Despite its small size, Giō-ji is a worthwhile stop with an interesting history. Comprised primarily of a charming moss garden and a single thatched-roof building, this temple was originally a nunnery that fell into disrepair over time until it was taken under the wing of the larger Daikaku-ji temple. The moss garden is particularly lovely in summer and autumn, with lush green fed by the rainy season and dotted with flowers, then contrasting fall colors. A stream runs through the garden and various types of moss make up the softly marbled green surface. Within the single hall is a noteworthy circular window and several wooden statues of the famous historical figures associated with the site as well as the principal worship image, a statue of Dainichi Nyorai. The tale of the famous Giō, who was a nun at this temple, is detailed in the classic Tale of Heike.
The moss garden is particularly lovely in summer and autumn, with lush green fed by the rainy season and dotted with flowers, then contrasting fall colors
Within Giō-ji’s small grounds is a single hall consisting of two tatami mat rooms. The first room houses the former nunnery’s wooden statuary: four statues depicting the women associated with the temple and the object of worship, Dainichi Nyorai, between them. A statue of Taira no Kiyomori, the power-hungry warlord who caused the women of Giō-ji such grief, is placed out of sight within. The second room of the thatched hut features an iconic circular window with crisscrossing panes that takes up almost the entire wall.
The most famous aspect of Giō-ji is its gorgeous moss garden, which is startlingly beautiful no matter the season. Lush green in spring and summer, vibrant red and orange in autumn, and stark and sparkling in the winter, the moss garden contains a tiny, winding stream, stone lanterns, and a bamboo water fountain. The plush green carpet covers the garden area and different breeds of moss are on display in pots along the path. Come autumn season the crisp leaves begin to cover the ground until only the larger hills of moss are visible, making them seem like green mountains in a fiery sea. Thin trees that grow in the garden reach branches upward to create a maple canopy to shade the moss beneath, and help make Giō-ji’s gardens a splendid place to visit.
The Tale of the Heike relates the story that powerful warlord Taira no Kiyomori once bestowed his favor on a beautiful court dancer (shirabyōshi) named Giō, but eventually banished her in favor of a younger woman in the same profession, Hotoke Gozen. Lamenting her misfortune, Giō was even further humiliated when Kiyomori called on her to perform a dance for his new consort’s entertainment. Though she threatened to kill herself rather than submit to such disgrace, Giō’s mother Toji begged her to reconsider so that her family would not follow her into death- so instead, Giō abandoned her status as a “woman” in her society at a young age and entered a nunnery along with her sister Gijo and her mother. Hotoke Gozen, feeling guilty for how Giō was treated and realizing that she would eventually meet the same fate, soon left Taira no Kiyomori and sought the older women’s forgiveness, receiving it and living with them for the rest of their long lives as nuns.
- General Admission: ¥300
- Primary School: ¥100
- General Admission: 09:00 – 17:00 (last entrance 16:30)
- Closed: January 1st
- JR Sagano Line ⇒ Saga Arashiyama Station ⇒ 20 minutes walking
- Randen Train Line ⇒ Arashiyama Station ⇒ 20 minutes walking