An autumn hidden gem filled with year-round serenity.
If you want to catch a great display of fiery autumn leaves but also want to avoid the worst crowds in Kyoto, Shinnyo-do Temple is the place for you. Its moss-carpeted, maple-filled woodland garden is where people in the know go for their fall fix. After the leaves fall, the low-key vibe here has all-season charm.
Formally known as Shinsho Gokuraku-ji, the temple is part of the Buddhist Tendai sect. The main hall and the statue of Amitabha Tathagata that is enshrined here are both designated as important cultural assets. Shinnyo-do began when the statue was first enshrined in 984. The temple relocated to its current spot on top of Mount Yoshida in 1693 following the Onin Wars that destroyed much of Kyoto city. The main hall dates back to 1717.
In 1694, a student of the great poet Matsuo Basho, called Mukai Kyorai, wrote an ode to the serenity of Shinnyo-do. A stone plaque commemorating the event is located in the temple grounds. Other than the peak autumn foliage season from mid-November to early December, May is the perfect time to see the beautiful green of the new maple leaves, and in summer Shinnyo-do is a soothing oasis from the heat.
Off the beaten track
Shinnyo-do can be hard to find. The easiest way to get there is to arrive via the rear entrance, near the Shinnyo-do-mae bus stop. Turn left at the street sign, then walk halfway up the hillside path. On the left you will see moss-rimmed concrete steps and a plaque marking the way to the temple.
Entering via the back way will bring you into the hydrangea garden, which should be blooming throughout June. Leaving this way will give you a great view of the Higashiyama mountains, which will be a patchwork of color during the peak autumn foliage season. From there it’s not far to the Philosopher’s Path or autumn headliners such as Eikando Temple and Nanzen-ji Temple.