Summer in Kyoto: A Selection of Gardens for Self-Contemplation

Apart from taking part in many exciting traditional festivals and fairs in Kyoto, spending time in tranquil gardens and temples is essential to relax and feel at peace. The gardens of Kyoto’s temples are the cream of the crop, creating an unmatchable harmonious relationship between man and nature. Stones, pools, trees, and plants are all vital elements of a beautiful garden. Spend some quiet time during the summer in the gardens of Kyoto to contemplate oneself and the world. Below are several gardens handpicked and recommended for those who love visiting Kyoto’s gardens.


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1. Shoren-in Temple

Shoren-in Temple is one of the five Monzeki temples of the Tendai sect in Kyoto, along with Sanzen-in, Bishamon-do, Manshu-in, and Myoho-in. The term “monzeki” refers to both the special status of temples where the chief priests were of imperial or aristocratic lineage, or the chief priests themselves. It is a temple of higher ranking due to its deep roots with the royal family.

The big camphor trees of Shoren-in Temple are said to have been planted by the saint Shinran 800 years ago. The branches and leaves are like huge hands stretching out everywhere. One can feel that there is a tree spirit here just by looking at the tree trunk, branches, leaves, or even the moss vigorously growing under the giant tree.

The temple area is designed like a stroll garden. There is a room of tatami mats and giant sliding doors with bold calligraphy writing. It is intriguing to sit on the tatami mats and gaze at the Garden of Soami full of rocks, streams, maple leaves, and bamboo groves in Shoren-in Temple. Meditating here quietly without keeping track of time is a form of mental refinement.

2. Tofukuji Temple

Tofukuji Temple is famous for its great view of maple trees. It is usually crowded with visitors in autumn but quiet in other seasons, so it is recommended to visit the beautiful Honbo Garden in the serene yet hot summer. 

Mirei Shigemori was a notable Japanese garden designer in the Showa period (1926 - 1989). He originally aimed to be a painter since childhood, but became a Japanese garden designer after gaining fame for his design of the Honbo Garden in Tofukuji Temple. Mirei Shigemori used the checkered pattern of the Katsura Imperial Villa in the design of the garden to make it more three dimensional, such as the blue and white checkerboard patterns on the sliding door. The Honbo Garden of Tofukuji Temple is a dry landscape garden with concentrated mountains on white sand, so it is also known as Hasso no Niwa, symbolizing the eight rough seas and five mountains, as well as islands, including Hojo, Horai, Eiju, and Koryo.

3. Hosen-in Temple

Hosen-in Temple has one of the most popular of the Kyoto gardens, the Gakubuchi Teien, where there is a “picture frame” view of the garden, making it seem like a painting right before your eyes. You become part of the painting along with the garden, nature, and the veranda.

Sitting in front of the Bankan-en Garden, you will see an extremely beautiful Five Needle pine tree that is over 700 years old. The design of Bankan-en Garden is based on the sun, moon, and stars making one feel how tiny we are in the universe.

4. Koto-in Temple

In the book “Kyoto Imagery” by Yasuhiro Kiyomizu, he writes that Koto-in Sub-temple of Daitoku-ji Temple is one of his favorite temples. He described it as an abstruse temple, and you will find that this description is very accurate once you experience Koto-in Temple for yourself. The verdant bamboo forest is sandwiched by walkways with a small sanmon gate at the end. There is an incredibly magical feeling just by standing in front of this pathway.

Yasuhiro Kiyomizu describes how the sinuous space in Koto-in Temple creates an abstruse atmosphere. People will think that they have walked for a long distance, and even feel that they have lost sense of direction. The sinuous space will blur the senses of your body, and your eyes will suddenly widen up when you move through the area.

Before leaving, stand in the tatami area and look back at the garden outside where the view in the frame seems to have frozen in time. 

The gardens of many Kyoto temples are the finest in Japan, where the harmonious coexistence of man and nature is shown. Although the gardens are artificially designed, they can create an unmatchable harmonious relationship between man and nature, just like an enchantment in which we can talk to nature and see our true selves.  


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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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