#takao #arashiyama #kyiyotaki #sanbi #kozanji #chojugiga#manga #tea #myoe

Takao (高雄)

There is a very nice way going to Takao Area from Arashiyama Area. The mighty cedars will lead you upstream through the long and narrow valley carved by meanders of Kiyotaki River. At the end of the road you will be rewarded by spectacular views of ancient Buddhist retreats in the mountains and old villages of woodsmen lying beneath them.

You can have a tea in a teahouse by the river. Some of them can still be found at the historical places where the pilgrims were having their rest. In hot weather, the river view itself is very refreshing and the sound of falling water of famous Kiyotaki waterfall brings relief after a long walk. Mount Atago (愛宕山:924m), the highest mountain of Kyoto, awaits you with its steep slopes asking to be climbed. It is a really hard one though, so be careful there. It is believed that climbing the mountain gives you the gods’ protection from fire. Therefore, in case of any calamity your estates will be spared.

Takao is also well-known spot for admiring maple leaves. There are thousands of maple trees in this area and when autumn comes, the mountains become crowded with zealous admirers of this red foliage avalanche. Spring also brings a lot of blossoms, when the mountains wake up from their winter sleep and give out the flood of green.


There are three villages stretching in a row up to the mountains of Kitayama. Three main Buddhist temples are hidden in this mountainous realm. These three Buddhist pearls of the area should not be missed. Takao village is the home to Jingo-ji Temple(神護寺), Makino-o to Saimyo-ji Temple(西明寺) and Togano-o to Kozan-ji Temple(高山寺). The Kiyotaki River creates a natural barrier separating the temples on its west bank from the secular world. Reaching the temples by crossing the bridges symbolizes the passage from this world to the other, from the earth to the heaven.

Kozan-ji temple is the furthest one of the three temples. After a short climb up the hill the three levels of the temple´s precincts start to reveal their secrets, stretching one by one through the mountainside.

Priest Koben (高弁上人)

Except the fact that the temple was founded in 744, a little is known about Kozan-ji temple until the beginning of the 13th century. Koben (alias Myoe-Shonin, 1173-1232) reestablished the temple which belonged to the Kegon School of Buddhism back then. Shortly after, the forested mountain retreat of Kozan-ji temple became well-known especially for its paintings and the cultivation of tea.

Koben was a monastic reformer, who was putting together various faiths taken from exoteric and esoteric Buddhism. His approach was highly eclectic, lacking any clear unification. He followed many different teachings on his way to enlightenment. Through his acts he clearly recognized the justification of multiple schools. His tolerance is clear proof that the Japanese Buddhism finally reached the point, where the complete coherence of different sects became possible.

The Portrait of Myoe(明恵: 高弁)

It was the priest Myoe who imported many paintings from China and laid the foundations of Kozan-ji painting style. One of the best examples of this style is probably the portrait of Koben drawn by one of his disciples. The portrait can be seen in one of the rooms of the Sekisui-in Hall (石水院).

The way the disciple depicted his master in the painting says a lot about the affection for him. The priest is sitting in meditation in a tree, with his eyes closed and a delicate smile on his face. The external details are not so sharply stressed. The painter focuses on inner universe and spiritual quality instead. The usage of washed colors is rather transparent and the lines are firmly sketched. Thanks to overall relaxing tone, the painting advanced a completely new level of dynamism.

Choju Giga Scrolls (鳥獣戯画, Frolicking Animals)

The original set of scrolls depicting various animals, frolicking in many different scenes, survived from the period. There are four scrolls but not all of them are considered to be of the same quality. The scrolls differ in content and also slightly in the usage of brush. They were all drawn by monks without any text.

On the first scroll the animals are performing variety of many different human activities, in many cases dressed as humans. The first scroll is the most famous and the most appreciated one, considered to be the first world Manga. The second scroll depicts many different kinds of animals; the real ones as well as the unreal ones. The third and fourth ones show the animals parodying people, especially monks.

The original scrolls are now preserved in Kyoto National Museum and Tokyo National Museum.

The Tea Plantation (Chabatake, 茶畑)

The monk Eisai(栄西), the patriarch of the Rinzai School of Zen, went to China and when he returned he brought tea seeds with him and tried cultivating them in Kyushu. That was successful so he decided to try to plant them at some different places. On one occasion, he gave them to the priest Koben. Koben planted them at Kozan-ji and created one of the oldest tea plantations in Japan. The place gained the high reputation for the quality of its tea and the plantation was regarded as the finest in Japan. It lost its position to Uji after but the tea tradition of Kozan-ji was never fully interrupted.


Saimyo-ji temple is the smallest temple of the three in the area. It is halfway between Kozan-ji temple and Jingo-ji temple. The tmeple was founded in 824 by one of the Kukai´s disciples, Chisen Daitoku (789-834).

The principal object of devotion in this temple is standing statue of Shaka Nyorai. The statue was carved by Unkei (運慶, ?–1223) in the Seiryo-ji style. Unkei was a master sculpture, who became very famous thanks to the large amount of realism he expressed in his Buddhist statues.

The Statue of Shaka Nyorai (釈迦如来)

Shaka Nyorai is the Japanese name of Prince Siddartha (the real Buddha), who founded Buddhism. He represents a physical manifestation of the infinite Buddha to act indirectly as one of his appearances in this world. There are basically another two Buddhas with the title “nyorai” attached to their names; Dainichi(大日如来) and Yakushi Nyorai(薬師如来). The others have the title “butsu”.

The cult of Seiryo-ji style was not so widespread, but there are a few copies of Shaka Nyorai that can be found in the temples of Kyoto and Kamakura. The style represents so-called “living body of Buddha”. The statues of this character are supposedly carved as an exact portrait of the historical Buddha, depicting him during his own lifetime. Buddha is portrayed in a very dynamic walking style, expressing naturally his fundamental role of someone whose lifelong mission was to spread the teaching among the people.

The Mudra (Inso, 印相) expressed by the gesture of his hands represents “Semui-in” and “Yogan-in”. “Semui-in” is a mudra usually expressed with the right hand. It is the Abhaya mudra or “mudrā of no fear", which represents protection, peace, benevolence and dispelling of fear. “Yogan-in” is a mudra usually expressed with the left hand. It is the Varada mudra or “favourable mudra", which signifies offering, welcoming, charity, giving, compassion and sincerity.

Although the version of statue is smaller than the examples of Seiryo-ji style sculptures displayed in the other temples, the flood of kindness and purity of perfection the one in Saimyo-ji radiates make visit to this place an unforgettable one.


After a long and steep stairs, Jingo-ji temple´s precincts open wide. Climbing to the top is quite a challenge but it is worth all the efforts. The natural settings of buildings as well as the statues of the Main Hall are more than rewarding. The profound quiet of vast open courtyard brings you back to ancient times. The place itself seems to be lost in time, outside of any time frame.

Jingo-ji temple was founded in 781 and became the Tendai-shu(天台宗) temple, the Esoteric sect of Buddhism, when the founder of sect monk Saicho(最澄) took a post of head priest there in 805. After his death, monk Kukai(空海) became the head priest and the temple became the Shingon-shu(真言宗) temple, the more orthodox Esoteric sect of Buddhism, that Kukai founded.

The Architecture of the Mountain Temples

A very important aspect that new sects of Saicho and Kukai brought was that they moved their temples to the mountains, far from the city. Thanks to these remote locations, temptations of secular world were avoided and the monks were able to devote themselves fully to their religious mission. With the relocation to the mountains, the Buddhist architecture had to adapt to the new environment. To do so the pattern of the temples known as “garan(伽藍)” had to be abandoned. But rather than overcoming the obstacles that nature brings, the assimilation of many different elements - a cornerstone of Japanese nature – were employed. In order to preserve the harmony between the humans and nature, the architectonic style of earlier Shinto shrines was successfully implemented. These aspects can be clearly seen at the precincts of Jingo-ji temple and its buildings.

The Statues of Hondo (本堂, Main Hall)

The Jingo-ji temple offers views of many halls but only the Main Hall can be entered. The sculptures presented there show us another change of trends at the time. The statues started to be carved from the single block of wood. That way, the statues became generally much smaller and generally unpainted instead of realistic portrayal. The best example of this change would be the statue of Yakushi Nyorai displayed in the Main Hall. Yakushi Nyorai is the Buddha of healing, who brings cures for diseases to us. He is still in the state of bosatsu, which means that he could have already become the real Buddha himself but decided not to enter the state of nirvana yet in order to help the others in this world; to help us. He was one of the first Buddhas became worshiped in Japan. He usually has a bowl in his hand that symbolizes the medicine. His statue takes the rigid stance, dressed in the clothes evoking the image of something supernatural. The expression on his face is dark and somber and the overall impression looks very heavy.

Another example could be the statue of Fudo, the King of Light. He fights greed, anger and ignorance. His unshakable spirit acts as protector against disasters, especially fires. That is why he is usually depicted in the middle of flames, holding sword in his right hand and a rope in the other to frighten the evil spirits and tie the demons. He was introduced to Japan by Shingon sect.

The Shoro (鐘楼, Temple Bell)

On the east side of Main Hall, the structure of temple bell arises. The bell was made in 875. It is decorated with a calligraphic inscription from the famous calligrapher. The text of calligraphy was composed by three prominent scholars of the era. Its sound and the beauty of its shape are considered to be of the supreme quality. Thank to these facts the bell gained a reputation of being one of the three most honorable bells in Japan.

Kawarake Nage (土器投げ, Small Clay Disk Throwing)

Before leaving the precincts of the temple, it may be a good idea to stop by the Jizo-in Sub-temple. Kinunkei Valley with the Kiyo-taki far below offers a spectacular view. Its panoramic beauty is the best during the autumn, when the leaves of numerous maple trees are brightly colored.

If you want to get rid of your bad karma, you can buy a pair of small clay disks for 100Yen. By throwing them to the valley the bad karma is supposed to be carried away by the Frisbee-like thrown disk. The further it flies the further the bad karma recedes. No one seems to be worried about people walking by the river down there in the valley.

You will probably be walking there next if you choose to take this nice hike to get to Arashiyama area. You will see that there is no danger after all because thrown disks do not seem to be getting that far. But you can never be sure...