Kyoto's Eikan-do (Zenrin-ji): A Surprising Piece of Peace

When it comes to Kyoto, there's no avoiding the temples. And as I've said before, they look fairly similar at first glance. The architecture is toned down and usually identical, without many unique features. But after visiting so many, you start realizing what makes each one special. You have to, really, to avoid temple burnout.
 Eikan-do is at the southern end of the Philosopher's Walk, the middle temple of the three big ones in the area (Ginkakuji, Eikando, and Nanzenji).
 Its beauty comes in its location. Eikan-do is set on a hillside (yes, many others are) but has a very large open plaza.
 The buildings are further arranged in a maze that creates several pleasant isolated courtyards and gardens.

 Most of the exploring of the temple grounds will occur on covered walkways around the buildings, so you will do it shoeless.

 Eventually, you'll cross over a small "bridge" of sorts.
 There's a water well here.
 While the temple is mostly toned down, without much painting, look closely at some of the roofs and inside the temple buildings to see some great art.

 At the back of the property is a staircase that leads to a balcony and some additional buildings.

 You can continue heading up the stairs in the back.
 From the very top, you can look out on Kyoto. Sure, there isn't much to see out there, but perhaps you can see the approaching armies, kings, or just the post man bringing a letter.

 The front of the temple grounds has a large lake.
 While it was beautiful to see in the late spring, the fall colors here are supposed to be quite impressive, if that's your thing.
 Eikan-do isn't as popular as many other temples in Kyoto, especially in the afternoon when the tour groups are gone. I really enjoyed walking around the temple in my socks, discovering new niches where I could sit and relax, meditate, or just enjoy the view. In fact, in retrospect, some of Kyoto's temples deserved more time to explore and experience. Eikan-do is one of those temples, and if I lived in Kyoto I might come here occasionally just to meditate or read (is that allowed?).
Eikan-do is open 9:00-17:00, with extended hours in autumn. Admission is a fairly steep 600 yen (1000 yen during the day in autumn), but I'd consider it money well spent. You can approach Eikan-do from Ginkakuji in the north (it sits just south of the 2-km Philosopher's Walk) or the south and Keage Station (the temple is a short walk north of Nanzen-ji). Bus number 5 stops about five minutes from Eikan-do; get off at Nanzenji-Eikando-michi.


  1. Unreal. We're truly lucky to live on an amazing planet where places like this exist.

  2. If there's one thing Kyoto does right, it's temples!