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Nanzenji Temple

Zen temple with beautiful stone garden

Nanzenji Temple is one of the most important Zen temples in Japan. It serves as the main temple of one of the schools within the Rinzai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism and includes several sub-temples, making the temple complex quite extensive.

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History of Nanzenji Temple

Nanzenji Temple (南禅寺), situated at the foothills of Kyoto's forested Higashiyama mountains, is a significant Zen temple in Japan. It serves as the head temple for one of the schools within the Rinzai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism and encompasses several subtemples, expanding the already extensive complex of temple buildings.

Nanzenji's history traces back to the mid-13th century, when Emperor Kameyama constructed his retirement villa at the temple's current site, later transforming it into a Zen temple. Following its establishment, Nanzenji experienced steady growth, but all its structures were destroyed during the civil wars of the late Muromachi Period (1333-1573). The oldest existing building was constructed after that tumultuous period.

Sanmon Gate

The giant gate that welcomes visitors to the Nanzen-ji complex is known as a sanmon, or "mountain gate," with "mountain" being a traditional term for temples. Erected in 1628, the gate is also named "Sangedatsumon" (Gate of the Three Liberations) and holds significant importance within Japanese Zen Buddhist temples. Soaring at a height of 22 meters, it was constructed by Tōdō Takatora to commemorate those who perished in the Siege of Osaka Castle in 1615. The gate has gained recognition beyond its religious significance and has appeared in renowned movies like Lost in Translation. Beyond being a captivating photo spot, you can access a 360-degree view of Kyoto and the Nanzen-ji complex by paying an admission fee to climb the steep stairs of the gate. Though the climb may be challenging, the panoramic view makes it well worth the effort.

Hōjō (Abbot’s Quarters)

The Hōjō, situated at the back of the complex, is the primary structure at Nanzen-ji and serves as the abbot's quarters. Designated as a National Treasure, the building features elegant rock gardens, a Bodhisattva Kannon statue, and notable works of art, including the renowned sliding-door painting "Tiger Drinking Water" by Kanō Tan’yū. Originally founded by Emperor Kameyama, the Hōjō has faced destruction by fire three times, with the present building being constructed after the Momoyama period.

Nanzen-in garden

Beyond the canal and up the stairs, you'll discover Nanzen-in, a small temple with a stunning garden dating back to the 14th century. Particularly enchanting during the autumn season, it stands as one of Kyoto's most beloved locations for admiring fall foliage. The Nanzen-in garden is considered a faithful representation of the Kamakura period style. Additionally, the garden boasts a dragon-shaped pond named Sogen-ike Pond, thought to have been designed by the retired Emperor Kameyama.


This European style canal is called Sosui, and it is a waterway that connects Kyoto City to Lake Biwa in Shiga. The canal, which looks like something out of a Ghibli Film, is a very popular photo spot amongst locals as well as overseas tourists. The construction of this canal began in 1881 and took nine years to complete.

For further information, please access the official website:

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