Kyoto Trip: 10 Most Popular Temples Around Arashiyama (October 2019 Ranking)

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Kyoto Trip: 10 Most Popular Temples Around Arashiyama (October 2019 Ranking)
Kyoto Trip: 10 Most Popular Temples Around Arashiyama (October 2019 Ranking)

Here are the most popular temples around Arashiyama and Uzumasa, with travel tips and more, according to LIVE JAPAN, a top-class travel website for visitors to Japan. Our ranking is based on the most popular pages viewed by foreign visitors in a given category.

For instance, Jingo-ji Temple, Ryoan-ji Temple, Tenryu-ji Temple and other related spots will be listed. Be sure to check them out during your visit to Arashiyama, Uzumasa!

1.Jingo-ji Temple

Jingo-ji Temple is located on the Koyasan mountainside and is an ancient temple that was a one of three “sanbi” temples. The two others are Kozan-ji Temple and Saimyo-ji Temple. Jingo-ji Temple has a long history as this is where Kukai founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism. It’s home to countless treasures including a Yakushi Nyorai statue that is a national treasure of Japan.

Jingo-ji Temple
5, Umegahatatakaocho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

2.Ryoan-ji Temple

Originally a villa belonging to the Tokudaiji Family, the land was handed to Katsumoto Hosokawa (deputy of the Shogun during the Muromachi Period) in 1450. He established Ryoan-ji Temple as a Zen temple belonging to the Myoshin-ji School of the Rinzai Sect and invited Giten Gensho from Myoshin-ji Temple to be its founder. The karesansui (dry landscape) of Hojo Garden within the temple is a world-famous rock garden. Although the original temple was destroyed during the Onin War, Katsumoto's son, Masamoto Hosokawa, saw to its reconstruction in 1499. It is said that the rock garden was created at this time, but its precise date of origin and designer are unknown. The intent behind the design is likewise shrouded in mystery, and the ambiguity has added to the temple's popularity. The rock garden is designated by the government as a Historic Site and Special Place of Scenic Beauty and was also registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto in 1994.

・The rock garden that captivated Queen Elizabeth
The traditional rock garden is a rectangular space of 248 square meters, with 15 rocks of varying sizes laid out among raked white pebbles. The rock formations are known by different names, such as ”Tiger Cubs Crossing the Water” and ”Shichi-Go-San (7-5-3) Arrangement.” Queen Elizabeth spoke highly of the stone garden after viewing it during her official state visit to Japan in 1975, which propelled Ryoan-ji Temple to fame across the world.

・Stroll through the pond garden to view different seasonal flowers that breathe nature into the temple grounds
Ryoan-ji Temple is most well-known for its rock garden, but the south side of the temple complex offers a big garden for visitors to stroll through, surrounding a large, reflective pond that was once famous for its mandarin ducks. Seasonal flowers brighten the garden, offering visitors an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of nature. It stands in striking contrast to the austere simplicity of the rock garden, and the existence of these two different styles of gardens further enhances the appeal of Ryoan-ji Temple.

・The tsukubai (washbasin) from Mitsukuni Tokugawa that tells one to be satisfied with what one has
The tsukubai washbasin placed in front of Zorokuan Tea House is said to be a contribution from Mitsukuni Tokugawa, who was head of the Mito Domain. The center of the basin is square and the kanji characters on the surrounding four sides read ”ware tada taru wo shiru (I know only satisfaction).” It illustrates a well-known Zen teaching that says, ”Those who are satisfied with what they have are rich in spirit, even if they are materially poor. In contrast, those who know no satisfaction remain poor no matter how rich they are.” It reflects the essence of Buddhism and is also an integral part of the tea ceremony mentality. The washbasin found behind the Hojo building is a replica and the real tsukubai is not available for public viewing.

Ryoan-ji Temple
13, Ryoan-ji Goryounoshitacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

3.Tenryu-ji Temple

Tenryu-ji Temple was built in 1339 under the directions of Takauji Ashikaga in honor of Emperor Go-Daigo, who had just passed away. It is the top-ranking temple among the major Zen Temples of Kyoto known as the Gozan (Tenryu-ji, Nanzen-ji, Shokoku-ji, Kennin-ji, Tofuku-ji, and Manju-ji). The strolling pond garden, Sogenchi Teien (Sogen Pond Garden), was designed by Muso Kokushi (also known as Muso Soseki), who was the first head priest of the temple. It was the first garden in Japan to be designated as a Historic Site and Special Place of Scenic Beauty. Visitors can enjoy beautiful views throughout the seasons, including cherry blossoms in spring, changing leaf colors in fall, and snowscapes in winter, all against the backdrop of Arashiyama. Since it was constructed, the temple has been victim to eight fires, and the structures seen today were rebuilt during the Meiji Period. It was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994 as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.

・The Cloud Dragon Painting on the ceiling of Hatto Dharma Hall appears to be staring straight at visitors wherever they are standing
Hatto Dharma Hall was destroyed by fire in 1864 during the Kinmon Incident, and the Ungo-an Zendo (Senbutsujo) meditation hall, built in the late Edo Period, was relocated during the Meiji Period. The temple's principal image, Shakyamuni Buddha and his two chief bodhisattva disciples, are enshrined within the Hatto, which is one of the buildings that make up the Shichido Garan (ideal layout of a Zen Buddhist temple compound). A Cloud Dragon Painting was drawn on the ceiling by Meiji artist Shonen Suzuki, but this was replaced in 1997 with the current Cloud Dragon Painting drawn in the happo nirami style, which means the dragon appears to be staring straight at the viewers no matter where they are standing. The new painting was created by Matazo Kayama as part of large-scale renovations conducted on the 650th death anniversary of Tenryu-ji's founder, Muso Kokushi.

・A painting of Bodhidharma, founder of Zen Buddhism, can be found inside the Kuri (Temple Living Quarters)
The Kuri was built in 1899 and is one of the Shichido Garan structures. It was designed to act as a kitchen and temple office. In the entrance hall is a large screen with a painting of Bodhidharma, created by the previous chief abbot of Tenryu-ji Temple, Seiko Hirata. The painting has now become a symbol of the temple.

・While enjoying the view of the garden, sit down for Shojin Ryori (vegetarian meal) that was awarded Bib Gourmand status in ”MICHELIN GUIDE Kyoto Osaka + Tottori 2019”
Within the temple precinct is a restaurant called ”Shigetsu” where visitors can enjoy Shojin Ryori. This traditional Buddhist meal does not use any animal-derived ingredients and offers dishes that use various vegetarian ingredients depending on the season. Enjoy the view of the garden and try the Shojin Ryori that was awarded the Bib Gourmand status in ”MICHELIN GUIDE Kyoto Osaka + Tottori 2019.” Reservations required.

Tenryu-ji Temple
68, Sagatenryujisusukinobabacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

4.Ninna-ji Temple

Established by the 59th Emperor Uda in 888, Ninna-ji Temple was also called ”Omuro gosho” because the emperor built priests' living quarters called ”omuro” after he entered the priesthood. Until the Meiji Restoration, the temple served as the head of Monzeki Temples whose head priest was a member of the Imperial Family. The temple suffered serious damage from fire during the Onin War, but was rebuilt 160 years later in the Edo period thanks to the help of the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu. The current five-story pagoda and Nio-mon gate have remained unchanged since the reconstruction. If you're visiting in spring, don't miss the temple's late-blooming, short-statured cherry trees called ”Omuro-zakura.” Planted during the Edo period, these famous trees are music to the eyes. The temple joined the register of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1994 as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.

The late blooming Omuro-zakura showcases the end of spring in Kyoto
Planted in the northwest area of the Chu-mon gate, Omuro-zakura create a tasteful atmosphere unchanged since the Edo period. This late-blooming cherry tree is also known for its low height. The scenery combining the five-story pagoda with blooming Omuro-zakura is just exquisite, making it an official national site of scenic beauty and earning it a place among the 100 best sakura viewing points in Japan.

Priceless temple treasures revealed twice a year at Reihokan
Reihokan holds many temple treasures, including the statue of Amida Sanzon, the principal image in the temple at the time of its founding. The exhibits cover a vast range of objects from Buddhist statues to sculptures, paintings to crafts to books and more. With its 12 National Treasures (88 items), 47 Important Cultural Properties (1,678 items), and ancient documents, the number of items in the collection exceeds 100,000. Pieces from the collection, including National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties, are displayed during special-themed exhibitions held twice a year in spring and autumn.

Visit temples enshrining Kobo Daishi in Omuro’s Eighty-eight Sacred Places
On Mt. Joju, situated in the northwest part of the grounds, you can experience a pilgrimage called ”Omuro's Eighty-eight Sacred Places” that re-creates Shikoku's Eighty-eight Sacred Places in miniature. The three-kilometer mountain trail is lined with temples that enshrine the spirit of Kobo Daishi. It takes two hours to visit all these temples, called fudasho (temples where amulets are collected), and fulfillment of the wishes you prayed for at all the temples brings one the same benefits as those when one completes the pilgrimage around Shikoku's Eighty-eight Sacred Places. From May to November, you can collect stamp impressions along the ”Ninna-ji Temple and Mt. Joju Eighty-eight Walk” for a fee.

Create unforgettable memories at Ninna-ji Temple
In the grounds of Ninna-ji Temple is shukubo, a temple lodging for visitors and pilgrims. Staying at the shukubo gives you the opportunity to enter the temple's main pavilion and join the morning gongyo (devotional exercises) in the Kon-do Hall—experiences not available to the general public. What's more, you can enjoy a quiet stroll through the temple grounds (except for some facilities) after the morning gongyo before sightseers arrive. Meals are the time to sample the delicious Kyo kaiseki (Kyoto's traditional local cuisine), where you'll enjoy seasonal ingredients at dinner and shojin cuisine (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) at breakfast.

Ninna-ji Temple
33, Omuroouchi, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

5.Myoshin-ji Temple

After Emperor Hanazono (the 95th Emperor of Japan) shaved his head and became a monk, he converted his own villa, the Hanazono Rikyu, into a Zen temple and changed its name to Myoshin-ji Temple in 1337. The temple covers an area of 330,000 square meters inside which the Shichidogaran (seven major structures in the temple compound), such as the San-mon gate, Butsuden (Buddha hall) and Hatto (lecture hall), align in a north-south direction surrounded by 46 sub-temples to create a ”temple town.” The citizens of Kyoto affectionally call the temple ”Nishi no Gosho (West Imperial Palace).” This temple is recognized as the head temple of about 3,400 temples belonging to the Myoshin-ji Temple school among approximately 6,000 Rinzai sect temples throughout Japan.

Dragon staring all directions from the ceiling
If you look up to the ceiling in the Hatto, built to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the death of Kanzan Egen in 1656, you'll spot a picture of a heavenly dragon in the clouds. It took the painter Tanyu Kano eight years to complete the artwork. The dragon is called ”Happo Nirami no Ryu (Dragon that stares all directions)” because the dragon mysteriously seems to be staring back at you no matter which direction you look at it from.

Japan's oldest temple bell, which enchanted Kenko Yoshida
The temple bell in the Hatto is known as the ”Ojikicho Bell (bell of the Ojiki mode, or one of the six main modes of gagaku)” and has been designated as a National Treasure. Previously housed in the Jo Kongo-in Temple that was later abolished, the bell is Japan's oldest temple bell with an inscription that indicates its age. Kenko Yoshida's Tsurezure-gusa (a collection of essays written in the early 1330s) mentions it: ”The tone of the bell should be of the Ojiki mode. […] The tone of the bell in Jo Kongo-in Temple is of the Ojiki mode, too.”

See a masterpiece of early Suiboku-ga ”Hyonenzu” at a sub-temple with a wonderful garden
Taizo-in Temple, one of the sub-temples at Myoshin-ji Temple, holds the Shihon Bokuga Tansai Hyonenzu by Josetsu. This is a masterpiece of early Suiboku-ga (india-ink paintings) and has been designated as a National Treasure. Hyonenzu is a painting that renders a koan (analects about Zen) on how to hold down a slippery catfish with a slick gourd. The original has been deposited at the Kyoto National Museum; the one on display at the temple is a reproduction. This sub-temple is also famous for its beautiful garden and weeping cherry blossom trees.

Myoshin-ji Temple
1, Hanazonomyoshinjicho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

6.Jojakko-ji Temple

Jojakko-ji Temple was founded in 1596 by the 16th chief priest of Honkoku-ji Temple, Nisshin, who used the temple as his private secluded space. The word ”Jojakkodo” is a Buddhist term that means an ideal world free from worldly desires and full of wisdom. As the name suggests, the panoramic view of Sagano seen from the temple is a utopia-like spectacle. Tradition has it that Fujiwara no Sadaie compiled the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (one hundred waka poems) in a villa on Mt. Ogura during the Heian period, and that Jojakko-ji Temple lies where the villa used to be. The main hall was originally the guest hall of Momoyama-jo Castle relocated with the support of Hideaki Kobayakawa. Without anything that separates the grounds from the mountain, the temple blends with the surrounding nature of Mt. Ogura.

Two-story pagoda that provides a commanding view of Kyoto
The two-story pagoda near the main hall has been designated as an Important Cultural Property. It offers a sweeping view of Sagano as well as Kyoto, and on a fine day you can see Mt. Hiei. In autumn, the 12-meter two-story pagoda creates a stunning contract with the vivid hues of the leaves.

Unkei's Nio statues await at Nio-mon gate
Nio-mon gate was originally the south gate of the Honkoku-ji Temple's guest hall that was relocated in 1616. It is the oldest surviving building in the grounds. A pair of Nio statues stand on both sides of the gate. These statues, allegedly created by Unkei, were relocated from Chogen-ji Temple, a Nichiren-sect temple in Obama, Fukui. The statues are believed to have the benefit of curing diseases of the eyes and lower back and legs, and many waraji (straw sandals) dedicated by followers praying for the cure of their disease are hung on the walls of the gate.

Jojakko-ji Temple
3, Sagaogurayamaoguracho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

7.Seiryoji Temple

The principal object of worship at Seiryoji Temple is the carved wooden statue of a young buddha, Shaka Nyrorai, which is a national treasure. The temple belongs to the Jodo Buddhist sect and is also known to locals as “Saga Shaka-do.” Every April, the “Saga Dai Nenbutsu Kyogen” performance is held, said to be one of Kyoto’s three largest Kyogen performances.

Seiryoji Temple
46, Sagashakadofujinokicho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

8.Nison-in Temple

Nison-in Temple is named for the two statues worshipped there, Shana Nyorai and Amida Nyorai. The road that leads from the main gate to the sanctuary tells the story of the ruins of Fushimi Castle and is known as “Momiji-no-baba”. On this road, you can observe 150 meters of beautiful autumn foliage.

Nison-in Temple
27, Saganisoninmonzenchojincho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

9.Adashino Nenbutsu-ji Temple

This temple was built approximately 1200 years ago when Kukai (Kobo Daishi) built Rengeji Temple on Adashino land to hold a memorial service for the dead. The area was previously a burial ground for those who did not have someone to tend to their graves. The ”Sento Kuyo” ceremony is held yearly on the nights of August 23rd and 24th.

Adashino Nenbutsu-ji Temple
17, Sagatoriimotoadashinocho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

10.Saihoji Temple

Saihoji Temple is a temple for the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. It has one of the most outstanding gardens of Kyoto, forming a circular path around a pond. Due to the temple being covered it moss, it is affectionately referred to as “Koke-dera” or “Moss Temple”. Those wishing to visit must make a reservation in advance.

Saihoji Temple
56, Matsuojingatanicho, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

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