Saihō-ji (Koke-dera)(西芳寺 (苔寺))

The garden of Saihō-ji is acclaimed by many as Kyoto’s most beautiful garden and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage. It is especially famous for its moss garden, for which reason it is also commonly known as Moss temple or Koke-dera (苔寺).

In 1339, the famous Zen monk Musō Soseki became the head priest of the temple and remodeled the garden. For him, creating gardens was part of his zen meditation routine. He founded a lot of temples and built or remodeled their gardens, but Saihō-ji is clearly his masterpiece.

Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408, 足利義満) sat here in meditation in the upper part of the garden commemorating the garden’s creator Musō Soseki.
Yoshimitsu’s grandson shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1435-1490, 足利善政) loved this garden so much that he modeled his own retreat, the Temple of the Silver Pavillion – Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺), after Saihō-ji. Famous monks of different Buddhist sects have been head priests of the temple – namely Kūkai (774-835), Hōnen (1133-1212) and Musō Soseki (1275-1351).
During the Edo period the temple fell into disrepair. It must have been at this time that moss slowly encroached the garden until it covered all of it. Today, there are roughly 120 types of moss in the garden.

The best times to view the garden are during the rainy season (mid-June until mid-July) and in autumn, when the red and orange of the maple’s leafs contrast nicely with the lush green of the velvety moss.

  • History of the temple
  • Buildings of the temple
  • Musō Soseki’s Garden
  • Philosophy
  • The Moss
  • The Lower Garden
  • The Upper Garden
  • Jenny’s impressions
  • Registration process
  • How to get there
  • Literature

18 pages
84 illustrations
19.3 MB

The eBook comes as pdf in self-print format.

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How to get there
Saihō-ji is situated in the picturesque Arashiyama mountains to the west of Kyoto. Although you need to change trains, it is not very complicated to get there.
First get to Katsura station by taking the Hankyu Kyoto line. In Katsura, change to the cute trains of the Hankyu Arashiyama line to get to Matsu-o station. From there, you can take a bus to get to Koke-dera (it says so big in big letters on the front of the bus). After that, it is only a short walk to the temple.

You can also go directly from Kyoto station with bus 28 until Matsuo-Taisha-mae and walk around 15 min in southern direction. From the Sanjō station of the Keihan line, you can take bus 63 to the final stop ‘Koke-dera’.

Saihō-ji Temple 56 Jingatani-cho Matsuo Nishikyo-ku Kyoto, 615-8286, Japan
京都府京都市 西京区松尾神ヶ谷町56


Visiting the temple and its garden is only possible with previous registration by a return postcard (往復ハガキ). You will be told on the return post card a time and date when visiting is possible. The entrance fee is 3.000 Yen.
Online reservation is now possible for 4.000 Yen.

Hakone Moss Garden - Museum of Art(箱根美術館)

The moss garden of the Hakone Museum is a small mysterious landscape. Under 200 maple trees, small stone paths are winding through fields of moss. The climate of the Hakone mountains is perfect for the moss. During the rain season between June and July, the moss gets plenty of water to thrive, and the dappled shade of the momiji (紅葉, Japanese for maple tree) makes sure it gets enough light to be a bright green, but does not get burned by the strong Japanese summer sun. There are over 130 varieties of moss in the garden.

There is also a small Chinese bamboo garden and a Japanese landscape garden. You can have tea in the tea house Shinwatei (真和亭).

The museum was established in 1952 by Okada Mokichi(岡田茂吉, 1882-1955), a collector of Asian art. There is earthenware pottery from the Jomon period (13.000BC to 300BC) until the Edo period (1603-1868) on display.

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How to get there
A fast and uncomplicated way to get to the Hakone area is to take the Odakyu Bus from Shinjuku station in Tokyo. It leaves every 30 minutes and it takes around 2 hours under good traffic conditions. Get off at Togendai and get on the Hakone Ropeway, go to the last stop, Sounzan and change to the cute red Hakone Tozan Cable car. You can choose to either get off at Koenkami station and walk three minutes or go to Gora Station and walk uphill for ten minutes.

Another nice option is to take the Odakyu Railway ‘Romance Car’ from Shinjuku station to Hakone-Yumoto station. It takes about 90 minutes and costs 2020 Yen. From Hakone-Yumoto, you can get on the Hakone Tozan cable car and to Gora station and walk from there.

900 Yen

Opening hours
April-November: 9:30am to 4:30pm
December-March: 9:30am to 4:00pm

The garden is closed on every Thursday (except for November), and between December 25th and 31st and January 4th and 7th.

EN: 1300 Gora, Hakone-machi Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa 〒250-0408
JP: 〒250-0408 神奈川県足柄下郡箱根町強羅1300


The Silver Pavilion (Ginkaku-ji)(銀閣寺 (慈照寺))

The second most famous temple in Kyōto and little brother of Kinkaku-ji is the Ginkaku-ji on the eastern hills of Kyōto. It was built by Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the grandson of the founder of Kinkaku-ji. While the Kinkaku-ji sparkles brightly in its golden coating, the Ginkaku-ji was planned to be covered completely in leaf silver.

However, due to the Ōnin war (1477-87) and the shōguns pursuit of perfection, construction of the estate was postponed again and again and might be the reason that the silver coating was never applied. During renovation works in 2008 it was considered to coat the temple in silver just as it was intended to be, but after a long discussion, the temple’s board came to the conclusion that the concept of Wabi-Sabi is conved better with a wooden temple. As his grandfather Yoshimitsu, Yoshimasa planned to live in this palace after his retirement, isolated from the everyday life outside. Yoshimasa is said to have spent several years on planning the estate, and even chose the stones used for the pond garden himself.

Looking at the pictures of the temple and garden, how would you have planned a villa and garden on this estate if you had the opportunity? While being a less than strong political leader, Yoshimasa was said to be an aesthete, a lover of culture, tea ceremony and a big supporter of Zen Buddhism, even a highly ranked zen practitioner. Envision him taking walks in the garden, enjoying a tea prepared by his tea master or sitting quietly in meditation with a view on the garden.

  • Introduction
  • Historical Background – The Muromachi period and Ashikaga Yoshimasa
  • History of the temple and the Garden
  • Buildings and garden
  • Jenny’s impressions
  • Omiyage from Kyoto
  • How to get there

10 pages
30 illustrations
11 MB

The eBook is delivered as PDF.

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How to get there
Bus: From Kyōto station, take bus number 5, 17 or 100 and get off at the Ginkaku-ji bus stop (35min, 220yen).
By foot: If you prefer to experience Kyōto by foot, take a walk on the pittoresque Philosopher’s Path (30min from Nanzen-ji).

EN: 〒606-8402, Sakyō-Ku, Ginkaku-ji-Chō 2
JP: 〒606-8402, 京都市左京区銀閣寺町2


Opening hours
8:30am-5pm (Mar-Nov)
9am-4:30pm (Dec-Feb)

500 Yen

Giō-ji  (祇王寺)

This temple in Kyoto’s lovely Sagano district has a small moss garden. Surrounded by dense trees, it is a very quiet and relaxed place.
In autumn, when the leaves change, it is especially beautiful.

The temple is also mentioned in the Japanese classic Heike Monogatari (Tale of the Heike). The dancer Gio retreated to this temple after a powerful leader of the Taira-clan ended the relationship with her. Wooden statues of her, her mother and sister and Taira-no-Kiyomori ass displayed in the temple.

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eBook Coming…


How to get there
From Kyoto station, take the JR Sanin Main line towards Sonobe (園部) from platform 32, 33. Get off after 16 minutes at the sixth stop Saga-arashiyama (峨嵐山).
If you prefer to go by bus, take the Kyoto city bus No. 28 or Kyoto bus No. 71 (for Daikaku-ji, 大覚寺) from Kyoto main station and get off after 50 minutes at Saga-Shakado-mae.

From there, walk about 20 minutes towards the west.

Opening times
9am – 5pm

500 yen

〒616-8435 京都府京都市右京区嵯峨鳥居本小坂町32