Sep. 06, 2023 UPDATE

5 Life-changing Zen Buddhist Temples in Kyoto

We at Sharing Kyoto have been to many Zen Buddhist temples, but this time we bring you the 5 that left the biggest impression on us.
The twin dragons at Kennin-ji

Zen Buddhism has an ascetic image, but at the same time there is an air of mystery around it. What better place to try to get to know more about Zen than the historic capital of Japan, Kyoto? Attaining satori, enlightenment while traveling in Kyoto might be a bit difficult, but at least you can see some incredibly beautiful temples.

There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen.

-Shunryu Suzuki

Request Private & Custom tour of these spots from Sharing Kyoto local guide

       1.    Kennin-ji Temple

      Kennin-ji Temple

      Kennin-ji Temple is most famous for its twin dragons. The huge black dragons on the ceiling look almost to be alive, but Kennin-ji has more to offer than just the dragons and convenient access on Hanamikoji Street: they have 16 ceramic figures of famous Buddhist saints for you to see. Plus their goshuincho temple stamp book is rather cool; it has a dragon on its cover!

      Address 584 Komatsu-cho, Yamato Ooji Shijyo Sagaru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi
      Open Hours -

        2.    Nanzen-ji Temple

        Nanzen-ji Temple

        Nanzen-ji Temple area is just huge, and there is really a lot to see, the temple area having many sub-temples plus of course the famous Sanmon gate. Nanzen-ji is a popular tourist destination, but if you go into the gardens or to the temples around the main one there won’t be so many people and you can have a quiet moment for yourself, and contemplate in peace. 

        Address Nanzenji Fukuchicho, Sakyo-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 606-8435
        Open Hours Dec. 1 - Feb. 28: 8:40 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Mar. 1 - Nov. 30: 8:40 a.m. - 5 p.m.

        Request Private & Custom tour of these spots from Sharing Kyoto local guide

           3.    Tofuku-ji Temple

          Tofuku-ji Temple

          Like many of the Zen temples in Kyoto, Tofuku-ji Temple is also the head of its own sect, the Tofuku-ji school of the Rinzai sect. Interestingly the name Tofuku-ji is a combination of Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji temples in Nara. But this temple has to be most famous for its rock gardens that surround the Hojo, the abbot’s hall, which are just spectacular. Also, don’t forget Tofuku-ji if you are going to Kyoto during the autumn leaves season; the views are just spectacular!

          Address 15-778, Hommachi, Higashiyama-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 605-0981
          Open Hours April to October 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. November to December 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. December to March 9 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

             4.    Tenryu-ji Temple

            Tenryu-ji Temple

            Tenryu-ji Temple in Arashiyama is a Zen temple not only famous for its rock garden, but also the garden as a whole, especially the way the garden beautifully uses the mountains surrounding the temple as a part of the garden design, a concept in Japanese known as shakkei. This also means that the garden designed to be enjoyed every season of the year, so every time you go you are going to get to see a different view of the garden. 

            Address 68 Susukinobaba-cho, Saga-Tenryuji, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi
            Open Hours Summer: 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Winter (Oct. 21 - Mar. 20): 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.

               5.    Ryoan-ji Temple

              Ryoan-ji Temple

              Last but not least we have Ryoan-ji Temple, the temple that makes you think with its garden. There are four mysteries that nobody knows the answer for: Who built the garden? What do the 15 rocks of the rock garden represent? The optical illusion that makes the garden seem to have more depth than it does; and the earthen wall made out of a mix of clay and rapeseed oil that has survived the test of time. This temple is a great end on our series of the five life-changing Zen temples, as it has a rock garden, a beautiful Hojo abbot’s hall, and even a restaurant offering Buddhist cuisine. 

              Address 13, Ryoanji Goryonoshitacho, Ukyo-ku Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 616-8001
              Open Hours March - November : 8am - 5pm December – February: 8:30am – 4:30pm

              Request Private & Custom tour of these spots from Sharing Kyoto local guide

              Sampo[ Sharing Kyoto Staff ]
              Most of us may be a long way away from enlightenment, but learning about Zen and the koans riddles is fun, plus it helps you make sense of the world and the temples around you. The best place in the world to learn about the deeper side of the cool Zen thought has to be Kyoto.
              Related keywords
              See Recommend Spots All Kyoto Area

              Page Top