When visiting Kyoto’s many temples, it is a good idea to include Nanzenji Temple, located at the base of the Higashiyama Mountains. Established in 1291, it is the head temple of one of the schools within the Rinzai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Like other temples in Kyoto, Nanzenji began life as a retirement villa for a Japanese emperor, Kameyama in 1274 and was later converted into a Zen temple.
The temple burnt down in 1393, was rebuilt and destroyed by fire once again in 1447. It was leveled during the Onin War of 1467 and reconstructed in 1597. The large complex has over time consisted of between nine and twelve sub-temples, including the central temple.
Nanzenji’s central temple grounds are open to the public free of charge, but separate fees apply for entering the temple buildings and the sub-temples. The massive two-story Sanmon Gate, which visitors encounter first upon entering the complex, was built in 1628 to commemorate the dead at the siege of Osaka. It includes a balcony from which visitors can glimpse views of Kyoto.
Standing behind the gate is the Hatto (Dharma Hall), a large lecture hall, which is not open to the public.
Past the Hatto is the Ohojo (Abbot’s Large Quarters), which was brought over from Hideyoshi’s Fushimi Castle and dates back to the 1590s. The Ohojo is renowned for its dry stone garden. Also highly regarded are the paintings on the sliding doors, which include realistic depictions of tigers on gold leaf. Visitors enter the Ohojo building complex through the former temple kitchen, where they can also find a small tea room to their right with a view of a miniature waterfall.
Outside the Ohojo, visitors will come across a large brick aqueduct that passes through the temple grounds. Built during the Meiji period, the aqueduct is part of a canal system that was constructed to carry water and links Kyoto and Lake Biwa. There are foot paths alongside the canal that lead into the surrounding forest.
Nanzen-in is located near the aqueduct. It is a 1703 reconstruction of the original retirement villa of Emperor Kameyama, which was the first building at the Nanzenji complex. Beyond that you will find the sub-temples of Konchi-in, Tenju-an and Choso-in, all open to the public although Tenju-an is only open during the spring and fall.
Nanzenji is a beautiful spot to observe the changing of the leaves in autumn and consequently gets extremely busy from mid to late November.
It is relatively easy to reach the temple complex as it is just a short walk from the Keage Subway Station on the Tozai Line.
Address: Nanzenji-Fukuchi-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-city