Best Zen Temples Kyoto

Paul Gonzalez
• Sunday, 27 December, 2020
• 9 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.

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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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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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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 KyotoZenTemples and gardens to your itinerary.

It juts out over the steep hillside, floating over maple trees that glow red in the autumn months. Descending the slope via a narrow path that skirts the edge of a forest, visitors encounter Otowa-no-taki, a waterfall with three streams partitioned by man-made stone conduits.

People line up to drink from Town’s waters, as each stream promises success, love, or longevity. Sharp-eyed travelers might also notice Jishu-jinja, a Shinto shrine that lies at the top of the narrow stairs past the main temple hall.

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The present structure dates to 1955, after a crazed monk burnt down the previous temple in a defiant act of arson. The top two floors are coated in real gold leaf, as per the wishes of the shogun who designed this place as his retirement villa.

Take a break from the crowds by popping into the tea garden for a small Japanese sweet and a hot cup of match. Ryoan-ji is a Zen temple in Kyoto’s northwestern region, famous for housing one of Japan’s most intriguing rock gardens.

Visitors naturally fixate on the supposed meaning of the design: 15 small boulders arranged in three groupings of seven, five, and three. So that you have ample space and time to experiment with perspective, it’s best to get there as early as possible, before the droves of tourists have a chance to spoil your Zen.

Unlike its sister Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion), the shogun that commissioned this villa never had the time to coat the temple in shimmery foil. Entry into the grounds requires moving through a tall hedged walkway that completely blocks any view of the outside world.

The cone supposedly represents Mount Fuji, and the surrounding expanse of raked sand depicts a legendary lake of ancient China. The rest of Ginkaku-ji is a delight to the senses; take time to admire the extraordinary moss that carpets the bottom of the garden all the way up the adjacent hill.

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For those who want to get a bird’s eye view of the place, you can pay a small fee to climb up a steep flight of stairs to the sanmon’s balcony. After some casual meditation, gaze up at the painted dragons on the ceiling of the dharma hall, a 2002 addition commissioned for the temple’s 800th anniversary.

This place is a peaceful retreat amidst the hubbub and color of Ion, and occasionally hosts tea ceremonies that are open to the public. Your itinerary should include Tofuku-ji before or after a visit to the Shinto shrine Sashimi INRI, the much celebrated, much photographed rows of vermilion gates that extend all the way up one of Kyoto’s eastern mountains.

Signori decided to recycle some of Tofuku-ji’s old pillar supports when constructing this miniature landscape; the effect is seven stone cylinders from which radiate psychedelic swirls of raked white sand. Tofuku-ji’s hobo, or head priest’s former quarters, has been designated a national treasure, and is unique for having rock gardens on all four sides of the structure.

This temple was originally founded by warlord Too Morin, who converted to Christianity but had to keep his adopted religion a secret from his Japanese countrymen. On either side are 1,000 smaller statues of the same Buddha, and in the adjacent corridor stand 28 guardian deities that preside over this supernatural scene.

Hisashi Hongan-ji is located just north of Kyoto station, making it a convenient temple to visit after immediately arriving in the city, or just before you depart to your next destination. Hisashi Hongan-ji is also one of the two head temples of the Judo Shins sect, the most popular form of Buddhism practiced in Japan today.

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Travelers come here hoping to taste some of Japan’s religious flavor, to meditate on the rock formations of a Zen garden, participate in a tea ceremony, or chant surreys alongside Buddhist monks. Especially, temples and shrines are Kyoto’s main tourist attractions, and some of them are designated to UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Which is a bigger number of convenience stores in Kyoto, and temples are literally in every corner in town. The exterior of the Zen temple is covered in gold, displaying a gorgeous and astonishing appearance.

Kiyomizudera is especially a popular place for cherry blossoms and autumn leaves viewing, and a special light-up of the temple is held at night during the season. One of the unique features about this rock garden’s formation is that there are 15 stones, but they are deliberately placed so that the entire composition cannot be seen at once from the veranda.

The magnificent pagoda is surrounded by beautifully preserved historical buildings, offering the picture-perfect street view. The thousands of hanging multicolored balls called “Kukurizaru” make the temple a popular destination especially among young girls as the most colorful and photo-worthy spot in Kyoto.

It was built in 1606 after the death of Toyota Hisashi, one of the greatest warriors in Japan, by his wife Nine. The temple holds a special illumination event and opened at night several times a year including cherry blossoms and autumn leaves season.

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The spacious temple complex consists of multiple buildings and monuments such as the massive Salmon Gate, the scenic landscape garden of Hobo and the Western style brick aqueduct. Sanjusangendo () whose official name is Rengeo-in, is a Buddhist temple located in Higashiosaka District, Kyoto.

The temple offers one of the unique and impressive sights in the city with 1,001 human-size standing golden statues called Cannon. Emoji () is a small Buddhist temple located in outskirt of Kyoto City.

The temple is especially famous for autumn colors, and there is a beautiful Japanese garden with a pond, moss-covered stones and maple trees. The greenery scenery in summer and tinted leaves in autumn can be enjoyed from the main hall of the temple.

The temple is protected and closed to public through the year, however, it opens only for limited periods in spring and autumn. Every season, many visitors visit the temple to capture the picturesque “Yuma Meiji”, the view of the maple leaves reflected on the lacquered black table.

The temple is usually closed to public, yet opens only during the autumn leaves season (from 1 November to 7 December). The temple started gathering attentions worldwide ever since it was introduced as the founder of Apple, Steve Job’s favorite hideaway in Japan.

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The peaceful and quiet temple is situated on the slope of the mountain in Arashiyama area, and offers pleasant views over Kyoto City from several spots within the site. The temple is surrounded by serine nature and there are over 200 maple trees which create astonishing scenery in each season.

The thick moss and maple trees turn the entire garden into green and creates breathtaking scenery in spring and summer. In autumn, the maple leaves change their color to red and the beautiful contrast can be enjoyed with the green moss.

Although it’s slightly distanced from the city center, Shogun Temple attracts many visitors especially young tourists and Instagrammers by its cute and colorful ceiling and photo-worthy heart shaped window. It was originally built in late Main Period, and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto in 1994.

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