Nanzen-ji Temple

#nanzenji #zengarden #karesansui

Nanzen-ji Temple(南禅寺)

Nanzen-ji Temple and its surroundings make me always feel nostalgic or rather “at home”. It was one of my first spots to discover in Kyoto during my walks from the Philosopher’s Walk, where I stayed. Then I lived on the other side of the mountain and I used to go to “downtown” walking through the mountain. Every time I arrived at Nanzen-ji Temple passing under the arched aqueduct, I sat down on the stairs in front of a small sub-temple. I used to spend some time here staring at the huge “Sanmon” gate; before the sunset the wooden pillars took a warm brown colour. The game of the sunrays playing through the pillars and the open doors of the gate made me overwhelmed. This was a kind of my meditation time.

The brick aqueduct

I like to go to Nanzen-ji Temple as much as I can. Here, always I got the fresh caress from the beautiful greenery embracing the temple compound. Not only the aqueduct bringing the water from Lake Biwa (the biggest lake in Japan, situated on the other side of Kyoto’s Eastern mountains) but also a little stream of clear water is whispering joyfully.
I like to spend some time here in the early morning or evening, when it has a more serene atmosphere. It is my “Zen walking meditation”.
Why don’t you try it?  

The Sanmon Gate

Nanzenji, the top of Kyoto’s Zen temples

Nanzenji Temple belongs to the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. The Emperor Kameyama built his villa in this quite place surrounded by a pine forest. Then it was converted in a Zen Temple in 1291. Following the Chinese tradition, the top Zen temples of the city should be five in number, called Gozan, “Five mountains”. Nanzen-ji temple has always been one of them and then as it was very powerful it became the top of them.
At the entrance there is a huge two levels gate. It is an incredible wooden structure. You can go to the upper level. There is a very steep stairways which will thrill you! However the view from the top worth it.

The steep stairway

In the Kabuki drama there is a story of a thief who hid out here in the upper level of the gateway to escape from the authorities until he was found and killed in the boiling oil. His name was Ishikawa Goemon(石川五右衛門), a kind of Japanese Robin Hood.

You can walk all around the second floor.

From the Sanmon Gate you walk along the stone path to a big incense burner: here, in front of the Butsuden “Lecture or Buddha Hall”, people make a prayer.


The Hojo “Abbot Quarters” is composed of two parts: the large Hojo and the small Hojo, linked by wooden roofed passageway through the gardens.
Without doubts the big Zen garden in Karesansui style (枯山水:dry landscape) is breathtaking. It was created by the great garden master Kobori Enshu(小堀遠州) and completed in 1632. Its shape of quadrangle, the simplicity of the stones and trees groups, plus the white sand raked in circles or wavy patterns help to calm your own heart and mind from every day life ‘stuff.

The main Zen garden

The passageway

Walking through the passageway

Details of the Zen little garden

There are rooms with sliding doors painted by the Kano school. Some of that were brought here from Fushimi Castle and the Imperial Palace. The one with tigers painting is very famous as this animal do not exist in Japan, and we can feel the legends around them. It is prohibited to take photos of the rooms.
It was a cloudy Sunday and that made Nanzen-ji Temple more austere. Even so its splendid art works and gardens shined to me. Slowly I put on my shoes and walked out though the Sanmon Gate again.
I looked back one more time and felt grateful for these Kyoto’ s precious moments.