Temples in Kyoto for the Ultimate Zen Moments

By Seema Nande on Jan 27, 2017
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One of the most quintessential things to do in Kyoto is visiting its many temples that are a gateway to the subsequent Zen. Perched in diverse locations of lush green grounds, towering escalations, vivid waterbodies and striking stone formations, these temples are more than just a visual delight. And if you happen to visit Kyoto  during the gorgeous cherry blossom season or the lucid fall, for which Kyoto is renowned, owing to a stunning mélange of rusty autumn colors; you are in for some serious sensory enlightenment!

Take heed from these twelve best temples in Kyoto, to plan one escapade of serenity and tranquility. 

1. Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji - best temples in Kyoto  

Image source: flickr.com/hans-johnson

The architecture of this building is enough to feel unworldly already. Also referred to as the Golden Pavilion, the Kinkaku-ji was formerly known as Rokuon-ji. One reason why it is also referred to as the Golden pavilion is because you could sight lots of deer from the adjoining forests. This fact justifies its popularity as the Deer Garden Temple too. However, what is most striking of this temple are the roofs covered in golden leaves. The first floor’s architecture is influenced by the then Heian Period, with Buddha’s statues and the second is more Bukke style. The last floor is the zen hall, or should we say your gateway to nirvana! 

Festival: In the month of August, the Daimonji Fire Festival at the temple, draws several visitors. 

Entrance Fee: 400 yen (approximately)

Location: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 603-8361, Japan

2. Kiyomizu-dera


Image source: wikimedia.org  

Literally translating to "Pure Water Temple", the Kiyomizu-dera is a sight of brilliant oriental architecture towering through the lush greenery up to the clear cobalt skies. A UNESCO World Heritage site for all the right reasons, this temple is a creation belonging to the 16th century on the grounds of the Otowa Waterfall. The marvel lies in the fact that, the structure is built without a single nail to hold it together. 

Festival: Kiyomizu Temple Seiryu-e Dragon Festival in Autumn 

Entrance Fee: 300 yen (approximately)
Location: 294 Kiyomizu 1-chome, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0862, Japan 

3. Ginkakuji


Image source: wikimedia.org  

Meaning "Temple of Shining Mercy" the Ginkaku ji is essentially a result of what was supposed to be a 14th century retirement villa. Thus, you are likely to find all the aspects of relaxation here, amplifying the Zen-ness of the temple. The entire landscape of the temple is highlighted by a variety of mosses, which was then designed by the iconic landscape artist Sōami. The last day of winter is celebrated in a grand way as the Setsubun Festival, wherein beans are thrown to rid off the devil. This is surely one of the most interesting historical places in Kyoto.

Festival: Setsubun Festival in February 

Entrance Fee: 500 yen (approximately)

Location: 2 Ginkakujicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 606-8402, Japan

4. Nanzen-ji


Image source: wikipedia.org  

A creation dating back to the 12th century the Nanzen-ji temple is popular names including Zuiryusan Nanzen-ji and Zenrin-ji. Why you must visit this temple? To experience what one of the most significant "five great Zen temples of Kyoto". The temple is huge, accommodating twelve sub-temples further. Its picturesque location at the Higashiyama mountains’ pedestal, only makes the temple more appealing. 

Festival: Daimonji-yaki or the burning festival held on 16 August 

Entrance Fee: 300 yen (approximately)

Location: Nanzenji Fukuchicho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 606-8435, Japan

5. Ryōan-ji


Image source: wikimedia.org  

Nestled in the cherry blossom region of north-western Kyoto, Ryōan-ji is a rather unusual temple, albeit drenched in very Zen-like aspects. Also a popular rock garden, this temple is often contemplated to depict a tigress trading across the pond with her cubs. The many walking paths in the temple’s vicinity offer the perfect tranquility. Not surprisingly the place has been home to many emperors of the past.    

Entrance Fee: 500 yen (approximately)
Location: 13 Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 616-8001, Japan
First step to your vacation: Build an organized trip using Kyoto Trip Planner.

6. Tenryū-ji


Image source: flickr.com/John Weiss  

In an attempt to revere Gautam Buddha, the temple of Tenryū-ji is the genesis of a Kyoto shogun named Ashikaga Takauji. Having manifested in the 13th century, this temple holds a stronger civic cause than any other temple in Kyoto. The temples have witnessed several disruptions of fires and wars over the years. However, the garden of the temple has remained untouched of any calamities, still retaining its beauty. The month of September witnesses a festival called Hachiman Festival Hojoe which symbolizes the release of captive animals.

Festival: Hachiman Festival Hojoe in September  

Entrance Fee: 500 yen plus 300 yen in case you want to enter the temple buildings (approximately)

Location: Japan, 〒616-8385 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, Ukyo Ward, 嵯峨天龍寺芒ノ馬場町68

7. Tō-ji


Image source: flickr.com/Nullumayulife  

The Tō-ji is the eastern part of a once single unit. Its outstanding five-story pagoda is what will take your breath away, the moment you sight it. More so because this is also Japan’s tallest wooden tower. No short of going back to the Edo period, a visit to this temple is full of spiritual enlightenment. And I you happen to visit the temple on the 21st of any month, you are in for a delightful flea market place, from where you can pick up some great stuff as souvenirs. 

Festival: Dōngzh Festival or the Winter Solstice Festival on or around December 22  

Entrance Fee: 500 yen (approximately)

Location: 1 Kujocho, Minami Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 601-8473, Japan

8. Sanjūsangen-dō


Image source: flickr.com/Faustino Garcia  

Based on the preaching of the Tendai school of Buddhism, the temple of Sanjūsangen-dō is also referred to as "Rengeō-in" and the Hall of the Lotus King. The vastness of the hall is where the temple derives its name from, which also means uo;Hall with thirty-three spaces between columns”. People especially come here to worship the whopping number of 1001 statues of Kannon or the Goddess of Mercy. The temple celebrates some or the other festival throughout the year. However, Kaisanki or celebration of the temple’s founding in the month of May is the biggest of all.

Festival: Kaisanki in the month of May  

Entrance Fee: 600 yen (approximately)

Location: 657 Sanjusangendomawari, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0941, Japan

9. Chion-in


Image source: wikipedia.org  

A place drenched in every practice of salvation, the Chion-in is where Amida or Amitabha is taught to be chanted. This is a place where you will find Japan’s biggest temple bell. With a highly interesting architecture, you will find squeaky wooden floors that were then built using metal roads. This in an attempt to alarm the Tokugawa family which stayed here, of any trespasser! All in all, a place, with lots of scenic panoramas, steps to climb and an aura of intense positivity to bask in. 

Festival: Chion-in Temple Night Illumination in November 

Entrance Fee: Free 

Location: 400 Rinkacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-8686, Japan

10. Daitoku-ji


Image source: wikimedia.org  

A division of the Rinzai school of Japanese Zen, certainly does embody all the paths leading to moksha! The main temple is so vast that there are further twenty-four sub-temples. With a history of several tea ceremonies held here, the Daitoku-ji has a sturdy association with the legendary tea master Sen no Rikyu. However, all temples cannot be easily accessed as some prohibit entry to public. 

Festival: Yasurai Festival in Spring that symbolizes the warding off of the evil  

Entrance Fee: 400 yen (approximately)

Location: 53 Murasakino Daitokujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 603-8231, Japan

11. Saihō-ji


Image source: wikimedia.org  

Japan sure has no dearth of UNESCO World Heritage sites and the breathtaking Saihō-ji is just another example. Extremely famous for its luscious moss gardens this temple is a vibe in itself! Fluorescent greenery brilliantly juxtaposing the bliss it renders to the eyes is what you can look forward to here. Not surprisingly the temple is also referred to as the Koke-dera meaning moss temple. It is believed that the temple is a discovery of Japan’s master gardener Muso Kokushi way back in the 14th century.  

Entrance Fee: 3000 yen (approximately)

Location: 56 Matsuojingatanicho, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 615-8286, Japan

12. Ninna-ji


Image source: wikimedia.org  

A temple that couldn’t get any more ancient, the Ninna-ji was found in AD 886! Accommodating several buildings of extreme significance, this temple is Japan’s one of the most crucial temples. Other than accommodating serval spiritual attributes, the temple is also highly elegant with its beautiful paintings and humble sliding doors. The Omuro Cherries further amplify the surreality of this temple. 

Festival: Ninnaji Temple festival, the Ninna-ji Reihokan or Sacred Treasure Hall Special Autumn Opening in November and the Sakura Matsuri is Spring  

Entrance Fee: 500 yen (approximately)

Location: 33 Omuroouchi, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 616-8092, Japan
Some tranquil moments spent here and you are certainly bound to nirvana.  
Featured image source: flickr.com/hans-johnson  

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