The biggest temple in Ōhara, Sanzen-in is a lovely place to visit no matter the season. Local shops and restaurants line the path from the village bus stop to the temple gates, and tourists can enjoy the more rural sights after travelling from the city proper. Over a thousand years old, Sanzen-in is a Tendai sect temple established by the sect founder, Saichō (767 – 822). It is a monzeki temple, where members of the Imperial family traditionally served as the head priests. The Guest Hall features a gorgeous framed garden where you can enjoy green tea and a Japanese sweet for a small fee, and the temple offers an area to copy sutra as well. Sanzen-in’s various gardens reflect the seasons and are particularly famous in the summer for hydrangeas and in autumn for the fall colors. The path through the grounds meanders around small halls with ancient histories and through moss gardens dotted with smiling little jizō statues, making for an enjoyable and relaxing trip. Before you go, you have the opportunity to view some of the temple’s oldest treasures within an exhibit hall as well as browse a rather well stocked shop.
The path through the grounds meanders around small halls with ancient histories and through moss gardens dotted with smiling little jizō statues, making for an enjoyable and relaxing trip.
Guest Hall & Shūheki-en Garden
The first hall guests enter is the Kyakuden, or Guest Hall. Hallways lead around small alcove gardens and past ancient scrolls and corner altars to the main room, where guests can sit and enjoy a cup of green tea and a Japanese sweet for an additional fee. This room opens up on two sides to the beautiful Shūheki-en, a lush paradise of a garden designed with a small hill topped by a stone pagoda that overlooks a pond. The view of the garden from within the hall framed by columns is iconic, and often photographed.
The main religious hall of the Sanzen-in complex where osenbōkō services in the shōmyō tradition are held, the Shinden houses the icon of Yakushi Rurikō Nyorai (the Buddha of Emerald Radiance). The principal statue was said to be created by Saichō, the founder of the Tendai sect himself. A side room in the hall contains grave markers of the priests from the imperial lineage who once ran the temple, and the one opposite served as a room for esteemed guests. The Shinden opens up onto a strolling garden and the rest of the complex.
Ōjō Gokuraku-in Amida-dō
Said to have been built by a priest named Eshin Sōzu and his sister, the nun Anyō-ni, in honor of their deceased parents in 986, this hall remains standing today as the oldest structure in Sanzen-in, though it received massive repairs in 1616. Despite the relatively small size of this building, the Buddhist statues within are quite large, so the roof is shaped like the hull of a ship to accommodate this. The three statues, all National Treasures, are of the Amida Triad. Amida Nyorai, the Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light, sits in the middle, flanked by bowing attendants Kannon, representing compassion, and Seishi, representing wisdom. Though the interior of this hall was once gaily painted, centuries of incense and candle smoke have rendered the colors almost invisible - though this process actually ended up protecting the wood from bugs and preserving the structure as a whole. A recreation of how it used to appear can be viewed in the Ennyū-zō exhibition room on the grounds.
A strolling type garden meant to be walked through, the Yūsei-en Garden connects the Shinden main hall to the rest of the complex, containing the Ōjō Gokuraku-in Amida-dō within it. Covered in lush green moss, the garden features canopies of maple trees that turn a brilliant shade in autumn. A pond can be viewed to the left of the path with small waterfalls and koi fish, and branching paths lead to various other halls and gates. The most interesting aspect of the garden is actually the small jizō statues placed here and there within the moss that you can find if you keep a lookout. Created by artist Sugimura Takashi, these smiling figures are called “laughing jizō”, and their kind little faces are a favorite with visitors.
The history of Sanzen-in is entangled with that of another famous temple outside of the Kyoto city sprawl, Enryaku-ji on Mt. Hiei. Enryaku-ji’s founder and the father of the Tendai sect of Buddhism, Saichō, also known by his posthumous title of Dengyō Daishi, kept a small hermitage called En’nyū-bō from 788, which is thought to be what grew into the modern day temple - albeit in a different location.
In 1130, a son of Emperor Horikawa became the 14th head priest of this growing organization, elevating the temple to the status of monzeki, those few who were run by men of the Imperial line. Meanwhile, in 1148, a nun named Shin'nyobō-ni established a nunnery in the Ōhara area; many monks who practiced the musical Shōmyō style of Buddhist chanting also moved to the valley to practice their asceticism. To organize their ranks, En’nyū-bō established a foothold in Ōhara from which to govern from. Over time the temple’s location and purview changed multiple times.
Finally, in 1871, the temple settled permanently in Ōhara at the sight of the previously established governing offices, changing its name officially to Sanzen-in. Ōjō Gokuraku-in, originally part of the nunnery, was officially incorporated into Sanzen-in, and now the grounds represent a variety of origins and objects of worship all joined by expansive gardens.
Sanzen-in takes its name from the Buddhist concept of “ichinen sanzen”, or “experiencing three thousand realms within a single moment”.
January 1st , 11:00
January 15th, 10:00
|Konjiki Fudōson Hatsuennichigomaku|
|Hatsu Uma Daikondaki|
April 16th – May 14th
|Fudō Taisai (Display of Special Yellow Fudō Myō’ō)|
July 15th, 11:00
|Mandō-e (Lantern Festival)|
|Hōjō-e (Release of Captured Animals)|
- General Admission: ¥700
- Junior High School, High School: ¥400
- Primary School: ¥150
- General Admission: 08:30 – 17:00 (March to December 7th), 09:00 – 16:30 (December 8th – February)
- Closed: No closing days
- From Kyoto Station ⇒ Karasuma Subway Line ⇒ Kokusaikaikan Station ⇒ Kyoto Bus Route 19 towards Ōhara ⇒ Ōhara Bus Stop
- By Karasuma Subway Line ⇒ Kokusaikaikan Station ⇒ Kyoto Bus Route 19 towards Ōhara ⇒ Ōhara Bus Stop
- From Kyoto Station ⇒ Walk to Karasuma Shichijō Bus Stop ⇒ Kyoto Bus Route 19 towards Ōhara ⇒ Ōhara Bus Stop