A large walled temple complex, a visit to Daitoku-ji in northern Kyoto reveals ancient sub-temples and many traditional Zen gardens. The main Daitoku-ji temple sits on the eastern side of the grounds. This structure was built in 1319, although it was destroyed in a fire in the next century and rebuilt again in the 16th century. Also on the east side of the complex are the Butsuden Hall, Hatto Hall, Hojo Residence, and the famous Sanmon Gate featuring a statue of the tea-master, Sen no Rikyu.
There are many sub-temples within the complex, but only a few of these are open to the public on a regular basis, including Ryogen-in, Zuiho-in, Daisen-in, and Koto-in. Those particularly interested in Japanese gardens should not miss the beautiful Daisen-in rock gardens, which wrap around the temple building and date back to the beginning of the 16th century. Elsewhere, Koto-in was established in 1601 and features a garden considered to be a masterpiece in simplicity that is famous for its canopy of maple trees, which are particularly stunning in the fall.
There are a number ways to experience Kyoto’s ancient temples and traditional gardens, with various day trips from Osaka and Tokyo. One of the best ways to explore this side of Japan’s history and culture is on a Kyoto bike tour, where you can discover other religious shrines and temples in the area, such as Kinkakuji and the Kitano Tenmangu Temple.
Insider’s Tip: The Daitoku-ji temple complex is one of the best places in Japan to see such a variety of Zen gardens and to learn about Zen culture and architecture. Bear in mind though that Zen gardens are meant to be contemplated slowly, so a relaxed pace will mean you will appreciate the sub-temples and gardens in the complex more fully.
If not arriving as part of an organized tour, the best way to reach Daitoku-ji Temple is by taking the Karasuma subway line to Kitaoji Station. The complex is located around a 15-minute walk from here.