Koke-dera Saihoji Temple

Fantastic garden covered with about 120 species of moss

Saiho-ji Temple is called “moss temple” because of the impressive moss that covers the temple grounds like a carpet of green.

The garden is a karesansui garden created by Soseki Muso, a Zen monk and one of the world’s greatest gardeners of all time, who perfected the Zen garden or karesansui style,
The other is a karesansui garden with a pond at its center and beautiful mosses.

Both gardens are designated as national special scenic and historic sites,
Saiho-ji Temple is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a “Cultural Property of Ancient Kyoto.

Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji were modeled after Koke-dera

In 1382, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the third barbarian general of the Muromachi Shogunate, visited Saiho-ji Temple.
He visited the temple several times after that, and in 1397, he built Kinkakuji Temple on the model of Saiho-ji.

Saiho-ji was destroyed by fire in 1469 during the Onin War, but the zendo was rebuilt by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the 8th shogun of the Muromachi Shogunate.
Later, Ashikaga Yoshimasa visited Saiho-ji several times and built Ginkaku-ji Temple in 1490, modeled after Saiho-ji and Kinkaku-ji.

There was no moss at that time

The Kaiyushiki garden moss is so impressive with its beautiful green moss covering the temple grounds that it is called Koke-dera (moss temple).

The more than 100 varieties of moss that surround the pond have not existed since the time of Soseki Muso, and it is said that it was not until the end of the Edo period (1603-1868) that the moss garden became what it is today.

Koganeike Pond, also called Shinji-ike Pond, is located in the center of the garden in the middle of a grove of trees and is shaped like the character for "heart" (shinji).

The pond has three islands called Asahigashima, Sunsetjima, and Nagashima (Kasumijima). The small islands were covered with white sand and planted with pine trees.

On the east side are the main hall (Sairaido), a shoin (a study room), and a three-story nokyoto (a pagoda for sutra chanting).

Japan’s oldest dry landscape garden

Karesansui (dry landscape garden) is a Japanese garden in which rocks and sand are used to create a landscape without using water,
Until then, most gardens were pond gardens with a pond at the center.

In 1339, Soseki Muso created a Zen garden at Saiho-ji Temple with a masonry arrangement of stones, expressing the essence of Zen, which places importance on the state of mind.
It was highly innovative and is the origin of the karesansui (dry landscape) garden.

Soseki Muso was one of the greatest gardeners in the history of the world, and his Zen garden formed the standard of beauty in Japan from then on as wabi, sabi, and yugen.

A three-dimensional garden with sloping terrain

The vast 35,000-square-meter Saiho-ji Garden is a three-dimensional, two-tiered garden utilizing the slope of the mountain,
The lower garden, located at the foot of the mountain, is a moss garden centered around the Golden Pond (Shinji-ike).

The "Upper Garden" is the oldest dry landscape garden in Japan, built by Soseki Muso,
On the mountainside, there is a zendo (Zen meditation hall) called "Shidouan," which is made of huge stones and symbolizes a waterfall.
There is a path up the mountain from this zendo, and at the top there is a rest area with a view of the Katsura River.

Lore of Saiho-ji Temple

The site where Saiho-ji Temple is located is said to have been a villa of Prince Shotoku Taishi, the son of the 31st Emperor Yomei, during the Asuka Period (around 600 AD), where a statue of Amida Nyorai by Shotoku Taishi was enshrined.

It is said that Buddhist monk Gyoki, who received an imperial command from the 45th Emperor Shomu, converted the villa into a temple in 731.

The temple fell into disrepair after that, and in 1339, a chief vassal of the Muromachi shogunate invited Soseki Muso, who was also a master gardener, to rebuild the temple.

From a tourist temple to a place of worship

The garden has been open to the public since 1928, and the main hall was rebuilt in 1969.

In 1977, the temple was closed to public tours and visitors were required to participate in religious events such as sutra reading and sutra copying in the main hall, rather than sightseeing and touring.
Since then, participation requires advance registration, and the garden alone is no longer open to the public.

Tea House “Shonan-tei”

The Shonan-tei Tea House was built during the reign of Soseki Muso and later fell into disrepair, but was rebuilt in the Azuchi-Momoyama period by Sen Shoan, the second son of Sen no Rikyu, who is considered the perfectionist of the Wabicha style of tea ceremony.

It is known that the politician Iwakura Tomomi was sheltered here at the end of the Edo period.

In addition to Shonan-tei (designated as an important cultural property), there are two other teahouses in the garden: Shoan-do and Tanboku-tei.

Information

Name
Koke-dera Saihoji Temple
苔寺(西芳寺)
Link
Official Site
Address
56 Kamigayacho, Matsuo, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto City
Telephone number
075-391-3631
Hours of operation

Advance application is required to visit the shrine (specified at the time of application)

Closed

Designate the day of visitation by return postcard application or online application.

Admission fee

3,000 yen for the blessing fee

Parking lot
No parking lot
Access

Kyoto Stn. → Kyoto Bus “Koke-dera/Suzumushiji” stop → Approx. 3 min. walk

JR Saga-Arashiyama Station → Approx. 10 min. by cab

Area
Kyoto Arashiyama, Takao Kyoto station, Kawaramachi
Category
Temples Shrines, Temples, Churches Gardens, Flower gardens Historic sites, Cultural properties, Buildings

Gallery

Kyoto station, Kawaramachi

Kyoto

Category

Area