Be it the cherry blossoms, new greens, or red maples; every season Kyoto presents itself in varied beauty, fascinating people all over the world. Then, what kind of Kyoto will you encounter in winter? The real appreciators of Kyoto will make their moves in winter. Winter is also the best season if your destinations are the ancient temples.
Kyoto in winter is exactly what you depict in mind. In the solemn quietness, you can sit opposite the Buddhas, comforting yourselves with the passage of time. Located in the south of Kyoto, Minami Yamashiro holds many national treasures and important cultural heritages, second only to Kyoto City in the Kyoto Prefecture. Just by renting a car or taking a taxi, you can easily arrive at the winter Minami Yamashiro and pay your visit to the soul-cleansing temples. Now, let’s make your first encounter with the ancient temples.
Cross the Tea Fields and Visit the Five-storied Pagoda
An hour’s drive from Kyoto City will take you to your destination. You walk through the dotted tea fields to the end of the mountain road and the Mountain Gate of the ancient temple is right before your eyes. Under the order of Emperor Shōmu, Kaijyusenji Temple was built by Ryōben in the 7th year of Tempyo (735 AD).
Shige Omura, a well-known essayist active in the 1980s, was very fond of Kaijyusenji Temple. In her essay Tranquil Kyoto, she described the Kaijyusenji Temple in her eyes. One step upon another on the mountain trial, you review the history of Tempyo through the Eleven-headed Kannon while staying enchanted by the stature of the Five-storied Pagoda leaning against the pines. The most delightful is the richness of nature and the peace around.
“Here blooms the plum blossoms and there blooms the cherry blossoms. In due time, azaleas will also bloom. The present-green maples will take their red costumes later. Absolutely, here lies the pure land of Kannon. There’s no second choice if we want a day of leisure and a cleansing our lives.” Shige Omura was so generous of her praise.
The Five-storied Pagoda designated as a national treasure was born in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333 AD). Standing 17.7 m high, the pagoda is small but exquisite, very handsomely built. This five-storied pagoda is only one-third the size of its counterpart in Higashi Honganji Temple (or Eastern Temple of the First Vow) near Kyoto Station.
Kaijyusenji Temple covers an area about 33,000 square meters. It resides the national designated treasure, i.e., the Five-storied Pagoda; and some important cultural heritages such as Monjudo Hall, Mountain Gate, Main Hall, Sanctuary House, Bell Tower, Inner Sanctuary, Reliquary Hall, Hall of Medicine Buddha, and Kasuga-daimyoujin. It is so pleasant to walk leisurely and pray along the way.
Kaijyusenji Temple in winter has its unique and natural beauty. Walking up from the back door of the temple and climbing one mountain after another; you can deeply resonate with Shige Omura that “There’s no second choice if we want a day of leisure and a cleansing our lives.” Be it the refreshing air or the winter glittering warm sunshine, at this very moment, just quietly enjoy the stillness of time.
As there are few people in winter’s Kaijyusenji Temple; we can appreciate it without any distractions.
Looking outside from the Main Hall, you can see the wavy mountains along the Kizu River on the opposite side. They are particularly clear against the reflections of winter sunshine.
20 Kaijusen, Reihei, Kamo-cho, Kizugawa City, Kyoto Prefecture
Business Hours: 9:00-16:30
Entrance Fee: Main Hall (main deity the Eleven-headed Kannon and others) 500 yen (including first entrance fee)
Visitors with the purpose of hiking, photographing, or stroll will only be charged 100 yen for entrance of Mountain Gate.
For special exhibition, extra fees will be charged.
Take the leisure hours to visit the ancient temple with the nine Amida Nyorai statues.
While watching the kittens dozing lazily on the mountain trail and walking along the slender worship path to the Mountain Gate of the ancient temple, your hearts will calm down in the atmosphere of the mountain. Along the way, there are nandina forests full of small red fruits and thatched huts where you can drink tea. Further along, you will find Joruriji Temple.
Joruriji Temple has another name, that is, Kutaiji Temple (“the temple of the nine statues”). This is because the temple enshrines the nine seated Amida Nyorai statues. Many temples that enshrined the nine seated Amida Nyorai statues were built in the Heian Period (794–1185), but today only exists the Joruriji Temple. In the long history, wars and battles ruined many nine seated Amida Nyorai statues. Therefore, these statues are with special value, depicting the bygone glory of the pure land thought.
The nine seated Amida Nyorai statues reside inside the Main Hall which can be visited at any time. In the center of the hall sits a magnificent large-scale statue, and on its two sides are eight statues with distinctive features. These statues were built at the beginning of the 12th century and right now two of them are under renovation. The Main Hall and the nine Amida Nyorai statues are enlisted in the national treasures.
At the time of our visit, the temple opened the hidden statue of Kissyo Tennyo to the public. This statue was said born in the Kamakura Period（1185-1333）. It is also an important national cultural heritage.
The Three-storied Pagoda built in the later years of Heian Period (794–1185) was said to have been moved here from Kyoto City.
In the dim lit Main Hall, the statues of Amida Nyorai come the view. You can’t help gazing for a long time, with hands folding together, forgetting about the wintry coldness. Such stillness is not about praying for something, but about a sense of security embracing our whole body and soul in the endless kindness. If time allows, the best time for a visit is the morning hours when people are scarce.
Taking the pond as the center, the Main Hall lies on the west and the Three-storied Pagoda stands on the east. Looking around, every spot is a national treasure. After a leisure walk in the yard which is also a historic sight, you can have a bowl of soba noodles at the roadside tea shops. What an immersive delight in the mountain. It is such a winter luxury from Kyoto to enjoy this seclusion so leisurely.
40 Nishi Ofutaba, Kamo-cho, Kizugawa-shi
Business Hours: 9:00-17:00 with Main Hall admission till 16:30
(From December to February the business hours are from 10:00-16:00 and the main hall admission is till 15:30.)
Admission Fee: 400 yen (middle school students above)
Shuon’an Ikkyuji Temple
Take a rest in the rock gardens of Ikkyuji Temple.
Ikkyu-san is known to the world by an animation. This Ikkyu-san is Ikkyu Zenshi whose later years were spent in this Shuon’an Ikkyuji Temple. It was in the middle of the Muromachi Period（1336-1573）in 1456 (2nd year of Kōshō era ) that Ikkyu Zenshi moved into this temple. Till his passing at the age of 88, he spent 25 years here.
Ikkyuji Temple is famous for its beautiful rock gardens. It is so refreshing to lean on the porch and look at them. Let time pass. You just quietly enjoy to the hearts’ content the varied and stunning beauty in the south garden, the east garden, and the north garden. It’s pleasant to walk here, to look at the Statue of Ikkyu’s Boyhood during his religious cultivation, to stop at the simulating scene of the small bridge and to imitate Ikkyu by saying the words of wisdom that “You cannot cross this bridge.” There are abundant vegetations here. You can enjoy yourselves in any season.
The Temple Master’s Dwelling Place.
The temple holds Takigi-Noh every September. It is said that Zenchiku Konparu and On-ami, both widely praised masters of Noh, frequently visited Ikkyu Zenshi in Shuon-an, Takigi. The temple also houses tombs of Noh masters. Thus, it has inseparable ties with the art of Noh. It is said that the word “Takigi-Noh” is named after this place because it was formerly called Takigi Village.
At tea space in the Main Hall, you can drink the specialty tea from Kyoto tea fields as well as taste the red bean rice cake named as Zenzai by Ikkyu Zenshi. You’d better arrange ample time for the visit of Ikkyuji Temple.
The Main Hall enshrines the seated statue of Gautama Buddha and the statue of Samanrabhadra. The hall was built during Eikyo era (1429-1441) by the sixth shogun of the Muromachi shogunate Yoshinori Ashikaga’s refuge in Buddha. It is the oldest Chinese-style architecture in the Yamashiro / Yamato area (Kyoto/Nara area). The red maples in autumn are particularly magnificent.
The temple has the Statue of Ikkyu’s Boyhood and other stone Buddha statues. It is a pleasant experience no matter where you take a walk.
Shuon’an Ikkyuji Temple
102 Takigi Satonouchi, Kyotanabe-City, Kyoto Prefecture
Business Hours: 9:00-17:00; Treasury House is open from 09:30 – 16:30
Entrance Fees: Adult: 500 yen; High school student: 400 yen; Middle school student: 300 yen; Primary student: 200 yen.
This is the temple where you can enjoy the vegetarian cuisine and the spirit of Zen.
In the vast temple area, you can see the vibrant Shichidō garan (a Japanese Buddhist term indicating the seven halls composing the ideal Buddhist temple compound). The style is quite exotic, because Manpuku-ji Temple was actually built by Chinese Ming dynasty abbot Yinyuan Longqi (who is known as Ingen Zenji or Zen-master Ingen in Japanese).
The splendid Hall of Heavenly Kings houses the Hotei Son (Budai), who was a legendary monk thought to live in China in the past and the huge bag and pot belly are characteristics of him. It is said that this style of temple is very common in China. The mark of 卍 (svastika, the ancient Sanskrit word meaning good fortune, luck and well-being) is on the railings, arched roofs, round windows and the decorative wooden peaches on the doors, presenting a different style from the traditional Japanese temples.
This hall is an important cultural heritage. As a matter of fact, the two characters “法堂” was written by Ingen Zenji. The columns on the front of the hall are engraved with the mark of 卍 (svastika).
Ingen Zenji introduced a lot of things to Japan. As the dish name conveys, he brought here the Ingen beans (hyacinth bean, whose Japanese pronunciation is the same as Ingen’s name pronunciation). He also brought water melon, lotus root, other vegetables, and above all the Chinese vegetarian cuisine. The name of the vegetarian cuisine “Fucha Ryori” in Japanese has the meaning of providing food and tea to the mass people. In Manpuku-ji Temple, a big jade colored ceramic plate holds all kinds of food to be shared to all people. There is no distinction between high and low status. Eating happily is where the spirit lies.
There is AIR (Artist in Residence) in the temple, where young artists share studios and exhibition spaces. Besides, one of the unique features of Manpuku-ji Temple is its coffee drinking space, a symbol of staying open despite being an ancient temple. The original enterprising spirit of Ingen Zenji is omnipresent.
There are dishes like Shunkan (seasonal vegetables cooked together with dried foods), Mafu (sesame flavored toufu), and fake meat dishes (like roast fish or fish dishes made by vegetarian food). The cooking technique and plate setting style are different from those of Japan, quite novel for a try-out experience. Originally, all the food are placed in the big plate for sharing with all people, but now in order to prevent coronavirus infection, it has been replaced by the O-bento style (lunch box style). And there is lunch only. You’d better make your latest reservation three days prior to your visit.
There is Kaipan, a wooden fish board hanging over the dining room and monks will drum the wooden fish to remind people that it is time to eat. The wooden fish can be found in every Japanese temple and the original wooden fish was brough here by Ingen Zenji. It was Korin Yoshino who drummed the wooden fish for us.
AIR (Artist in Residence)
34 Sanbanwari, Gokasho, Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture
Business Hours: 9:00-17:00; Reception is till 16:30.
Entrance Fees: Adult: 500 yen; University and high school students: 500 yen; Middle school and primary students: 300 yen
Minami Yamashiro is about 30 minutes to one hour by car from Kyoto City. It is an area that is rarely visited despite our love of Kyoto. However, you shouldn’t miss the mountainous views and the ancient old temples. Should you need its visiting guide or transportation information, we recommend you to visit the following website of ANOTHER KYOTO (kyototourism.org). It is very convenient. If you have found the specific information you need, you can make your own visit plans. In the following chapter, we will take tea fields as the theme and take you to visit Kyoto as home of tea.