Best Zen Temples In Japan

Maria Garcia
• Friday, 18 December, 2020
• 7 min read

With over 1600 temples, Kyoto has long been a favorite destination for anyone looking for a cultural experience when visiting Japan. If you are looking to find some peace and quiet during your trip (which is not so easy during Sakura season or Autumn), add these Japanese Zen temples and gardens to your Kyoto itinerary.

(Source: en.wikipedia.org)


Zen is a branch of Japanese Buddhism that originated in China and was introduced in Japan sometime in the eleventh century. A water feature where you cleanse your hands, this simple action helps clean both your body and mind before entering the temple.

Emoji is a temple of the Sinai Zen Sect, situated in northern Kyoto close to the Shugakuin Imperial Villa. A Buddha statue inside the Zen TempleEnkoji was founded in 1601 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogun who brought about the Do Period (1603-1867).

You will find bamboo groves in Zen temples The temple complex has a beautiful courtyard and a garden with a pond and many maple trees. There is a small patch of bamboo trees that you can walk through and be sure to climb up the hill behind the garden, from where a bird’s eye view of the temple and the city.

It was originally an estate of Oshawa Sumoto, a deputy of the shogun, and eventually became a temple after his death in 1473. Tenryuji is the head temple of its own school within the Sinai Zen sect of Japanese Buddhism.

The beautifully landscaped garden features a central pond surrounded by rocks, pine trees and the lushly forested Arashiyama mountains as a backdrop. There is so much to see here, like the Hakka’en, a garden of flowering trees, bushes, and herbs and Stench Main, also known as the “So gen Pond Garden.” The pond garden is absolutely beautiful and can be explored and appreciated from various areas along a level path.

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(Source: www.hostelworld.com)

A huge pond that stands in the center acts as a giant reflecting pool mirroring the mountains and the surrounding trees. Constructed in 1202, Kenning is the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto and has one of the best zen gardens in the city.

Kenning was founded by EISA (who was also known as Rosie), a Buddhist monk who introduced both Zen Buddhism and tea cultivation to Japan after returning from study trips to China. Don’t miss the dragon murals painted on the ceiling of the Dharma Hall which was commissioned in 2002 to commemorate the temple’s 800th anniversary.

Zen's garden in Newton features sand raked in high peaked patterns to evoke the image of rough seas Cryogenic temple features as many as five different dry landscape gardens on each side of its temple building. The largest of them consists of a field of raked white gravel representing the universe, and islands of rocks and moss representing a crane and a turtle which are considered symbols of longevity and health and are commonly found in Japanese gardens.

These include a small zen garden, a pond and a wooden bridge, as well as a tea house and a bamboo grove. The Nansen temple complex and grounds are located at the base of Kyoto’s forested Higashiosaka mountains.

It is the head temple of one of the schools within the Sinai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism and includes multiple subtemples. The garden is said to have been designed as a two-dimensional picture, like a FSMA painting on the vertical wooden screen that often depicts landscape scenes and nature.

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(Source: www.neverendingvoyage.com)

Make sure to stop here on the way to NARA, the Temple and Zen garden cannot be missed when visiting Kyoto. The temple richly adorned in gold leaf reflects beautifully in the water of Kyokochi, the mirror pond.

The golden pagoda is said to house the sacred relics of the Buddha and the scenic Rokuon-ji garden is expansive and takes up 92,400 square meters of the temple grounds. The central Kyoko-chi pond contains islands of various sizes including the famous rock formations, like these Katakana stones.

If you want to appreciate ancient architecture, explore beautiful and natural surroundings, learn about the Japanese culture and Zen teachings, then truly a few of these temple visits are not to be missed. Whether you want to sit still and contemplate life or simply need to find a few moments of peace, add these Kyoto Temples and gardens to your itinerary.

The religion, which originated in India, was introduced to Japan from Korea by Buddhist monks in the 6th century. Although initially there were a few conflicts with Japan’s native religion, Shintoism, the two beliefs were soon able to co-exist peacefully and complement each other.

This blending together of the two religions was called Shinbutsu-shugo and also the reason why sometimes, you will see Buddhist buildings near shrines and vice versa. Nowadays, Japan has the world’s third largest Buddhist population and subsequently, traces of Buddhism can be seen everywhere throughout the country.

kamakura japan shrine temples tsurugaoka shrines samurai hachiman hachimangu tokyo shinto wikipedia
(Source: www.pilotguides.com)

The pagoda’s symbolic meaning, function and role have changed over time and are seen as a separate accessory structure. Pagodas are an important component of Japanese Buddhist temple compounds, however, you can sometimes find them in Shinto shrines as well.

It is one of the items used on a Buddhist altar to purify the body of the people visiting the temples. The statues can basically be categorized into four groups; Nikolai, Boats including Cannon, Mono, and Ten.

They are distinguished by various features such as facial expressions, style of clothing, hairstyle and number of limbs. NORAD are a relatively small number of Buddhas who have reached the highest stage of enlightenment.

All the Buddhist statues, regardless of their categorization vary in their size, color, materials and posture. Typically, a Japanese family grave consists of a stone monument with space for flower decoration, incense sticks and water.

Although Sensor Temple was founded in 628 the current building is much more modern, as it was rebuilt after being destroyed in WWII. Between Lamination and the temple’s second gate, a shopping street known as Nakamisedori stretches over 200 meters.

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(Source: feldmanarchitecture.com)

After passing the second gate, you will find the temple’s main hall, a five storied pagoda and a large incense burner called joker. The temple was founded in 778 and contains buildings from the 17th century including the main hall which was designated as a National Treasure.

When you reach the summit, you will be greeted by a grand red Simon Gate and a three-storied pagoda. The most distinctive feature of the temple is its wooden stage which offers an outstanding panoramic view of Kyoto.

The temple complex was completed in 752 during the NARA Period, and now it is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today is especially famous for housing the Daihatsu (Great Buddha) that is 15 meters tall and one of the largest bronze statues in the country.

The Daibutsuden is one of the biggest wooden buildings in the world, despite the fact that the present reconstruction of 1692 is only two thirds of the original temple hall’s size. Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), formerly known as Rokuonji, is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf.

The temple was originally built in 1397, and became the retirement villa of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu during the Mariachi period (1392-1573). The current building only dates back to 1955 with a thicker layer of gold leaf added in 1987.

zen japanese gardens japan kyoto most inspiring garden moss meditation rock forest buddhist famous temple landscape ji ancient saiho century
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In 721, the monk Tokyo Shnen commissioned two statues of Cannon, the goddess of mercy, to be made from the same tree. Today, it is the largest wooden statue in Japan, standing at nearly 10 meters tall.

A waiting time of over 3 hours to enter the temple grounds on the weekends is not uncommon! Kyoto, the city with 1,000 temples, is home to some of the most impressive Zen Buddhist complexes in the country.

Zen is notably based on the practice of sitting meditation (taken in Japanese) that leads to Buddha's enlightenment. Zen's devotees seek to live in the present moment and experience reality, without hope or fear.

Also called “dry gardens” (, Kansans in Japanese), these stretches of raked gravel where stones are arranged illustrate one of the major aspects of Zen : the desire to eliminate the superfluous. The oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, Kenning is located in the historic district of Higashiosaka.

It is particularly famous for its covered wooden bridge, overlooking a sea of maple trees, a sight that's all the more impressive during the fall. The immense Salmon Gate is also an important point of interest of the complex: it's one of the oldest in the country.

shrine heian kyoto batnomad
(Source: batnomad.com)

Founded in 1606 by a widow to honor her late husband, the temple especially shines through its beautiful gardens. These include a small stone garden, a pond and a wooden bridge, as well as a tea house and a bamboo grove.

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