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Kyoto / Japan

A guide to the famous temples of the old city

Satoshi Takenaka / Kyoto Marubeni Co., Ltd.

* In this column, Marubeni Group staff provide a glimpse of the cities in which they are living and working.

A top tourist destination in the world, with 50 million visitors each year — Kyoto. The charms that captivate not only Japanese visitors, but also people from around the world, have been exhaustively discussed; so, this time the 17 world heritage sites will be skipped to introduce some temples that I feel have a special appeal.

◆Introductory Level

There are a number of temples at the foot of Mt. Higashiyama, and Nanzen-ji Temple is the most prestigious. It is a spot that offers a variety of ways to enjoy yourself. You can explore from the Chokushi-mon imperial gate to the San-mon main gate, Hatto ceremony hall, and onward to the Hojo living quarters, a National Treasure. Alternatively, you can admire the gardens of Tenjuan and Nanzen-in. The imposing San-mon main gate is famous as the inspiration for the quote “What an amazing view” by Goemon Ishikawa in a well-known kabuki drama. Since you are able to go inside, take in the bird’s-eye view of Kyoto from the upper level to share Goemon’s experience. Walk a little farther to find a Western-style arch of red brick on the right side of the Hatto ceremony hall. This is a waterway built in the Meiji era (1868-1912) to divert water from Lake Biwa. This Meiji-era structure is still in operation today, oddly in harmony with the ancient temple.

◆Intermediate Level

One stop south from Kyoto station is the famous temple, Tofuku-ji. This is one of the five Zen temples (Gozan) in Kyoto. It is a large site offering much to see, with vast grounds housing one of the oldest triple gates in Japan (San-mon gate), designated as a National Treasure, as well as the Tsuten Bridge, teeming with visitors enjoying the fresh green or red leaves of the season. You will also want to visit the subtemple Funda-in or Sesshu Temple near the site. There is a renowned dry landscape garden (karesansui style) said to be created by the famous ink painter Sesshu. Gazing out onto the simple, yet exquisitely-arranged, crane and turtle rocks and the green moss from the engawa veranda, will allow you to forget the trivialities of daily life, and feel the gentle currents of time well-spent.

◆Advanced Level

In the immediate vicinity of Ryoan-ji Temple in the Kinugasa district, famous for its rock garden, is Tōji-in, a funeral temple of the Ashikaga dynasty (1401-1549). There are wooden statues of all the Ashikaga shoguns (generals), allowing an interesting comparison of the faces. The pond-stroll style garden with an elevated tea house is also recommended. The two ponds on the east and west sides are lined with colorful seasonal flowers. It is a truly delightful garden that can be enjoyed equally by viewing it from the shoin study, or by wandering along the banks of the ponds.

◆Rakuhoku Expert Level

If time permits, try taking the bus to extend your tour to the northern Rakuhoku area. If you travel north on Senbon-dori avenue as far as Takagamine you will find yourself near Koetsu-ji Temple. This site was originally the home of Hon’ami Koetsu, a successful artist of the early Edo period (1603-1868). At that time, this area was an art community, with many artists and craftsmen living and working here. Do not miss the graceful curves of the koetsugaki bamboo fence. Hon’ami Koetsu is regarded as the father of the Rinpa school of painting, which is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year, so there are a variety of commemorative events and exhibits planned, providing another good reason to pay a visit. Rakuhoku is filled with attractions, such as the Entsu-ji Temple, with lush gardens arranged to beautifully incorporate views of Mt. Hiei as a backdrop; and the famous Jisso-in Temple in Iwakura, where reflections of the autumn maple leaves turn the lacquered floors a brilliant red.

The best way to truly appreciate Kyoto is to walk around. Don’t visit just the famous sites; you will certainly also discover your own “Kyoto Treasures.” Everyone is invited to come enjoy the charms of Kyoto in every season.

  • San-mon main gate at Nanzen-ji Temple. The view from above is superb
  • Aqueduct. The flowing waters of Sosui canal
  • Tsuten Bridge at Tofukuji Temple, famous for fall foliage
  • The gardens at Jisso-in. The autumn colors are reflected in the floors
  • Autumn colors reflected in the floor are called yuka momiji

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