A Zen temple tour of Kyoto 京都の禅寺ツアー
Kyoto, the city with 1,000 temples, is home to some of the most impressive Zen Buddhist complexes in the country. See some of the best by trying our recommended tour of the most beautiful Zen temples in the city.
Zen is a branch of Japanese Buddhism. Coming from China, it was introduced in Japan sometime in the eleventh century. Over several centuries, the Rinzai school of Zen emerged in the land of the rising sun. Zen is notably based on the practice of sitting meditation (zazen in Japanese) that leads to Buddha's enlightenment. Zen devotees seek to live in the present moment and experience reality, without hope or fear.
In Japan, the Zen temples of Rinzai School have beautiful gardens, often with a pond or a lake, but also featuring the famous stone garden - often called a "zen garden" in the West. Also called "dry gardens" (枯山水, karesansui 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.
Discover : Parks and gardens in Kyoto
For an enjoyable tour of the main Zen temples of Kyoto, here are 5 recommended temples to visit...
The oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, Kennin-ji is located in the historic district of Higashiyama. It was founded in 1202 by the monk Yousai. Kennin-ji is the main temple of the Rinzai School, and in fact it's here, within its walls, where Zen was taught for the first time. It has two beautiful gardens, a long dry garden and a small interior garden, Chouontei, covered with moss, and containing some much-admired maples during the koyo.
Address: 584 Komatsu-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Entry fee : 500 yen
Open: 10am to 5pm March - October; from 10am to 4:30pm November - February
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Nanzenji temple entrance.
Not far from Kennin-ji is Nanzen-ji, built in 1264 and having first served as a second home to the Emperor. Its magnificent park, which is accessed via an impressive Sanmon Gate, is very pleasant and dotted with Buddha statues. The large brick aqueduct, built in the nineteenth century, is also a curiosity of the place. Many of the sub-temples of Nanzen-ji, including Tenjuan, also have beautiful dry gardens.
Address: Fukuji-cho Nanzenji Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
Entry fee: 500 yen for the temples of the complex
Open: 10am to 5pm March - October; 10am to 4:30pm November - February
Tofuku-ji is a large Zen complex located southeast of Kyoto Station. 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 Sanmon Gate is also an important point of interest of the complex: it's one of the oldest in the country. Make sure you also see the gardens of the Hojo, divided into four parts, when you visit.
Address: 15-778 Hommachi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Entry fee: Temple: 400 yen, Hojo gardens: 400 yen
Open: 9am to 4:30pm April - December; 9am to 4pm December to March
Tenryu-ji, also a Rinzai zen temple, is a World Heritage Site located in Arashiyama, western Kyoto. It's very pleasant to visit if you enjoy a day by the river in Arashiyama. The large lake in its garden, with a dry garden on its banks, gives it a unique appearance. In addition, every second Sunday of the month at 9am a meditation session is held at the temple, that's open to all.
Address: 68 Susukinobaba-cho, Saga Tenryu-ji, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Entry fee: 800 yen for all buildings and gardens
Open: in summer from 8.30am to 5.30pm; in winter from 8.30am to 5pm
Finally, the beautiful Kodai-ji is located not far from Kiyomizu-dera, to the east of the city. 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. It's a small Zen temple, but nevertheless worth a visit.
Address: 526 Shimokawara-cho, Kodai-ji, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Entry fee: 600 yen
Open: 9am to 5:30pm
The garden at Kodai-ji