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.
Mike Fung | Nov 27, 2017
You have to make a reservation with the temple at least a month before your visit. They don’t take online reservations; you’ll have to send them a self-addressed envelope for confirmation and admission passes (old school). There are a bunch of travel agencies that charge an additional fee for getting around this process, but we didn’t use them because it wasn’t exactly hassle-free or guaranteed either. We got in thanks to the helpful team at the ANA Crown Plaza Kyoto.
Thomas Chen | Nov 26, 2017
The most serene temple I've visited amongst dozens. Getting in is a feat in and of itself: it requires snail mailing them a postcard (get your hotel to do this in advance) and the entrance fee is steeper at $30 USD/person. The serenity, beauty and foliage is quite worth it though.
Amelia Smap | Aug 19, 2017
Such a beautiful place to visit. Make sure that you make a booking one month in advance. They accept no walk ins!
William Treasure | Aug 21, 2016
You are required to ask for notice seven days in advance to enter, some hotels can do this for you and some companies online charge a fee to do this. Upon entering you witness a small Buddhist ceremony with chanting, you are then asked to write a wish, and your name on a wooden plate and present it. After that, you can see the garden freely. When I visited, I was surprised to see most other visitors rush through the garden and leave within half an hour. Wait, take your time, and most other people will leave, you won't have people in the background of your photos, and you won't be disturbed too much. The garden is fairly large, dominated by a pond, and has extensive moss. It's very beautiful. I was lucky enough that a heron flew down into the garden and stayed for a short while after most people left. It's a bit of effort to get access, and a bit of effort to understand your ticket, but it's very beautiful and well worth it.
Blake Bambridge | Oct 8, 2017
A simply beautiful experience. Worth a trip.
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