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南禅寺 Nanzen-ji Temple

  • Temples / Shrines / Cathedrals
  • Ginkaku-ji Temple Area
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Maps are rarely carried out with accessing from mainland China.

Ginkaku-ji Temple Area
Nanzenji Fukuchicho, Sakyo-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 606-8435, Japan
  • Temples / Shrines / Cathedrals
Open Every Day
Date of post:2015/04/23

Once highest ranked Zen Buddhism temple in Kyoto

  • Historic / Cultural Experiences

The place where Nanzen-ji temple stands today was a detached palace of Emperor Kameyama constructed in 1264. He became a student of a Zen Master and dedicated this palace as a Zen temple in 1291. Since then, the abbot had been always chosen as the best Rinzai Zen Master in each period. Today, this temple is the headquarters of Nanzen-ji School of Rinzai Sect in Zen Buddhism. (There are 15 schools in Rinzai Sect)

Its main building (Ho-jo) has two structures (large and small), that is connected by corridors and is designated as a National Treasure. Visitors are allowed to go inside by ¥500(JPY). When you get in, the first thing that is noticeable is the chirping sound from the floor as you walk on the corridor. The floor is so devised to emit such a sound to detect spies and assassins. This ingeniously designed floor is called the “Nightingale Floor”.

Following the corridor you will be in the bigger building which is called Seiryo-Den. This building used to be in the Kyoto Imperial Palace and was relocated here in 1611. The pictures on the sliding doors are the masterpieces of famous Japanese artists of Kano School. Kano School artists became popular among the Shoguns and feudal lords (samurai leaders) at the end of the 16th century. Their work is characterized by gorgeous colors and strong touches of Indian ink. They often painted sliding doors and walls using green, indigo and black ink on a gold background. You will see tigers drawn on sliding-doors. It is interesting that there had no tigers ever lived in Japan until modern times. How did they imagine what a tiger was like? It is said that they used a cat for it! Anyway, as the original paints are fading, some of the sliding doors have been replaced by replicas.

The Seiryo-Den has a large dry landscape garden popularly called “Toranoko-Watashi”, which is a style of this type of garden representing “a mother tiger swimming the river with her cubs under her protection”. It is said that this garden was made by Kobori Enshu, a famous garden designer in the early 17th century.

The smaller building is said to be brought from the Fushimi castle and has a garden constructed by then abbot in 1986. It is also a dry landscape garden depicting the Chinese character “心” (shin; heart or mind) with stones.

There is one more garden along the corridor depicting “transmigration in the six lower worlds” in Buddha’s teaching. (This is very difficult for me to explain, sorry.)

As the main entrance of this grand temple, large two-storied gate stands. Going up the steep stairs in the gate you can have a magnificent view of Kyoto. The gate is regarded as one of the three great gates of temples in Japan along with Gates of Chion-in in Kyoto and Kuonji in Yamanashi prefecture.

On the south western part of the compound, there is an elevated bridge of canal made of red bricks. This place is frequently used in Japanese movies and TV dramas.

After 110 years from it construction, it became an integrated part of Nanzen-ji.

For visiting this temple, cherry blossom season and autumn might be the best. But I also like the season of young leaves-early May.

*Reference: Nanzen-ji home page

  • * The information above is from the date of the review. Please be aware that some of the content may vary from the most recent information.
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