UPDATED MARCH 2018. As we walked from Keifuku’s Omuro-Ninnaji Station my eyes were drawn to the impressive gates of Ninna-Ji Temple Kyoto. This was our first visit to a Japanese Temple and I was excited to see what could possibly be behind this huge gate in the temple viewing district of Western Kyoto.
They are called gates but really they are buildings in their own right.
The scary Nio, on either side are Guardians of the gate which is a designated Important Cultural Property. There are similar impressive gates at Nanzen-ji and Chion-in in Higashiyama in Eastern Kyoto.
What is Ninna-ji Like?
Being both an Imperial Residence and a Buddhist Temple, the ambience is one of Elegant Buddhist Simplicity.
Kinkaku-Ji and Ryoan-Ji, the other two temples on the itinerary, are some of Kyoto’s busiest, whereas this one has a laid back feel. The gardens are perfectly groomed, as Kyoto’s temple gardens tend to be and the Goten’s wide timber verandahs are the perfect place to view them from.
My immediate thought was “I would love to live here”.
In the Goten, it is possible to find your own space and appreciate the quiet zen atmosphere. Raked Sand. Ponds. Trees. Classic. Simple.
This temple is on my personal Best Temples in Kyoto list.
The temple was established in 888 during the Heian Period (794 – 1185) a period of Aristocracy where wooden walkways were in favour.
Kyoto’s history is riddled with fires and the buildings from 888 have not survived. Today’s buildings are from the Edo Period in the early 1600s. These include main hall (Kondo), the Kannon Hall, the Niomon front gate, the Chumon inner gate and the five storied pagoda.
Head temple of the Omuro sect of Shingon Buddhism in Japan.
From the year 888 to 1869 the Japanese Imperial Family sent a son to this temple to be Chief Priest when a position became vacant.
The priests of Ninna-ji specialised in garden design and had great influence on the gardens of Kyoto.
Inside Ninna-ji temple
Once inside the massive Nio-mon Gate, purchase your Goten ticket and enter through a small gate on the left. All of these garden shots are of the North and South gardens of the Goten Complex (Omuro Palace).
Although the five storey Pagoda provides a backdrop for the Goten garden, it is situated in a different part of Ninna-ji – through the Chumon gate.
In Japanese (and possibly other) Garden design, the use of a feature from outside the garden like this, is known as borrowed landscape.
The Goten Palace Buildings
The rooms are easily viewed from the covered walkways that serve to both extend the rooms and protect from the elements. The raised walkways are a regal, graceful way of accessing the four buildings, and there are eye-catching gardens along the way.
I loved the silky smooth floorboards underfoot and the heady smell of tatami matting flowing from the rooms. The internal walls and screens are decorated with traditional scenes in delicate grey tones. (An unusual prominent feature during our visit were the contemporary and possibly transitory Japanese flower arrangements in each room).
The smooth quiet floorboards are in direct contrast to those in other Kyoto temples, which are specifically designed to squeak or sing like a nightingale to warn of intruders. Those are known as Nightingale Floors.
What is Reimei-den?
Reimei-den is the Buddhist Reliquary (Shrine) within the Goten. This is where the mortuary tablets of the Imperial Family priests are kept.
The 10.7 cm statue of Yakushi-Nyorai (the Medicine Buddha) peaking out from the curtains, was carved between 794-1185 during the Heian Period.
This Buddha image is found at older Shingon Sect temples (like Ninna-Ji) and is used for memorial services for the dead.
The Goten has a meditative quality, of time being suspended. at least it did in late November – Autumn time in Kyoto.
Back outside the Goten complex with the Nio-mon gate behind, the path extends to the distant pinky hues of the Chu-mon gate. Imagine how many people would be here in mid-April to see Ninna-ji’s late flowering Cherry Blossoms.
The Goten complex fulfilled my expectations and I could have gone away in my happy zen bubble, but there was another world of Ninna-Ji yet to explore through the Chu-mon Gate.
Where is Ninna-ji?
Ninna-Ji is a Unesco World Heritage listed Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. situated in a temple cluster in Western Kyoto.
Ninna-ji Entrance Fees
500 Yen for Goten Complex, 300 Yen for Museum (open only in Spring and Autumn). We visited the small Museum mainly because we were lucky to be there when it was open. The objects were certainly interesting but English signage poor and we left bewildered. Still it was a short and sweet interlude that I would repeat.
How to get to Ninna-ji?
Arrive by bus from Kyoto train station. The ride is covered by several passes including the Japan Rail Pass, but not the one day pass for city busses. In peak season the line for the buses will be long. They depart every 20 to 30 minutes and the ride takes 30 to 40 minutes.
We arrived by the atmospheric Randen Line – Ninna-Ji has it’s own stop (B5) and afterward walked to Ryoan-ji and Kinkaku-ji.
Visiting Kyoto’s temples is an exciting cultural experience. Have you been?
This post is linked to Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.