The southwestern Rakusai area of Kyoto, still somewhat rural, used to be the favored hunting ground and retreat for court nobility a thousand years ago. Still retaining its natural beauty, this area is home to shrines and temples founded in coordination with the establishment of a capital in Nagaoka as well as its successor capital of Kyoto. Escape the more crowded central Kyoto areas to explore some of the city's less traveled paths!
Located in Kyoto’s southwestern and somewhat rural Rakusai area, Ōharano Shrine is a branch shrine of the famous Kasuga Taisha in Nara. Historically, Kasuga shrines have a strong association with the Fujiwara clan that dominated imperial politics in Japan’s medieval period. Because Kasuga shrines worship the Kasuga Daimyōjin deity, who is traditionally depicted astride a white deer, Ōharano Shrine is known for its deer imagery, including two stone deer that serve as guardians of the shrine’s prayer hall. This shrine is particularly lovely in the fall season, and also has two mugwort dumpling shops on the grounds that make delicious sweets.
Shōbō-ji temple is located in the peaceful area in the north-west of Kyoto close to Ōharano Shrine and belongs to the Tō-ji branch of the Shingon school of Buddhism. Shōbō-ji is home to numerous treasures and rare Buddhist statuary, including an image of a thousand-armed Kannon with three faces, but it is most famous for its beautiful borrowed scenery garden that showcases rocks brought here from all around Japan. The shapes of the stones resemble various birds and animals, and in the distance beyond the garden wall you can see Kyoto cityscape and Higashiyama mountains. With the sakura trees blooming in spring, the lush greenery of the bamboo grove and the moss in summer, brightly colored maple leaves in autumn, and fluffy snow in winter, the garden is ever-changing, making Shōbō-ji a picturesque destination thankfully distant from the usual tourist routes.
Escape the more crowded city center with a visit to Yoshimine-dera, a temple nestled in the mountains on Kyoto’s southwest border. This storied temple complex boasts magnificent views of the city and is well known for its seasonal offerings, which include gorgeous autumn colors, ephemeral cherry blossoms, vibrant azaleas, and lush hydrangeas. Also home to what is said to be the best pine tree in Japan, Yoshimine-dera overflows with natural energy, no matter where you travel on its paths that connect various Buddhist halls across the mountainside alongside pilgrims worshiping Kannon, the bodhisattva of compassion. Though it may be off the beaten track, don’t miss all that Yoshimine-dera has to offer!