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

  1. Yes this seems a very simple & serene temple .. I liked the deck for viewing the garden. Japanese temples always seem to consider carefully their gardens & green spaces around the temples.

  2. Beautiful and fabulous bamboo. And the camphor tree with its mossy roots is amazing. I think it would be lovely to have an all green garden as long as you had beautiful trees and an abundance of moss.

  3. This is one of my favorite gardens. It seems like a more intimate space. One you can be enveloped into. The shrine seems very touching to me today. Maybe it is my frame of mind today.

  4. I keep thinking how fortunate you and Judy were, to be able to spend time getting to know some of the parks and gardens in Tokyo, Kyoto and cities farther afield. I went to Japan in the late 1980s and have always wanted to return. Being able to take the time to explore at your own pace is a real privilege.

    • 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.

  5. The Japanese prove that it is possible, after centuries, to design, intervene and control nature to create calm and serene “natural” spaces. So little time.

    • You’re on wordpress, right? So pull down the menu in the upper left corner under “My Site”. Click on “Comments”. There should be a file marked spam. Take a look at what’s in there. Check off anything that isn’t spam and then click “Not Spam”. Who knows, maybe you have other readers you don’t know about. Good luck!

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

  7. I love these photos from Japan, Jason, especially the tall bamboo plantings. There is so much peace and tranquility in their buildings and garden designs.

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