Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Nanzen-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan

Day 6 in Nara: New Miyako Hotel, A review - Heian Jingu Shrine and Garden - NANZEN-JI TEMPLE AND GROUNDS - Nijojyo Castle - Golden Pavilion Temple

Wooded temple buildings peeped out from a cloak of greens...
Forested mountains stood guard behind and the clear blue skies looked on.
Standing fixed,
I moved my eyes and took a panoramic view of the complete scenery,
Nature was at it's best here.

View from Nanzen-ji terrace

The Nanzen-ji Temple and Grounds

Walking further from the gardens of the Heian Jingu shrine, we reached the Nanzenji temple – one of the most prominent zen temples in all of Japan. A huge Sanmon gate greeted us at the entrance, it’s magnanimity - a soft reflection of the grandiosity that we were to view inside.
Massive two storey high Sanmon gate at the Nanzen-ji Temple

The gate makes way to the grounds inside which are large and spacious, including an array of 12 subtemples and a few Zen gardens which makes it quite difficult to explore everything on foot for an average traveler who is generally short on time.

Narrow pathway fenced by trees and shrubs on both the sides with the Nanzen-ji temple standing in the centre.

The Nanzen-ji temple

Once a retirement villa of an emperor, the Nanzenji temple was impressive but the main highlight for me, surprisingly, was not the temple but something else.

It was the Sanmon gate terrace views! Even though climbing to the terrace requires you to pocket out a fee of 500 Yen, do not think twice about it. Just go! We had contemplated about skipping this one but a little coaxing from our friend, stardust and a few minutes of stepping and sightseeing was all it took for us to realize that the steep climb to the Sanmon terrace had been totally worth it!

The terrace verandah of the Sanmon gate

As you stand in it’s verandah with the cool breeze blowing, it is a wonderful feeling how the large grounds of the temple or rather the entire city of Kyoto suddenly seems to come within your reach. All the numerous temples, shrines and gardens neatly nestled in the forested cluster of trees, the slopes of Higashiyama mountains, the clear blue skies stretching far and wide – everything is simply an eye-sight away and looks incredible from every and any angle that you see.

The Sanmon gate terrace views

Besides this, the floor also houses a small dark room which holds a few images of Buddha and some amazing art work of young women and phoenixes on display.

Adjoining the temple, is the beautiful and sombre Hojo garden, also known as the Tiger and Cubs Zen Garden, with specific rock formations and patterns (the tigers and the cubs) all surrounded by pure and neatly decorated white sand (a stream).

The Hojo zen garden

The most striking feature of these gardens is that it shows you beauty from the other side of the coin - beauty that lies in remote barrenness, in the emptiness that one can sense in the rocks, the stones, even the shrubs - beauty that we often tend to miss out on.

The stone and sand patterns in the Hojo zen garden

In them hide embedded messages... that nudge us to delve within ourselves and understand the true ways of life and living. Surrounding the garden are rooms or Abbot's quarters decorated with impressive paintings and other artifacts neatly preserved and dating back to the 16th century.

A few meters ahead of the hojo, also on the Nanzenji grounds, is a long roman style aqueduct which is part of the Lake Biwa Canal constructed in 1890.

The roman style aqueduct

This aqueduct is historic, supplying water from the Biwa lake to Kyoto for more than 100 years but what makes it memorable for me, today, is the reminder of the humble lunch that we had in it's cool shade... of those few peaceful moments that we spent in each other's company, talking in hushed tones and soft smiles while also relishing the beauty found in simplicity... simplicity of food, thoughts and surroundings.

How to reach Nanzen-ji Temple:

Approximately 20 minute walk from the Heain Jingu Shrine.

Timings, Admission fee, Tips, etc.:

Timings: The temple grounds remain open till 5 PM. (might change during certain festivals and seasons)

Charges: There is a fee of 500 Yen for admission to various parts of the temples like Sanmon and the Hojo garden. The Aqueduct is free.

Tip: Do not miss the Sanmon terrace views.

Previous Posts from the Japan Trip -

1. Planning for Japan: Visa, Flight Bookings, Hotel Reservations, etc.
2. Sunrise pictures from the flight to Japan
3. Entire Day 1 of Japan (includes Review of Hotel Villa Fontaine Roppongi, Tokyo, Expedia Japan Office Meet: An Afternoon to Remember)

4. Entire Day 2 of Japan (includes SensoJi temple: Asakusa - Tokyo, Nakamise Dori Shopping Arcade in Tokyo, Sumida River Cruise, Tokyo, A Stroll in the Hibiya Gardens, Imperial Palace and East Gardens, The Tokyo Tower, Japan)
8. Where to stay in Kyoto: New Miyako Hotel
9. Heian Jingu Shrine and Garden, Kyoto


  1. @Arti So beautiful post. Awesome photographs and great description. Keep posting. Thanks :)

  2. The first picture of the temple is still my favorite, the two stories and intricate architecture.

  3. The temple look perfect with the green area around, im sure you walk a lot to reached this place :)

  4. I love those stone and sand gardens. So very serene.

  5. Zen garden is typical Japanese traditional garden. I like the thought of garden. How beautiful.

  6. Great pictures , Love the stone and pattern garden very much , it looks mystical .

  7. I love the way Temples (and Churches and Mosques) are constructed across the world (Japan and India included).. It feels like we are always invited irrespective of our religion and nationality..

  8. शांत , सुरम्य और प्रकृति की गोद में बसा मंदिर

    एक और मोती आपके यात्रा विवरणो की माला में

  9. such a beautiful and peaceful place, Arti! u are lucky to have visited so many such places!

  10. Hi Arti,

    Beautiful green trees and temples - I am enjoying seeing your photos from your trip.
    Thanks for sharing and the great review.

    Enjoy the rest of the week

  11. you are right Arti, the panoramic view of the scenery is nature at its best there. thanks for the tour again, so love the swirls in the sand.

  12. Beautiful shots - that Zen garden is fabulous!

  13. Yet another lovely place, indeed captured so beautifully!!

  14. How I love your descriptions of this place, I almost feel myself there.

  15. Hi Arti: Another gem in your Japan series...I wonder how they come back without leaving footprints in the Zen Garden? Roman style aquaduct in Japan, now who would have thought of that! The things we learn by traveling :)

  16. These photos are completely gorgeous. I can get a sense of the peace and tranquility there.

  17. Beautiful photos! You seem to like the spiritual aspect of life.

  18. a days, busy with foreign countries....

  19. Japan seems to be a must visit place, looks awesome....and very happy new year sorry,couldnt find time at all..i hope everything is fine at your end...

  20. Hi. Nice series of Nanzenji photos! I was surprised that you took the Sanmon photo from the side.
    It's a very good idea.
    Wishing you a wonderful weekend.

  21. Well, it doesn't sound like you regretted paying the 500 yen. :) It is such a beautiful place nestled in between the trees and mountains. I like your picture of the aqueduct arches.

  22. beautiful photos and info


  23. I am attracted to these lovely pics. I envy you and your travel freedom. Great to find your blog. Now I can see the world through your eyes. Thanks for your kind comment on my blog.

  24. Beautiful post Arti, I can feel the peacefulness radiating from your photos. The wonderful blanket of trees is like a temple of its own :)

  25. HI Arti, I love your photo of the aqueduct. Zen gardens are so peaceful - I like to just sit and be calm for awhile.

  26. Lovely pictures and poignant narration, Arti. The views from the gate are wonderful.


  27. Hello, Arti.

     Your work is embraced in your gentleness.
     Sharing a moment of peace.
     It is a joy for all.

     Your heart warm message in the cold.
     I always give mind of thanks to you.

    Have a good weekend. From Japan, ruma❃

  28. This post makes me want to leave the city. I want to be in this kind of place. Very calming.

  29. the first pic with that blue sky is very beautiful .. so are other pics !

  30. Beautiful write up too Arti. Revisited and felt the peacefulness of the Zen Garden through your blog.

  31. º° ✿彡
    As fotos são maravilhosas e as informações preciosas.
    Gostei mais da primeira foto e dos jardins de areia.
    Bom fim de semana.
    Beijinhos do Brasil.
    ✿ °•.¸

  32. Lovely -- the park grounds around the temple really make this a lovely place to spend some time, both indoors and out. Learning history and enjoying beautiful nature. A perfect combination.

  33. When I was in Japan I loved looking at the garden made of stones.

    Nice post.


    Stewart M - Melbourne

  34. Nice. Good to learn about. I unfortunately missed Kyoto during my visit due to poor time management. Nice to see it through your eyes.

  35. Beautiful! Those temples are absolutely breathtaking. I have always heard wonderful things about Kyoto's temples and these pictures and post prove I need to visit during my return trip to Japan.

  36. I read all other part of this series today as i could not read them earlier and no need to say that the complete series is lovely...

  37. wow... the temple looks great... your description is also wonderful... it reminds me of the olden days when I used to play Age of Empires. It used to have lot of Civilizations and the infrastructure of Japanese Civilization used to be similar. Looking forward for the upcoming posts...

  38. Pictures are so amazing ..Thanks for sharing. I'd love to visit this place soon.

  39. Happy week to you ARti! Am so amazed by all the pix you took in Japan - and all the places you've seen.

  40. Such a wonderful place.........

  41. Beautiful temple. Nice post on it.

  42. Such a beautiful and serene place. Lovely shots. I thought the Japan series was over with last post. :P Sorry!

  43. Wonderful photos of the gardens, my dear friend Arti!!!
    They are a really paradise!!!
    Many kisses

  44. These are some great photos. I am a High School Student in the United States. I saw that you are from India and I was curious to learn more about it. Do you mind if i ask a few questions about the culture and everyday life in India?

  45. Hi, Arti! It was my second visit to Nanzen-ji Temple after a long interval since my childhood. The view from the terrace of Sanmon Gate was more than I had expected. We could see the treetops and spaciousness of the precinct. I still remember our humble but delicious lunch at the corner of the aqueduct, feeling soft breeze and talking softly to each other.


  46. The sand pattern is what I like most..It relaxes me to just look at it. Though the temple itself is very fascinating to see also.

  47. Beautiful photgraphs and wonderful narration..Catching up with all your recent posts Arti..

  48. My God, I was looking at these pictures and was amazed by how the temples were built. Such fine structures along with nature. I can almost feel it, when you said about the place being breezy. Really nice :-)

  49. Look very peaceful and great shots...

  50. Oh, what a peaceful and serene place this is...Thanks for sharing, Arti. Enjoyed the tour very much.:))

  51. Beautiful temple in a nice location.

  52. Such a beautiful post. i can see you enjoyed a Lot. I am glad I found your blog :)

  53. Good post.
    I have visited Japan .Beautiful country with good people

  54. Temples and the Traditional House in Japan and even in China looks so beautiful

  55. Japan seems to haunt your blog - loved every bit aarthi :)

  56. These pics are enticing. Hope I will be able to visit some day.


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