Kyoto’s Shoren-in Temple

Shoren-in is one of the smaller Buddhist Temples in Kyoto, and it doesn’t draw nearly as many visitors as some of the larger, more famous temples. Its garden, though, is equal to that of any of the other Kyoto temples we visited.


Here’s the entrance to the Temple, which actually got its start as a residence built by a 12th Century Emperor for head abbot of the Tendai sect of Buddhism.


An ancient Camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora) watches over the entrance gate.


There are several similar trees in the area around the temple. Camphor is native to southern Japan and other parts of East Asia. The Japanese use the essential oils for cooking, incense, and traditional medicine.



The buildings give the impression of a villa more than a temple. I guess that makes sense if they were originally a residence.


These are the meeting rooms inside the temple. The walls are decorated with paintings of lotus flowers.


A doorway frames a Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum).


On one side of the temple there is a deck for viewing the garden.



Shrubs and small trees, moss and a small pond, with the edge of the forest beyond.


I’m not sure if this person is a monk or grounds staff. I do remember that he was feeding the koi.

A stone bridge.

A stone lantern guards the path that takes you into the woods.


As you climb a hill, the forest transitions to groves of tall bamboo.


From here you can look down on the temple and lower part of the garden.


At the top of the hill there are shrines and more stone lanterns.


This is a shrine to the Shinto god Inari. Foxes are seen as messengers or servants of Inari. I’m not sure I got this completely right, but I was told that Inari is, among other things, the god of rice. Since foxes eat the rodents that eat rice, they are seen as helpers of Inari. Or something like that.


Near the shrines there is an open area covered with moss.


I appreciated the quiet and the intimate scale of Shoren-in, especially after some of the more overwhelming temples we visited.

More to come on our September visit to Kyoto.

36 Comments on “Kyoto’s Shoren-in Temple”

    • It’s been so interesting getting to see gardens in Japan. As I think we’ve said, the original purpose of the trip was for work – I did three days of work in Tokyo on both trips – and Japan had never really been near the top of my list of countries to visit. I’ve enjoyed Japanese gardens in the US, but not been a huge fan. But seeing Japanese gardens in Japan is completely different – it is seeing the originals, not copies. The great age and immaculate care are so obvious. That camphor tree is just one of the really ancient, really venerated trees that we have seen. Really, you could spend hours just looking at that one tree. We’ve been able to see a few of the gardens twice, and rarely felt rushed (although occasionally rained upon). I have a whole new appreciation for Japanese gardens and culture.

  1. Pingback: Shoren-in… | Old School Garden

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