When you think of Kyoto a couple things come to mind: the ancient capital, geishas, and lots and lots of temples. With over 1600 different temples in Kyoto, trying to narrow it down to can be difficult. How can you tell them apart? How are they different?
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While I absolutely adored Japan for its food and general atmosphere, when it came to cultural attractions, I was left wanting more. For the most part, I wasn’t overly impressed by any of the sites that we ended up seeing and that is how I felt with the temples in Kyoto. Many of the city’s temples are considered UNESCO World Heritage Sites (including Toji, Kiyomizudera, Enryakuji, Daigoji, Byodoin, Tenryuji, Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, Ryoanji and Nijojo). I went to a few, but not all of these temples as some are a lot easier to get to than others.
To help plan our temple adventures, we used the best temple list in conjunction with the recommended itinerary from Inside Kyoto. However, after seeing all the temples, I was left unsatisfied, looking for more. In hindsight, I wish we had just skipped the vast majority of the temples we did visit and spent more time just enjoying the city. Regardless, here are my hits and misses when it came to temples in Kyoto:
Temples in Kyoto – The Hits
I’ve already written about this beautiful golden temple and it was one of my favourite things I saw in Japan. It’s just too pretty to be missed. However, be prepared for the massive crowds and massive tour groups. Regardless, I definitely suggest you to go visit the temple.
1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 603-8361, Japan
Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM daily
Maybe it’s because this was the first temple I visited, but I quite enjoyed wandering through the grounds of Kiyomizu-dera temple (清水寺). Perched above Kyoto, the temple’s distinctive red colour can be seen from across town and is lit up at night.
Established in 778, it is the temple of the Goddess of Mercy. It is set among the trees which makes for a picturesque setting, especially against the changing leaves in the fall (and I’d imagine would be lovely during Cherry Blossom season in the spring). The complex is large with a number of buildings and structures to explore. The main building which contains the temple’s Main Hall is by paid admission only which we elected to skip.
294 Kiyomizu 1-chome, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0862, Japan
Hours vary but generally from 6 AM – 6 PM. Check their website for the dates of your visit.
Temples in Kyoto – The Misses
Kodai-ji (高台寺) is located walking distance to Kiyomizu-dera. It was established in 1606 in memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Japan’s greatest historical figures. Its buildings are considered important cultural properties of Japan. Especially of note are the Main Gate and the Spirit Hall for its use of maki-e, a Japanese lacquer sprinkled with gold or silver powder as a decoration. Beyond looking at the main entrance building, we didn’t linger here for very long.
Japan, 〒605-0825 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, 東山区下河原町八坂鳥居前下る下河原町526
Hours: Daily 9 AM – 5 PM
The Chion-in (知恩院) temple is dedicated to the head temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism, one of the most popular Buddhist sects in Japan. The Sanmon Gate is the entrance up to Chion-in. Rising 24 meters high and 50 meters across, it is the largest wooden gate in Japan and dates back to the early 1600s.
Behind it are a steep set of steps that head up to the rest of the temple grounds. Much of grounds are free to the public and we wandered through various buildings, however, there is a fee for the Hōjō and Yūzen’en gardens.
400 Rinkacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-8686, Japan
Hours: Daily 9 AM – 4 PM
Daitoku-ji is actually made up a number of sub-temples all following the Zen style. I was expecting to see a number of Japanese gardens. However, perhaps due to the early hour, none of the temples allowed us any entry. They were all blocked off. It wasn’t even all that early! Maybe 8:30 or 9. We tried to make the best of it by wandering around on the grounds, but there really wasn’t all that much to see.
53 Murasakino Daitokujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 603-8231, Japan
Hours: Daily 24 hours
Temples in Kyoto – The Okay
Tenryu-ji Temple (天龍寺) is located in the Arashiyama district on Kyoto’s west side near the famous bamboo forest. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is ranked first among the five Zen temples of Kyoto. The temple was built in 1339 in memory of Emperor Godaigo. The temple buildings have been rebuilt due to damage from fires and destruction from wars over the years. However, its gardens have survived in its original form. The focal point is a large pond which is surrounded by rocks, trees and the slight incline of the nearby mountains. Very picturesque if it weren’t for all the people (go early!). While I didn’t actually go inside the temple, I did pay the entrance fee into it’s gardens. Because of the open nature of the temple building, I could see much of what was inside right from the garden.
Garden admission: Adult ¥500, Children 12 and under ¥300, Preschool free
Temple admissions: Above + ¥100
Summer hours: 8:30 AM- 5:30 PM; Winter hours (Oct. 21-Mar. 20): 8:30 AM – 5 PM
So there you have it, my hits and misses when it came to temples in Kyoto. Maybe it’s because I didn’t pay to go inside any of them and only saw things that were free to the public, but I really wasn’t impressed with a lot of them. I had read about the beauty of the buildings and gardens and I just left feeling disappointed for the most part.
Have you been to Kyoto? If so, which of the many temples did you go to? Which were your hits and misses?
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