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Saiho-ji, a Moss Temple in Kyoto: Video Introduction

Image of the garden at Saiho-ji, a moss temple in Kyoto
Photo:The garden at Saiho-ji, a moss temple in Kyoto

This video, titled "[8K] Autumn Leaves at Saiho-ji (Moss Temple)" ([8K] 西芳寺(苔寺)と紅葉 Saihoji Temple (moss temple) and autumn leaves), was uploaded by "AQUA Geo Graphic."
Be sure to enjoy the beauty of Saiho-ji, a kokedera (moss temple) in Kyoto, and the breathtaking scenery of the temple in autumn.

Saiho-ji Temple History

Image of the garden at Saiho-ji, a moss temple in Kyoto
Photo:The garden at Saiho-ji, a moss temple in Kyoto

Saiho-ji Temple, also known as a "kokedera" (moss temple), is located in Nishikyo, Kyoto, in Japan's Kansai region. The temple was built by the Japanese Buddhist priest Gyoki at the order of Emperor Shomu during the Nara Period (710-794 A.D.), and is a famous temple with more than 1,300 years of history, whose grounds are covered with more than 120 varieties of moss. Throughout its long history, and changes in religious denominations, people throughout the ages have been captivated by the temple's beauty.

During the Kamakura period (1185-1333 A.D.), it was a temple of the Jodo sect of Buddhism, but was destroyed by warfare. However, in 1339, the temple was restored as a Zen Buddhist temple by the famous Buddhist monk, calligrapher, poet, and master gardener Muso Kokushi. The garden at Saiho-ji Temple has served as a model for the gardens at Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilin) and Ginkakuji (the Silver Pavilion) in Kyoto.

The Beautiful Garden of Saiho-ji Temple, a Moss Temple and World Cultural Heritage

Image of the garden at Saiho-ji, a moss temple in Kyoto
Photo:The garden at Saiho-ji, a moss temple in Kyoto

The main attraction of Saiho-ji Temple is, as the name "moss temple" implies, the moss that covers the temple grounds, and the garden created by the master gardener Muso Kokushi.
The upper section is a dry landscape garden, while the lower section is a strolling pond garden. The upper level, however, is currently closed to the public.
Visitors often pray at the temple after reciting sutras and then stroll around the garden.

The main attraction of the lower section of the garden at Saiho-ji Temple is Golden Pond (黄金池, Ogonchi), also called "Shinji-ike" (心字池, Heart-shaped Pond) because it's shaped like the Japanese character for "heart" (心). When the autumn leaves are at their best, the contrast between the temple's green moss and the autumn leaves dancing over the pond creates a beautiful scene.

The teahouse Shonan-tei (湘南亭) is one of the highlights of the lower section, and is said to have been rebuilt by Sen no Shoan, the second son of Sen no Rikyu, a renowned Japanese tea master. The view of Golden Pond from the tsukimidai (月見台, moon-viewing platform) overhanging the north side of the teahouse is truly spectacular. Shonan-tei is also designated as an Important Cultural Property by the government of Japan.

The upper section of the garden is not open to the public, but in Shitoan, a hall dedicated to the temple's founder, are enshrined the tablets of the founder Gyoki, Takaoka Shinno (a Japanese prince), and Muso Kokushi, as well as wooden statues of various prominent Japanese figures. On the upper level, there is a dry landscape garden. The dry landscape garden is a place where visitors can experience the history of the garden, as the masonry remains unchanged the temple was created by Muso Kokushi in 1339.

The best time to see the lush moss at Saiho-ji Temple is during the rainy season, and the best time to see the autumn leaves is in November.

Image of the garden at Saiho-ji, a moss temple in Kyoto
Photo:The garden at Saiho-ji, a moss temple in Kyoto

The best time to enjoy the contrast of moss and autumn leaves is from mid to late November, and the best time to see the 120-plus species of moss turn lush shades of green is typically from June to July, during Japan's rainy season. Saiho-ji Temple's Instagram page provides daily updates on the changing beauty of the garden. Be sure to check it out at @saihoji_daily before visiting!

Saiho-ji Temple: Reservations, Admission Fees, Etc.

Image of the garden of Saiho-ji, a moss temple in Kyoto
Photo:The garden of Saiho-ji, a moss temple in Kyoto

Saiho-ji Temple used to be open to visitors at any time, but as the number of visitors increased, so did the littering, noise, etc. As a result, the temple adopted reservation system in 1977 that allowed only a small number of visitors to visit the temple.

Those who wish to visit when sightseeing in Kyoto should first decide on the day of their visit in advance and then apply for a reservation. There are two ways to make reservations to visit Saiho-ji Temple: by return postcard or online application.

Application by return postcard
Acceptance period: 2 months to 1 month prior to the date of application (postmarked)
Number of people: Up to 2 people per couple
Entrance fee: 4,000 yen or more per person

Online application
Application period: 2 months prior to the date of application - 23:59 the day before the date of application
Number of people: Up to 2 people per couple
Entrance fee: 4,000 yen or more per person

The application period differs depending on the application method. The above information is current as of March 2024. Please check the official website for the latest information and apply in advance.

Translated with (free version)

If you're planning on making a reservation to see the autumn leaves at the temple, keep in mind that the reservation for this period is currently only available in Japanese. If using Google Chrome, we recommend using the browser's automatic translation feature by right clicking the page and click the "translate to …" button. If you're using a different browser, such as Firefox, you'll need to first download an addon from the Firefox browser addons page to do this.

If you're looking to make a reservation from November and beyond, there is an English reservation page where you can sign up. Signing up also requires that you create an account, regardless of which season you choose.

As the above-mentioned fees and application periods differ, be sure to check the official website and apply in advance.
※Please note that all visitors must be 13 years of age or older at the time of the visit.

Winter at Saiho-ji Temple

Image of Saihoji Temple, Kyoto
Photo:Saihoji Temple, Kyoto

The garden is closed to the public during the winter to allow the garden to recuperate, but visitors can still enjoy a different view of Saiho-ji Temple during the winter months. Visitors can enter the temple through the main gate, which is normally closed to the public, and view the fusuma paintings surrounding the Amitabha Buddha, the temple's principal object of worship, in full view in the main hall. Enjoy the unique charm of this Zen temple in the dignified winter air.

Summary of Saiho-ji, a Moss Temple in Kyoto

Image of the garden at Saiho-ji, a moss temple in Kyoto
Photo:The garden at Saiho-ji, a moss temple in Kyoto

Kyoto's Saiho-ji Temple is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a "Historic Monument of Ancient Kyoto".
Saiho-ji Temple is unique not only for its spectacular views but also for its shuin stamps. Visitors are asked to present their shuin stamp book before paying the entrance fee, and they will receive a magnificent two-page spread of shuin stamps.

Access to Saiho-ji Temple is best accessed by bus rather than train. By train, the temple is a short distance from Matsuo Station. If visiting the temple by bus, it's a short 3-minute walk from the bus stop "Koke-dera/Suzumushidera" (苔寺・すず虫寺).
From Kyoto Station, you can get to Saiho-ji Temple in about 45 minutes. First, take the Tokaido-Sanyo Line towards Aboshi and get off at Katsuragawa Station. From there, take the bus to the Matsuo Dairicho (松尾大利町) bus stop, and then walk to the temple.

You'll also find Suzumushidera Temple, which is a popular temple said to grant visitors one wish.

Saiho-ji Temple is a place where you can enjoy the unique culture and nature of Kyoto in a tranquil setting. It's an opportunity to discover both Kyoto and a new side of yourself.

【Official Website】Saiho-ji Temple

【TripAdvisor】Saiho-ji Temple

Written By
Last Updated : May. 6, 2024
平敷 篤(Atsushi Heishiki)
My name is Atsushi Heishiki, a writer who loves Japanese culture and lives in Okinawa.
Autumn at Saihoji, a Beautiful Moss Temple in Kyoto, Japan
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