Finding Inner Peace in Kyoto’s Temples

February 07, 2014

A temple is a place for prayer and reflection, making it a perfect place for finding your inner peace.  The Japanese city of Kyoto is home to thousands of Buddhist and Shinto temples, and you don’t have to be religious to enter them.  Though beautiful, many of Kyoto’s most popular temples are overcrowded by camera-toting tourists and obnoxious souvenir hawkers.  But if you know where to look, you can avoid these kitschy tourist trap temples and have a truly spiritual experience at one of Kyoto’s quieter, less trafficked temples.


Daigoji Temple

Built in the late 9th century, this sprawling temple complex offers hours of peaceful walks and beautiful views.  The impressive five-story pagoda is thought to be the oldest building in Kyoto, and the extensive gardens will bring inner peace to all visitors.  It takes about an hour to walk to the top, where you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding area.  Daigoji is a little outside of the city, and is therefore less crowded than most other Kyoto temples.  The temple complex is beautiful in all seasons, but is especially pretty in spring when cherry blossoms are in bloom, and autumn when the leaves are changing color.

Saihoji Temple

For a truly spiritual experience, a visit to Saihoji Temple is an absolute must.  To visit this temple you (or your hotel, if you ask them nicely) must make a reservation at least one week in advance, and the entrance fee is significantly higher than other temples at ¥3000, or about US$30.  You will be given a time slot and it is imperative that you show up on time.  Upon entering the temple you will be required to sit through a short chanting ceremony led by a Buddhist priest, and you may try to copy a short sutra (a traditional Buddhist aphorism) with a calligraphy pen.  Once this short ritual is over, you are free to wander the grounds and relax, meditate, and pray.  Though it takes advance planning to visit this temple, it is well worth the effort and almost all who visit cite it as their most spiritual experience in Kyoto.


Sanzenin Temple

Another out-of-the-way temple in Kyoto is Sanzenin, which is about 30 minutes outside of the main city.  It’s worth the extra travel time, though, because this temple is generally uncrowded, unlike many other temples.  The walk up to the temple is nothing special, but the temple’s moss garden and Japanese garden are tranquil spots for sitting and finding inner peace.  Visit in spring or fall, when the temperature is moderate and the foliage is green and lush.

Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple

If the other temples on this list are places to find inner peace, then Adashino Nenbutsuji is the place to let go of inner pain.  For centuries this site was the final resting place of the area’s poorest residents, whose families could not afford a proper burial.  Today 8,000 roughly-carved stone Buddhas honor the souls of the dead in a somber garden-like graveyard.  It is a temple for honoring the dead, and grieving parents sometimes visit after suffering miscarriages.  Because of the nature of the temple, it is not touristy and can be a challenge to find without help.  Visit in spring or autumn to pray and let go of your grief and inner pain.