A Visit to Nanzen-ji (and the Abbot’s Garden)

Originally established during the late 13th century, Nanzen-ji remains one of Kyoto’s preeminent Rinzai Zen (Buddhist) Temples and a popular destination for tourists as well as local Japanese visitors.

16E25 Sanmon (distance)

The temple’s enormous entry gate, called the Sanmon, dates to 1628 and honors the memory of those who died in one of Japan’s many civil wars.

16E25 Nanzenji sanmon

Nanzen-ji’s precincts house a number of smaller temples, as well as the famous “Abbot’s Garden” located adjacent to the Hōjō, or Abbot’s quarters. Although admission to the garden requires payment of a separate fee (there is no fee for admission to the primary grounds, or viewing the Sanmon, but there are fees for entering various parts of the temple grounds), fans of Japanese gardens and traditional landscape art will find the Hōjō worth the price of admission (about $3).

After passing by the Abbot’s home, visitors enter the garden itself. The initial view of the garden consists mainly of a lovely, lily-pad covered pond surrounded by beautiful examples of a traditionally-landscaped garden.

16E26 hojo pond

Following the path to the left, past the Abbot’s house, we paused in front of a small sub-shrine nestled along the back side of the house at the edge of the garden.

16E26 subshrine

A little farther along, a waterfall burbled down the side of the hill.

16E25 Hojo Waterfall

From the back of the garden path, you can barely see the abbot’s residence through the trees:

16E25 Hojo garden

A walk through the garden takes between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on your pace and the amount of time you spend enjoying the view. Our visit took a bit longer, because I stopped to enjoy the scenery (as well as taking photographs) and to experience the natural “silence” (burbling water, rustling leaves, and occasional splashing koi) instead of hurrying through. 

If you find yourself in Kyoto, with time to spare, I highly recommend a visit to Nanzen-ji with a stop in the Abbot’s Garden.

16E25 Nanzenji toro

Do you prefer silent, peaceful gardens or busy urban sights? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.