Date: 23rd November 2017
This was my 7th day in the Kansai Region for my autumn 2017 trip, hunting momiji. I headed to Daitokuji less than enthusiast, thinking “leaves again”. Thanks for proving me wrong. I agree that visiting lots of temples can be too much for some people, but I am glad that I don’t get that.
Daitokuji (大徳寺) is an extensive Rinzai sect. of Buddhism temple complex built in 1319 by Daito Kokushi / Myoho Shucho. There are 24 sub-temples in the temple grounds, but only a handful is open to the public (4 are always open to public, while some are open irregularly). At the time of my visit, 3 were open (the famous Kotoin was unfortunately closed for renovations until March 2019), while another 3 were open for a limited time. I will not be able to show you a lot of pictures of the temples as some of them prohibit photography but this was partly great as the temple tend to be quieter.
The temple was partly destroyed by fire during the Onin War (the civil war during the Muromachi period which evoked the Sengoku period, the warring states period) and the reconstruction of Daitokuji was led by Ikkyu with monetary support from Sakai, Osaka and other Daimyos (feudal lords). The funeral for Oda Nobunaga (the first great unifier of Japan) was held here by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Oda’s successor and the second great unifier of Japan.
Though Daitokuji itself is inaccessible to public, you can have a look at some of the buildings from the outside. The Chokushimon (Imperial Messenger’s Gate) used to be the southern gate of the Imperial Palace before Empress Meisho presented it to the temple.
The Sanmon is a 2-story vermilion gate built in 1479, while the second story was added in 1589 by the tea master Sen no Rikyu. The second story has a Buddha statue which is said to represent Rikyu, infuriating Toyotomi Hideyoshi for having to pass the gate with the image of Rikyu above him. This is reputed to be one of the reasons for Toyotomi to order Rikyu to commit seppuku.
The Butsu-den (Buddha Hall) and Hatto (Lecture Hall) can also be seen from outside.
So I first headed to the sub-temple Daisen-in, founded by Zen priest Kogaku Soko Zenji in 1509. This temple is famous for its kare-sansui, dry landscape garden featuring rocks and sands. Another important feature of the temple is the screen painting by Soami, a famous landscape painter.
Photography is strictly prohibited here and you will be given a board (available in English) to guide you through the symbolism of the garden, metaphorically representing the journey of life. You can enjoy a cup of green tea here as well.
The temple was built in 1535 as the family temple of Otomo Sorin / Fujiwara no Yoshishige, who was buried together with his wife here. The temple is famous for its kare-sansui garden, designed in 1961 by Shigemori Mirei, a modern Japanese landscape artist. The dry landscape garden is noted for the strong waves of the sand.
Otomo Sorin later converted to Christianity, and the rear garden is called Garden of the Cross.
The temple was built in 1520 as the family temple of Hatakeyama Yoshifusa, Lord of Noto prefecture and its first abbot was the high-regarded Shohkei. Though the temple was destroyed by fire later, it was reconstructed with the support of Maeda Toshiie, lord of the Kaga domain and one of Oda Nobunaga’s prominent generals.
The window “Kato Mado” makes a beautiful frame for the garden.
This temple also features a kare-sansui garden, designed by Kinsaku Nakane in 1974.
Next week I will showcase the remaining 3 sub-temples that I visited – Souken-in, Oda Nobunaga’s final resting place, the beautiful maple trees at Ōbai-in and Ryogen-in which houses the smallest rock garden in Japan.
Daitoku-ji’s grounds is accessible for free, but the sub-temples require admission fees to enter. As mentioned above, only 4 are regularly open to the public, while some are irregularly opened – usually during spring / autumn, and more are only accessible for private occasions.
- Opening hours: 09:00 – 17:00 (until 16:30 from Dec to Feb), no closing days
- Admission fee: 400 yen
- Further reading
- Opening hours: 09:00 – 17:00, no closing days
- Admission fee: 400 yen
- Opening hours: 10:00 – 16:30, irregularly opened
- Admission fee: 600 yen
- Kyoto Shunju Site
There are various ways to access Daitokuji depending on where you are coming from, lets explore!
One of the nearest subway station to Daitokuji is the Kuramaguchi station, 1.8km, 23 mins away on foot. Kuramaguchi station is 12 mins away from Kyoto station. The Kitaoji station is also of the same distance, 1.8km, but is one station further away from Kyoto station than Kuramaguchi station.
If you do not want to walk that much, take the bus. Bus number 204, 205 and 206 will get you to Daitokuji-mae, which is just a 5 mins walk to the temple.