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Gakuen-ji Temple

The most famous autumn leaf viewing spot in Shimane Prefecture

By Laura Payne

Located deep in the mountains of eastern Shimane Prefecture, Gakuen-ji is one of the most historic Buddhist temples in the region. Its roots go back to the beginning of Buddhism in Japan and is said to have been founded at the request of the first reigning empress in the country’s recorded history.

The current temple grounds are a stop on the Chugoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage and Izumo Shinbutsu Pilgrimage among others. Gakuen-ji is also renowned for its surrounding natural beauty, particularly from mid to late November when numerous maple trees transform into shades of red and orange.

The Empress, the Priest and the Warrior Monk


Photo by: PIXTA/ 安ちゃん The temple at Furo Waterfall.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century, and an instrumental figure in its spread was Empress Suiko, who in a break from tradition ascended the throne after her brother, the emperor, was murdered. A Buddhist herself, Empress Suiko supported the founding of temples throughout Japan, and Gakuen-ji was among these.

According to one version of the temple’s founding story, Empress Suiko was healed of eye disease when a monk named Chishun Shonin prayed for her recovery at Furo Waterfall. Grateful, Empress Suiko requested that a temple be built there.

Gakuen-ji was founded in 594—making it one of the oldest temples in Japan—and historical evidence suggests that by the 1100s it was famous as far away as Kyoto. Gakuen-ji also plays a role in the story of Benkei, a legendary 12th-century warrior monk. Allegedly, Benkei carried a temple bell nearly 100 kilometers from Daisen-ji Temple in Tottori Prefecture to Gakuen-ji in one night. A festival, which includes a reenactment of Benkei carrying the bell, is held on the last Sunday of October to commemorate this legend.

Exploring the Grounds


Photo by: PIXTA/ 安ちゃん Fall in Gakuen-ji

From the main parking lot, visitors hike up a paved, wooded trail for about 15 minutes before reaching the temple complex. During peak autumn leaf viewing season, fiery maples create a tunnel around the stairs leading to the vermillion-painted main hall. As the leaves gradually fall from the trees, they create a colorful carpet around the grounds.

Hike a little farther into the forest and you will reach Furo Waterfall, the place where Chishun Shonin is said to have prayed for Empress Suiko’s healing. Nowadays, the waterfall is home to Zaodo Hall, a temple building built into the cliff face behind the falling water.

Things To Know

Hours and fees

Open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Last entry at 4:15 p.m.)

Gakuen-ji charges an admission fee to support the upkeep of the grounds. Admission is ¥500 for adults, with discounts for students and groups of 20 or more.

Pets are not allowed on the temple grounds. Tripods are also not allowed.

Please refrain from taking plants from the temple grounds and surrounding mountains.

No restaurants are near the temple grounds, so if you spend a long time here it is recommended that you bring your own food (make sure to take your trash home).

How To Get There


By train

Take a train from Dentetsu Izumoshi station or Matsue Shinjiko Onsen station and alight at Unshu-Hirata station (Note this railway is privately run and does not accept JR Rail Passes, only local sightseeing passes such as the En-Musubi Perfect Ticket). 

From here, hop on the Hirata Seikatsu Bus and get off at Gakuen-ji Chushajo (Gakuen-ji Parking Lot). Be careful when returning via this bus, as on some days the last bus returns before closing time.

Alternatively, you can take a taxi from Unshu-Hirata Sation or rent a car from shops around the JR stations in Izumo or Matsue. Parking is available on-site, but taking public transportation is recommended during autumn leaf viewing season as the parking lot can fill up quickly.

Where To Stay

Oyado Tsukiyo no Usagi
  • 1443-1 Taishacho Shurimen, Izumo-shi, Shimane, 699-0721 Japan
  • ¥17,765 - ¥74,250
  • 4.46/5 (1,352 reviews)
  • 6.0 km
Rita Izumo Hirata Sakemochida Kura
  • 810 Hiratacho, Izumo-shi, Shimane, 691-0001 Japan
  • ¥52,743 - ¥125,874
  • 5/5 (6 reviews)
  • 6.6 km
Rakuten Stay Izumo
  • 300 Taishacho Kizukihigashi, Izumo-shi, Shimane, 699-0701 Japan
  • ¥30,000 - ¥200,000
  • 6.7 km
Green Rich Hotel Izumo Futamata Yunohana
  • 1489-2 Imaichicho, Izumo-shi, Shimane, 693-0001 Japan
  • ¥7,900 - ¥19,100
  • 4.06/5 (1,208 reviews)
  • 6.8 km
Dormy Inn Izumo
  • 1-3-3 Eki Minamimachi, Izumo-shi, Shimane, 693-0008 Japan
  • ¥13,150 - ¥55,500
  • 7.1 km

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