Nanzen-Ji – The Home of Rinzai Zen
At the base of the Higashiyama mountains, Nanzen-Ji is nestled among trees and various sub-temples. The old temple is full of tradition and history, a must see for any tourist!
Nanzen-ji (南禅寺) is a Zen Buddhist temple in the city of Kyoto, Japan, built by Emperor Kameyama in 1291 on the site previously home to his palace. Today, the temple is also the headquarters of the Nanzen-ji branch of Rinzai Zen. Nanzen-ji and its surrounding is a designated national Historic Site and the Hojo gardens an official Place of Scenic Beauty.
Nanzen-ji is located at the base of Kyoto’s Higashiyama mountains, adjacent to a beautiful forest. The temple is counted as one of the most important Buddhist Temples in all of Japan due to it being the Rinzai Sect’s main temple and as the headquarters of Rinzai Zen.
Nanzen-ji was first founded in the Kamakura period in 1291. It was destroyed by fire on several occasions (1393, 1447, and 1467) and subsequently rebuilt in 1597 and expanded further still in the Edo period (1603 – 1868). It is currently a rather vast complex of buildings that has enveloped a number of formally separate temples over time.
Though Nanzen-ji is not itself considered one of the “five great Zen temples of Kyoto” it does play a central role in what is called the “Five Mountain System.” Mountain, in this context, meaning temple. Tenryu-ji (天龍寺), Shokoku-ji (相国寺), Kennin-ji (建仁寺), Tofuku-ji (東福寺), and Manju-ji (満寿寺) are the so-called Kyoto Gozan (京都五山) or “five great Zen temples of Kyoto”.
Nanzen-ji is the head temple of the Kyoto Gozan. Known as “First Temple of The Land”, the temple has historically played a supervisory role and been looked upon for guidance and leadership.
Quite a few events and festivals take place in the temple’s surrounding area as well as in the temple grounds themselves. We’ve picked two you might enjoy. Have a look and get inspired, there’s plenty more to see.
In springtime, there is a boat ride that departs from the temple grounds called “Okazaki Fresh Greenery Viewing Boat Ride”. Sailing from March 26th until May 8th each year, the boat, as the name suggests, allows one to enjoy the pretty new greenery and cherry blossoms (さくら sakura) springing to life in the area. Departing from Nanzen-ji Temple boat pier 29 times a day between 9:30 and 16:30 (boat departs every 15-60 min) it couldn’t be any more convenient. Tickets cost 1,200 yen per person and the cruise takes roughly 25 minutes.
You might also like to have a nice ride around the temple grounds on a Japanese rickshaw, another way to enjoy the autumn foliage to the fullest. The rickshaws can even take you to and from the station should you want to avoid using your legs as much as possible. Ask any of the carriage pullers standing around the roadside.
Nanzen-ji also offers Buddhist meditation classes – zazen classes – where you are shown the correct way to sit, breath and concentrate in an hour-long introductory lesson. The class consists of a 40-minute session of zazen practice and a 20-minute lecture on its background. It is held on every 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month from 06.00am – 07.00am (6.30am – 07.30am, Nov – Mar). Careful, though, as the class is not held in August or on December’s 4th Sunday or January’s 2nd Sunday.
No fee is charged unless there is a large group attending.
Mon – Sun
08.40 am – 05.00 pm (Mar – Nov)
08.40 am – 04.30 pm (Dec – Feb)
adult: 500 yen, child: 300 yen
Sakyo, Kyoto, Japan
Access to sub-temples in the vicinity is subject to separate entry fees.
If you’re going to Nanzen-Ji Temple, Kyoto’s Keage Station on Subway Tozai Line is your best bet when it comes to public transport. The station is just 8 minutes away from Nanzen-Ji and has plenty of information at the station on how to get to the temple so visitors won’t get lost. It is also very easily accessible from Kyoto city centre and connects to the Karasuma Line at Karasuma Oike Station.