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Region
Kansai
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Kyoto
Population
2,644,331

Tofuku-ji Temple

Inspiring gardens and autumn madness at Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple.

Tofuku-ji Temple is arguably the spot for viewing the changing colors of the autumn leaves.

The main garden’s path takes you through a forest of maple trees and then up above it – via the famous Tsuten-kyo Bridge – so that you peer down on a blanket of red. It’s a breathtaking experience that draws equally breathtaking crowds during the high season. Yet, the various gardens of what is Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple are a delight all year round.

Photo by: PlusMinus Tofukuji Sanmon. (The main gate.)

Tofuku-ji was founded in 1236 by statesman Kujo Michiie, who wanted to establish in Kyoto a site comparable to the Nara temples Kofuku-ji and Todai-ji, which houses Japan’s biggest statue of the Buddha. Its name was taken from those. It is the head temple of the Tofuku-ji school of the Rinzai Sect of Zen Buddhism and took 19 years to complete. The spacious complex includes many sub-temples and is Kyoto’s largest Zen site.

Photo by: Kirsty Kawano Tofukuji Temple in autumn.

The Zen Hasso Gardens that surround the Abbot’s Hall were crafted in 1939. They include two pebble-and-rock dry gardens and two smaller ones that feature a delightful checkerboard design – one made of moss, the other of azalea shrubs. This area requires an entrance fee. The maple garden requires an admission fee of its own, and includes entrance to the garden of the attractive Kaisan-do Hall. Late November is the reddest season. Although they don’t attract the same crowds, the fresh green leaves of May are also beautiful.

Photo by: Kirsty Kawano The moss garden.

Although war and fires have led to the rebuilding of Tofuku-ji’s temple buildings over the years, survivors from the 14th century Muromachi period include the Zen-do meditation hall and the highly ecological lavatory block and bathing room, which once served more than a hundred priests.

Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts

The toilet waste was sold as garden fertilizer, and the sauna-style bathing – by which the men cleaned themselves by wiping the steam-loosened dirt off – conserved tons of water and fire kindling. Zen in action! The toilet block and the meditation hall are the oldest such buildings in Japan.

Lastly, the temple’s exquisite 22-meter-high Sanmon gate is the oldest Zen main gate in Japan and is a designated national treasure.

Dig this scenery? Check out more temples in Japan.

Trivia

Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts

Get your hands dirty — or just view thousands of years of traditional art for free.

More

Things To Know

Fees and Hours

Admission to the abbot’s hall Hasso Garden costs ¥400 for adults and ¥300 for children. The entrance fee to the Tsuten-kyo maple garden is the same. It is usually open 9 a.m. ~ 4 p.m., but starts from 8:30 a.m. throughout November to cater to the autumn crowds. If you visit during the peak period in late November, going as early as possible on a work day will help you avoid the worst of the crowds.

How To Get There

By train

A 10-minute walk from Tokufu-ji station on either the JR Nara line or Keihan main line.

By bus

Take Kyoto Bus 202, 207 or 208 to the Tofuku-ji stop.

Where To Stay

Tofukuji Machiya Inn Sakura & Tsuki
  • Higashiyama-ku Honmachi 16-305 Kyoto-Shi, Kyoto 605-0981
  • 9.5/10
  • 0.4 km
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Apartment in Kyoto 518860
  • Kyoto-Shi, Kyoto 605-0976
  • 9.4/10
  • 0.4 km
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Higashiyama Kikyo-Tei
  • Higashiyama-ku Sennyuji Torincho 20-6 Kyoto-Shi, Kyoto 605-0976
  • 9.3/10
  • 0.4 km
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Kyoto Quest Apartment 28
  • Kyoto-Shi, Kyoto 605-0976
  • 0.5 km
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