All photographs taken by Makoto Ito.
Three Temples, Three Worlds of Beauty: 仁和寺 (Ninna-ji), 妙心寺 (Myoshin-ji) & 曼殊院 (Manshu-in)
(Left) A view of the north garden from Shinden Hall in Ninna-ji. (Center) Myoshin-ji’s Hatto Hall. (Right) Manshu-in’s Horai-style Zen rock garden.
The biggest delight of a visit to Kyoto is to immerse yourself in the world of Japanese beauty by strolling around some of the city’s many renowned お寺 (otera, Buddhist temples). To give you a taste of what we’re talking about, we’ll take you to three temples where you can savor three quintessential forms of this country’s beauty—sliding door paintings, gardens, and architecture.
(Left) Sliding door paintings in Ninna-ji’s Shinden created by Hara Zaisen. (Right) Sho-hojo Hall’s garden in Myoshin-ji Temple.
Destination 1: Ninna-ji
The ornate metalwork and sleek, stately rows of round tiles of Kon-do Hall are a must-see.
Our tour starts off with Ninna-ji, famed for attractions such as its exquisite 桜 (sakura, cherry blossoms) and the National Treasure, 金堂 (Kon-do Hall). The temple grounds are populated with many beautiful structures, here’s a list of 5 stunning spots to visit within Ninna-ji Temple’s grounds.
Address: Omuroouchi, Kyoto, 33, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto Prefecture
Open: 9:00 – 17:00 (March – November) 9:00 – 16:30 (December – February)
Destination 2: Myoshin-ji
After basking in the beauty of Ninna-ji, take a little break by partaking of Japanese tea and Austrian tortes at Omuro Sanowa, which is about 100 meters to the left when going out from Nio-mon Gate. Sporting chic decor such as partitions crafted by Japanese-paper artist Eriko Horiki, this shop offers a modern yet cozy setting to spice-scented cakes and Kyoto-style roasted green tea.
「雲龍図」 (“Dragon”) by Kano Tan’yu. Decorating the ceiling of Myoshin-ji Temple’s Hatto Hall, this image of a dragon blends elements of diverse animals—the eyes and head of an ox, a crocodile’s mouth, a serpentine body, and eagle-like talons. The beast’s fearsome countenance changes if you view it while walking in a circle below.
Next, as we continue on our way to the next temple, Myoshin-ji, let’s take a peek inside Kyoto Ohashi Kobo, a chopsticks shop where you can order your own custom-made design. It’s amazing to see how even minor tweaks to length and weight can change the feel of chopsticks. All right, we’ve got about five more minutes of walking to get to Myoshin-ji, where you’ll be mesmerized by a stunning dragon painting, pictured above.
Addresss: 64 Hanazonomyōshinjichō Ukyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu
Destination 3: Manshu-in
Capping off our excursion will be Manshu-in, which boasts inspired architecture and an elegant garden befitting a temple of imperial lineage. Of course, all this walking is bound to work up your appetite, so stop by some places along the way where you get some tasty treats.
(Left) Manshu-in’s Horai-style 枯山水園 (karesansuien, Zen rock garden). (Right) Adorned with an owl carving, this stone washbasin sits in a garden that delighted 17th century tea ceremony master Kobori Enshu.
Bentenshima, a small island in a pond, has a restaurant called Benten-jaya, where you can savor some tasty udon noodles or rice with ankake sauce and tofu skins. On your way home, you might want to stop by Honode on Kirarazaka path and pick up some traditional miso-pickled eggplant. There are many other shops offering Kyoto-style food and knickknacks along the tour route we took today, so give yourself plenty of time to check them out when you make your visit!
Address: 42 Takenouchi-cho, Ichijo-ji, Sakyo-ku
Open: 9:00 – 17:00 (Entry until 16:30)