Ninna-ji Temple is a temple with a long and distinguished history that was founded by the 59th emperor of Japan, Emperor Uda, in AD 888. From this time until the late Edo period in 1867, for almost 1000 years, members of the Imperial Family served at the temple. The temple has always been loved for its Omuro Sakura, which are the latest blooming cherry trees in Kyoto, and the temple is also famous for the many tourists who visit the temple every spring.
The temple has always been loved for its Omuro Sakura, which are the latest blooming cherry trees in Kyoto, and the temple is also famous for the many tourists who visit the temple every spring. Ninna-ji Temple is a 40-minute bus ride on the #26 bus from Kyoto Station, or by Randen (Keifuku Electric Railroad) a 3-minute walk from Omuro-Ninnaji Station. If you are thinking of going to Arashiyama or Kinukake-no-michi Road, you have to go to Ninna-ji Temple. In this article you can find out why.
When visiting Ninna-ji Temple, this huge 18.7m tall Niomon Gate welcomes you to the temple. This gate is one of the big three gates in Kyoto besides the ones at Chion-in and Nanzen-ji temples. The gate is a designated Important Cultural Property of Japan, and the appearance of the gate made purely using the Japanese wayo style tells you about the importance of Ninna-ji Temple.
On the left and right side of the gate you can see a Kongorikishi statue. These Kongorikishi statues are protectors of Buddhism, and one with an open mouth is called the Agyo statue, while the one with the closed mouth is called the Ungyo statue. The gate is called Niomon, the gate of two kings, because of these two statues.
The “a” in Agyou comes from the way “ah” is pronounced with the mouth open, and the “un” in Ungyo comes from the way this sound is pronounced with the mouth closed. These two sounds together are called “Aun no kokyu” in Japanese, and this proverb in Japanese means a kind of mental connection with two people.
The number one highlight of Ninna-ji Temple has to be the Goten Temple Compex. The Goten, meaning an important residence, is made up of seven temple buildings, such as Shinden and Reimeiden, and the Hokutei and Nantei gardens, and a tea house. The residence of Emperor Uda used to be here, and for this reason it is sometimes called the “Old Omuro Imperial Palace.” There is a 500 yen entrance fee to the Goten Temple Complex, but the beautiful garden of the temple which is also a popular sightseeing spot among the locals, is something highly recommended.
Taking photos inside the Goten Temple Comples is allowed, so please do take some pictures of the kind of scenery you can only see at Ninna-ji Temple, and make this temple visit a lasting memory.
After entering through the Niomon Gate, you see this path going up to the Chumon Gate, but the recommended course of action is to first go left to the Goten Temple Complex.
The entrance to the temple complex is this Honbo Omotemon Gate on the left side from the Niomon Gate. To enter the complex you need to first buy an entrance ticket at the ticket counter in front of the gate.
After going through the Honbo Omotemon Gate you get to see the entrance to the Goten Temple Complex. Wearing shoes inside the temple complex is forbidden so put your shoes in a plastic bag provided at the entrance before going in. The Goten Complex is made up of four buildings connected by walkways called Shiroshoin, Shinden, Kuroshoin, and Reimeden.
*The handrails and sliding doors at the Goten Temple Complex are very old so they may break down if you sit or lean on them. Please be careful when walking inside these historic buildings.
First when you go into the temple complex you get to see Shiroshoin. You cannot go inside the rooms, but you can look from outside, and the highlight is this painting of a pine tree on the sliding doors.
After you continue walking from Hakushoin you get to center part of the Goten Temple Complex, Shinden. Shinden is used for rituals and ceremonies, and is composed of three rooms, and although many people probably will mostly concentrate on the beautiful garden, it is recommended that you also look at the beautiful paintings on the sliding doors and walls of seasonal motifs.
Shinden is in the middle of two gardens; the south garden Nantei, and the north garden Hokutei. Nantei has the simple beauty of a rock garden, and Hokutei is a vivid example of a kaiyu-shiki strolling garden built around a pond. Ninna-ji Temple is the only place in Kyoto where you get to see two places of such different beauty at the same time. The concept of time no longer matters at all when you gaze at the garden; you can spend an unforgettable moment at these two gardens that can be seen only at Ninna-ji Temple.
Even in Kyoto, the only garden from where you can see a Five-Storied Pagoda is here at Ninna-ji Temple. Enjoy a precious view that can only be had here.
When you continue on the walkway, you get to see Kuroshoin. This simple building and the paintings on the sliding doors have a calm feeling to them.
In the back of the Goten Temple Complex, you can see Reimeiden where the Buddha of Healing is enshrined. You cannot go inside Reimeiden, but you can see inside from the gaps between the sliding doors, and pray for the Buddha of Healing.
*There is an alarm sensor on the sliding doors of Reimeiden. If you put your hands past the sliding door sensor, it will raise an alarm, so be careful when praying.
Inside the Goten Temple Complex there is a souvenir shop where you can find all kinds of souvenirs from goshuin temple stamp books and amulets to sweets.
The recommendation of Sharing Kyoto’s writers is these black beans that come in a beautiful box. They have two kinds of beans made in collaboration with the temple and a long established shop in Kyoto, plain beans with which you can enjoy the simple taste of the beans themselves and matcha beans with which you can enjoy the rich fragrance of matcha.
There is more to see at Ninna-ji Temple than the Goten Temple Complex. There are many places to see at the vast precincts of the temple, so it is recommended that you take your time to leisurely walk around the place.
When you get back to the path that leads to the Kondo main hall, you can see the Chumon Gate in front of you. After going up the stairs and through the Chumon Gate, you will see the late-blooming cherry blossoms called “Omuro Sakura” on your left.
When you continue from the Chumon Gate, you will get to see the two symbols of Ninna-ji Temple: the Omuro Sakura on your left and the Five-Storied Pagoda on your right. There are many other famous five-storied pagodas in Kyoto like the ones at To-ji and Daigo-ji temples and the Yasaka Pagoda, but the one at Ninna-ji Temple is especially beautiful because it is surrounded by greenery in spring and summer and by autumn leaves in autumn. This pagoda is also a designated Important Cultural Property, and it is often used as a filming location for Japanese period pieces and television dramas. The pagoda is beautiful no matter from where you look, but if you want to take a nice picture of it, the recommended place to take it is from the west side.
When you leave the Five-Storied Pagoda, and continue with the Chumon Gate to your back, you will get to the Kondo main hall that is also designated a National Treasure of Japan. Kondo is the main hall of the temple, and it is a rare example of a surviving Imperial court structure. Inside the hall, there are such Buddhist statues as the statues of the Four Heavenly Kings and Bonten, and on the walls, you can see a picture of Raigo-zu.
* Kondo is undergoing renovation works until December, 2017.
When you walk to right from Kondo, you get to Kyozo, which is also designated as an Important Cultural Property. Inside Kyozo there are the complete Buddhist scriptures. (Normally Kyozo is not open to the public.)
Besides this, Miedo, which is also an Important Cultural Property, houses such Important Cultural Properties as the statues of Kobo Daishi, Emperor Uda, and the second Imperial Prince Shoshin. The beautiful vermilion Shoro is also an Important Cultural Property. The 14th Fudo Temple of the “36 Fudo Temples of the Kinki Region,” Mizukake Fudo. As you can see, the charm of Ninna-ji Temple comes from that there is so much to see at the temple. It is recommended that you have plenty of time to spend at the temple.
When going right from the Niomon Gate, you will get to see the Reihokan Museum that houses such treasures of the temple as Amida Sanzon-zo that was the principal image of Buddha of the temple at the time of its foundation. The museum is open in spring and autumn for a special exhibition. Some of the items exhibited have explanations in English, so those interested in Buddhist art should plan their trip to overlap with the time of the special exhibition. (Museum entrance fee: 500 yen)
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