Founded in 1291, Nanzenji is the headquarters of the Nanzenji school of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism, and was once the head of all Rinzai temples in Japan. Several sub-temples are present in a sprawling complex which lays across the foothills of the Higashiyama mountains.
Crossing some of the temple gardens is a vast brick Aqueduct constructed during the Meiji period to transport water from Lake Biwa to support the growing city of Kyoto. It’s possible to climb up to the top of the Aqueduct and find fresh, clean water still travelling this route today.
There are a good number of gardens surrounding the temple buildings. Some require individual entry fees, but if you enjoy Japanese gardens they are absolutely worth visiting.
The most famous is the Hojo Rock Garden. The Hojo was once the head priest’s residence, but now serves as Nanzenji’s central hall, and contains some phenomenal painted screens, including the famous Tiger Drinking Water by Kanō Tan’yū.
Nanzenji’s Sanmon gate is a staggeringly large monument to the soldiers who died during the siege of Osaka Castle in the Onin Wars. Erected by the Tokugawa clan in 1628, it gives an amazing view over Kyoto, and is open for the public to climb.
Nestled within the complex is the Hatto, or Dharma Hall. Rebuilt in 1909, this is still in use as a lecture hall today, and is not open to the public.
Take the Tozai Line to Keage Station. Nanzenji is a ten minute walk and is clearly signposted. Follow the path and cross under the main road via the brick tunnel beneath it.
Alternatively take Bus Number 5 to the Nanzenji-Eikando-michi bus stop, and follow the signs for five minutes.
Admission: Sanmon Gate: 500円. Hojo: 500円. Nanzenin: 300円. Konchi-in: 400円. Tenjuan: 400円 (or 500円 during the evening illuminations).