Where the retired Emperors resided: Daikaku-ji, Kyoto Travel in Spring 2016

Date: 5 April 2016

I was back in Arashiyama for the second time (my first time here, I was visiting the bamboo groves and Tenryuji). I had planned to go on the Hozugawa Cruise, but changed my mind as it was raining earlier in the morning and the weather was still cloudy.

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Not the kind of weather you want to get on a boat ride

 

As it was still 8 a.m. – (yes, too early for the boat ride which starts at 9 a.m.!), and despite having arrived in Kameoka where the boat departs, I had the luxury to change my itinerary and headed to Daikaku-ji which I had planned on going in the afternoon. The temple was less than 30 minutes from Kameoka – I took the JR San-in line from Kameoka Station to Saga-Arashiyama station, in which the temple was a 1.3km walk away.

Arriving 10 minutes earlier than the opening time of 9 a.m., I took my time strolling the nearby streets which was lined with blooming sakura, much to my delight.

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Sakura blooming along the streets near Daikaku-ji

The temple entrance fee is 500 yen, added with another 200 yen if you want to visit the garden around Osawa-ike. If you plan to visit Gioji, which is of walking distance from Daikaku-ji, you can get a combined ticket for only 600 yen (rather than an extra 300 yen @ Gioji later).

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Path to the entrance of Daikaku-ji

 

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Omote-mon (Front gate)

I was obviously one of the first visitors, a pleasure I started to appreciate during this trip after seeing how tourist-crowded certain places in Kyoto could be.

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Waiting to enter the temple. Shikidai Genkan on the right

Daikaku-ji was originally an imperial villa of Emperor Saga, converted into a monzeki temple some time after his death by his daughter Princess Masako. The temple belongs to the Shingon sect of Buddhism, founded by Kobo Daishi aka Kukai. Daikaku-ji became the residence of retired Emperors, who were also the main priests at the temple. These retired Emperors retained their power through Insei, or cloistered rule while residing in Daikaku-ji.

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Chokushi-mon

Yasui-do enshrines a life-sized figure of Emperor Go-Mizunoo.

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Mie-do on the right, Yasui-do in the middle, and Godai-do on the left

The Mie-do enshrines many important statues such as those of Kobo Daishi and Emperor Saga.

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Mie-do

Daikaku-ji was central to some of the most important historical events, such as the peace conference between the Northern and Southern courts who were at a civil war during the Nanboku-cho period. The peace conference was held in the Shoshin-den.

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Shoshin-den

The Chokushi-mon (imperial messenger gate) is only open for the Emperor. The stone stage in front of it is what remains of the original Godai-do hall, currently used for performance.

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Chokushi-mon and stone stage

Godai-do, which is the main hall of the temple, enshrines the statues of the Five Wisdom Kings and centers on Fudo Myo-o (or Acala). This hall is where sutra-transcription sessions are being held.

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Godai-do

The Shinden hall, which was moved from the Imperial Palace in the 16th century, was used by Tofuku-mon-in Masako, daughter of Tokugawa Hidetada as a residence while serving as a consort to the Emperor.

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Shinden Hall

One of the highlights for me was walking from one building to another building, through the elevated wooden walkways called Murasame-no-roka, making it feel like I was in one of those jidaigeki drama (period drama). These are the uguisu-bari (nightingale floors), making squeaks so one could hear if the place is being invaded.

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The temple houses a copy of the Heart Sutra, handwritten by Emperor Saga, as advised by Kobo Daishi, which was said to have ended a mysterious epidemic which devastated Kyoto during the Heian Period. The Heart Sutra is exhibited to the public once in every 60 years, the next in 2018.

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Shingyo-den, containing the copy of the Heart Sutra

Next was the Osawa-no-ike, a man-made lake of which the remains are of the Shinden-type Japanese Gardens. Shinden Garden originated in the Heian period and featured a large pond with elevated walkways or bridges connecting the buildings to the ponds, and often islands or even waterfalls. No Shinden Garden survives today, the Osawa-no-ike is an incomplete survival of this type of garden. Seeing one would have been a feast to the eyes, but oh well.

The temple hosts a moon-viewing event in mid-autumn.

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The blooming sakura was a consolation. I have seen pictures of this place in autumn, which is equally beautiful.

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I need to revisit this temple, having missed the vermillion pagoda!

Daikaku-ji is not your average temple – the fact that the Emperors resided here after retiring makes a significant difference to the atmosphere. You should make your way here if you are visiting Arashiyama.

 

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Author: Jennifer

Hi! I am Jennifer. I enjoy planning my own travels and love traveling in Japan - for the history, nature, temples, and the food! Read more for travel guides of places I have visited.

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