Touted as "the best view in Kyoto", Senkō-ji is a Zen temple on an Arashiyama mountainside that does indeed offer a commanding view of the city. The temple is located halfway up a mountain twenty minutes away on foot from Arashiyama's famous Togetsukyō Bridge, and requires a bit of hiking up winding stone steps. Despite its somewhat inconvenient location, the site is well worth a visit for those seeking a good look at the surrounding mountains or the city skyline, or even just those who want some peace and quiet or to be surrounded by nature. Senkō-ji offers a relaxing place to get away from it all, and you can spend longer than you'd expect poking around the small grounds, sitting in peace in the viewing hall, or using provided binoculars to look for landmarks towards the city.
The site is well worth a visit for those seeking a good look at the surrounding mountains or the city skyline, or even just those who want some peace and quiet or to be surrounded by nature.
Viewing Platform (Kyaku-den)
What really makes Senkō-ji stand out is the view you can enjoy of the city from the impressive hall that juts out of the mountainside facing towards Kyoto. Consisting of a single room filled with literature and miscellaneous items you are free to peruse, the hall is supported on stilts with a veranda outside the sliding glass windowed doors that has benches for visitors to sit on while they appreciate the view. For ¥500 you can also enjoy green tea and sweets while you do so! Binoculars are also available, and can be used to pick out famous landmarks on the skyline. It’s said that on a clear day you can see all the way to Kiyomizu-dera temple on the other side of the city.
Temple Bell (Bonshō)
Though most temple bells are roped off or available for donation only, Senkō-ji encourages visitors to give their bell a good ring for free during their visit. It might not seem like much, but there’s something really pleasing about drawing back the rope and beam hammer to make a sound that echoes off into the surrounding mountains and makes the silence in between rings that much more potent. Normally used to signal others or mark the time, take a (gentle) swing at Senkō-ji’s bronze bell.
Officially named Daihikaku Senkō-ji, Senkō-ji was originally located near a temple called Seiryō-ji and functioned as a prayer hall for Emperor Go-Saga. However, the temple fell into disrepair over time.
After his success in creating a series of canals through Kyoto to aid in the transportation of goods by water, Suminokura Ryōi, one of the chief merchants and shippers of Kyoto in his time, brought the temple to its current location in 1614 with the help of monks from Nison-in temple and dedicated it to praying for those workers who lost their lives on his extensive waterworks projects. Suminokura is also famous for having been a trader in international shipping as well, being one of the few given official permission to send trade ships to southeast Asia, particularly present-day Vietnam, in the early 17th century before Japan became a “closed country”.
In 1808, Senkō-ji was changed to an Ōbaku Zen sect temple when a renewal was completed under the auspices of Suminokura descendant Suminokura Gennei. In accordance with his dying wishes, a wooden statue of Suminokura Ryōi was installed at the temple, sitting with a stone axe on one knee looking out towards the Hozugawa river he had created.
Though the temple underwent hardship during the Meiji Restoration period, losing much of its land and treasures, it gradually rebuilt itself once the Meiji period (1868 - 1912) properly began. Unfortunately the temple suffered great damage during a large typhoon in 1959, and usage of the main hall had to be discontinued for safety reasons in 1978. The main object of worship, a Thousand Arms Kannon statue supposedly created by Eshin Sozu (Genshin), a prominent Tendai scholar who lived a thousand years ago, was moved to the then-constructed smaller Buddha Hall.
- General Admission: ¥400
- General Admission: 10:00 - 16:00, (09:00 – 17:00 in spring and fall)
- Closed: No closing days