When tourists head to the sprawling city of Kyoto, they usually have a short list of temples that they want to see. Included at the top of everyone’s list are such mainstays as Kiyomizu Temple (kiyomizu dera) and the Golden Pavilion (kinkakuji). These are definitely worthy destinations that you should make every effort to see, especially if you have a limited amount of time to spend in the city. However, if you have an extra day or merely want to explore some temples that are slightly off the beaten path (they are still very popular with tourists, but tend to be a bit less crowded), then be sure to visit the places listed below.
The Silver Pavilion
Unlike the Golden Pavilion, which is actually covered in gold leaf, there is no descriptive rationale to the name given the Silver Pavilion (ginkakuji). In other words, there is not the least bit of silver on it. Instead, it is a rather simple wooden structure that is surrounded by beautiful grounds that include a pond and a sand garden. Despite this simplicity, or perhaps because of it, walking around the grounds of the Silver Pavilion is an excellent way to spend an hour soaking in the atmosphere of 15th-century Japan.
The Moss Temple
The proper name of this temple is saiho-ji, and it has been around since the year 1339. I would venture to say, however, that most tourists to not visit this place in order to see the actual temple. Rather, the biggest draw is the expansive carpet of green moss that covers the temple grounds. There are 120 different types of moss growing there, and the effect of seeing all that lush greenery — particularly in Japan, a country not known for open spaces — is simply amazing. In addition to the moss, the grounds feature a pond in the shape of the kanji character for the word “heart”.
To cap off your hectic day of sightseeing, spend an hour or two contemplating life while viewing the rock garden at Ryoanji Temple. It is believed that this rectangular garden, consisting of 15 large rocks dispersed in groups across a bed of small white pebbles, was designed back in the 1470s. What makes this particular Zen rock garden famous is the fact that you can only see 14 of the 15 large rocks at one time, no matter what your particular vantage point. You’ll be able to see the fifteenth rock once you achieve enlightenment through meditation. To help you along on this process, there are benches set up in front of the garden where you can sit down and enjoy the silence.
In addition to the rock garden, the large pond on the temple grounds is worthy of your time. You can walk around the perimeter of the pond and view the beautiful lotus flowers that cover its surface. You will also be able to see the numerous koi fish that inhabit the waters. All in all, you will come away from the Ryoanji Temple with a lasting feeling of serenity and peacefullness.
Article written by The Fire Pit.