Shôren-in – Where the Kyoto Quiet is Quieter

Kyoto has so many historic temples that your average tourist visits only a handful. Many of the rest provide a relatively quiet and restorative experience for the occasional visitor. Not all of these are minor temples, either; some just happen to lie slightly off typical walking routes or just don’t have the eye-popping visual flair of a place like Kinkakuji (the Gold Pavilion).

Shôren-in would definitely fall into the underrated category. Most people are content to visit nearby Nanzen-ji or Kiyomizu, which are arguably more visually impressive. But Shôren-in once acted as the temporary imperial palace after a fire burned down the original—you know the interior and its gardens must have something special to recommend them!

Although it’s significant that the temple houses a national treasure in the Painting of the Blue Cetaka (a guardian diety), the wonderfully painted fusuma (sliding doors) in the kacho-den (drawing roon) have a much more immediate appeal for most people. The primary images are of lotus flowers painted by Kimura Hideki. Beyond them is an expansive room for viewing one of the temple’s several gardens.

It’s well worth taking a stroll outside to view these. In spring, the flowering shrubs on the slope of the Kirishima Garden are quite lovely. The temple grounds also house an impressive tea ceremony room, which is open to public participation during a few dates in the spring and autumn. The temple also illuminates the gardens for night visits in the autumn.

Elsewhere on the grounds are enormous camphor trees estimated to be about 800-years-old—you’ll know you’ve found the temple when you see these. They are protected city treasures. In an isolated area further up the hillside are the Shogunzuka Mound and Dainichi Temple. Although they are closed until next year for renovation, the general area provides breathtaking views of Kyoto City below. The climb up the path is well worth it.







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