from “Quiet Life”, Japan, 1981.
Kyoto is something of a “temple town” and as upstanding tourists we duly visited a few of these while here, particularly the more well known ones: the Heian, the Chion-in, the Kiyomizu-dera, the Rukuon-ji (more commonly called the Golden Pavilion), the Tenryu-ji. However, as good as these generally were, almost all of them suffered from being too popular and were quite crowded, especially the Kiyomizu-dera and the Rukuon-ji to the extent they are almost spoiled.
It was a delight therefore to discover the Shoren-in temple (青蓮院) in the Hagashiyama district of Kyoto quite early in our temple touring, and it has turned out to be the yardstick by which we now measure all temples and shrines.
The Shoren-in is a Buddhist temple built in the late 13th century and, after the Great Fire of Kyoto in 1788, was even used as a temporary imperial palace; the temple is in fact also known as the Awata Palace.
There are several factors that – aside from the physical beauty of the temple and grounds – lifted it above the others that we visited in Kyoto:
- It is not crowded – there seemed to be more locals than tourists here and we only saw perhaps 30-40 different people during our visit. This made for a wonderfully serene and tranquil time as we explored the grounds and buildings or just sat in the main hall and looked over the gardens.
- You can enter all the buildings – you are able to visit all the temple’s buildings (shoes off of course) and explore the various rooms and chambers, with their wonderful decorations and artefacts.
- You can take photographs of almost everything – only the inner shrine was off limits for cameras.
- You can ring the temple bell! Really, you can! And we did! Dongtastic!
Here is some of what we saw at the Shoren-in temple:
We spent a rather magical couple of hours here just drinking in the serenity and beauty of the Shoren-in temple, and we are so glad we discovered this oasis of peace – bell donging notwithstanding! Definitely one of the main highlights of our time in Kyoto.