINU: Guardian Beasts

Between November 2nd and 4th, 2019, two 10-foot-tall sculptures designed by contemporary artist Kenji Yanobe and made with the collaboration of 10 students from the Kyoto University of Art and Design will be displayed within the temple grounds, at the twin buildings called the Ninaido にない堂, or "shoulder carrying hall." The name is a reference to Benkei, a warrior monk who, according to legend, was so strong he once lifted two buildings onto his shoulders.

Ninaido at Enryaku-ji | KENPEI [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Contemporary interpretations of the komainu 狛犬, guardian beasts (often called "lion-dogs" in English) placed at the entrance of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples to ward off evil spirits, the two sculptures were designed with the artistic intent to "protect the world from international conflicts, divisions within the human race, as well as the current deterioration of the global environment."

Standing 3 meters tall (nearly 10 feet), weighing 200 kg (441 lbs), they are made of fiber-reinforced plastic, stainless steel, glass marbles and steel framing.

KOMAINU: Guardian Beasts, by Kenji Yanobe (2019) (image of finished work) | © PR Times, Inc.

Giant Paper Lantern

In addition to the impressive Komainu sculptures, visitors will also be able to appreciate an installation of a giant paper lantern. Based on an idea from students at the Kyoto University of Art and Design, and thanks to a collaboration with Kojima Shōten 小嶋商店, a shop making kyō-chōchin 京提灯 traditional Kyoto style lanterns, the giant lantern will be installed in a "lantern tea room" within one of the two halls of the Ninaido, the Hokkedō 法華堂 (Lotus Hall). The lantern is intended to reflect both the Tendai religion's principle of ichigū wo terasu 一隅を照らす (light up a corner of your world) as well as the spirit of ichi-go ichi-e 一期一会 (once in a lifetime) from Japanese tea ceremony.

The lantern is 2 meters (over 6.5 feet) wide and made of bamboo and washi paper.

In the adjacent Jōgyōdō Hall (The Hall of Perpetual Practice), you can also see works which won awards in domestic Japanese design competitions as well as at Milano Design Week.


  • Period: November 2nd (Sat.) to November 4th (Monday, national holiday)
  • Place: Ninaido, Enryaku-ji Temple, Mount Hiei
  • Time: 10:00 to 16:00
  • Online: Enryakuji (English)
  • Ichigu Festival (hosting the exhibition)
  • Kenji Yanobe official website

By - Ben K.