Don’t go just for the architecture! 5 Selected Temples in Kyoto With Beautiful Gardens
When speaking of temple gardens, many people imagine the Zen rock garden. But Kyoto has many temples that have beautiful flora gardens as well. Here are some temples with both beautiful architecture and gardens.
1. Katsura Imperial Villa
This temple was built as a Hachijo Palace villa of the royal family in the 17th century. This villa has kept the style of garden and architecture since then, so you can see how Japanese culture was represented then. This garden is known as the oldest "Kaiyu-shiki teien" garden in existence, which is a style of Japanese garden with a large pond in the center. The garden as well as the architecture have been highly rated by foreign architects. It is currently managed by the Imperial Household Agency Kyoto Office, and tours are held three times each in the morning and afternoon. If you want to join the tour, you need to make an Internet reservation or send in a postcard. Tours are available for people 18 and older, and is free. Although they do accept reservations on the day-of, it's recommended that you make reservations in advance.
2. Shugakuin Imperial Villa
This villa was built by Emperor Mizuo in the middle of the 17th century. The gardens and buildings were made around the artificial pond which has stopped the river stream, passing the style of Japanese culture of those days on to now. The size of its premises is more than 540,000 square meters, and you can see the scenery of paddy fields cultivated in the premise. Although it takes long time to walk around the premises, you must see the scenery of the garden with the background of the mountains in Kyoto. Especially from Yokuryuchi of the upper villa, you can see the garden and the townscape, so it is one of its highlights. This villa is also managed by the Imperial Household Agency Kyoto Office. If you want to join the tour, you need a reservation on the Internet or by a postcard (available for the age of 18 and older, no admission charge).
3. Entoku-in Temple
This temple is a type of sub-temple called "toto" in Kodaiji Temple that was built by Nene, Toyotomi Hideyoshi's wife. A toto is a tower or hermitage built by the disciples who cared for their teacher after his death. This toto is based on the palace and front garden of Fushimi Castle. The garden is a typical Shoin-style garden from the Momoyama culture during the late 16th century. Admission fee is 500 JPY. Unlike other Japanese flora gardens, it's famous for having many giant rocks. You can also enjoy a full-fledged tea ceremony in the small room Kita Shoin. If you are interested, please try it. For the tea ceremony, you need a reservation by the day before, and it costs 1,500 JPY per person.
4. Sennyuji Temple
According to lore, this temple was built around the 9th century. It is at the foot of Mt. Getsurin, and is also known as the Buddhist temple of the imperial family where they pray for the deceased. Japanese maples and azaleas are planted around the pond and the short mountain behind it works as a backdrop. The garden is made with traditional techniques to create good harmony with nature, which is appropriate for the imperial family temple. You can have a nice, relaxing time in a quiet environment at the foot of the mountain. Admission fee: 500 JPY
5. Saiho-ji Temple
This temple is covered with about 120 kinds of moss like a green carpet, so it is also called "Moss Temple." It is very old, has a long and distinguished history, and is said to have been opened by Gyoki, a high priest who was active in the 7th century. In 1994, it was registered as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. The garden on the premises has a 2-level structure with a traditional dry landscape on the upper level and a Kaiyu-shiki style garden on the lower level. This structure had a big influence on Japanese gardens created later. Its highlight is the garden covered with moss. During autumn, the scarlet leaves of the trees and green moss produce a wonderful contrast. The tour is held using a reservation system, so you need to apply via postcard with a reply card attached. You also need to pay the Myogaryo (dedication fee) which is 3,000 JPY or more. If you join the tour, you will participate in religious events such as Shakyo (copying letters).
Some of these temples ask for reservations in order to protect the sites. However, please see the beautiful gardens when you visit Kyoto. The scenery changes depending on the season, so please visit them more than once.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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