Kyoto, Japan



Saihō-ji (西芳寺) is a Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple in Matsuo, Nishikyō Ward, Kyoto, Japan. The temple, which is famed for its moss garden, is commonly referred to as "Koke-dera" (苔寺), meaning "moss temple", while the formal name is "Kōinzan Saihō-ji" (洪隠山西芳寺). The temple, primarily constructed to honor Amitābha, was first founded by Gyōki and was later restored by Musō Soseki. In 1994, Saihō-ji was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as part of the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto". Over 120 types of moss are present in the two-tiered garden, resembling a beautiful green carpet with many subtle shades.

According to temple legend, Saihō-ji was constructed during the Nara period by Gyōki, on the location of one of Prince Shōtoku's former retreats. The temple first operated as a Hossō temple dedicated to Amitabha, and was known as "Saihō-ji" (西方寺), a homophone of the current name. The name was selected because Amitabha is the primary buddha of Western Paradise, known in Japanese as "Saihō Jōdo" (西方浄土). Legend states that such famous Japanese monks as Kūkai and Hōnen later served as the chief priests of the temple. Although the veracity of these legends is questionable, it is believed that such a predecessor to the current temple did, in fact, exist.

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