One of my favorite experiences is spending most of a day…or spending a night or two here in Myoshin-ji temple complex. I try to arrive early in the day, as parents begin to drop of their children for daycare and it is still quiet. There is both a southern and a northern entrance.
Myoshin-ji is one of the six major Zen temples of Kyoto. It is the headquarters of the Myoshin-ji school of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. The temple grounds were originally the villa of Kiyowara Natsune (782-837). It later became the retirement villa of Emperor Hanazono (1297-1348). He then presented it to Priest E-gen who built the temple and became its first abbot.
More than 40 sub-temples were eventually clustered about the temple buildings, many of which were built by military leaders. These buildings were then destroyed during the Onin War (1467-77). Many of the present day 47 subtemples were re-built under the patronage of the Hosokawa family, Hideoyoshi and the Tokugawa shoguns.
Unlike Daitoku-ji, Myoshin-ji was not as concerned with worldly arts such as tea ceremony and landscape gardening, maintaining a simpler and stricter approach to religion. Only a few subtemples are open to the public. I thorougly enjoyed arriving one morning and spending hours walking throughout the complex. I did visit Taizo-in with its gardens which I enjoyed very much.
Myoshinji (妙心寺, Myōshinji) is a large temple complex in northwestern Kyoto which includes about 50 subtemples in addition to its main buildings. While a few of the temple halls can be entered, the majority of the subtemples are closed to the public. However, visitors are free to wander along the walking paths. In several ways the temple complex resembles Daitokuji Temple.
Within the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, Myoshinji is the head temple of the Myoshinji school with over 3000 affiliated temples and calls itself the largest of all Zen temples. Myoshinji was founded in 1337 when an abdicated emperor had an imperial villa converted into a Zen temple.
The guided tour also includes a visit to the temple’s bath room (yokushitsu), which is located in a small building and predates the Edo Period (1603-1867), although it was still used into the 20th century. Guided tours start at the Ohojo building, the head priest’s former living quarters. They are conducted in Japanese and last about half an hour.
Of Myoshinji’s many subtemples, four are open to the public throughout the year and five have seasonal or occasional openings. A few of the closed temples have their front gate open so that a glimpse can be taken at their inner gardens. Walking along the many paths that connect the buildings is a nice way to enjoy the temple atmosphere. Although detached from the rest of the temple grounds these days, the nearby Ryoanji Temple is also one of Myoshinji’s subtemples.
Taizoin Temple is the most famous of the subtemples on Myoshinji’s main grounds. The temple’s beautiful pond garden was constructed during the mid 1960s and is considered one of the best gardens of the Showa Period (1926-1989). Its rock garden was designed in the the 1400s by the famous painter Kano Motonobu. The temple is also in possession of a highly valued painting from the 1400s that depicts a Buddhist parable of a man trying to catch a fish with a gourd.
The other two subtemples that are permanently open to the public are not as large or well known as Taizoin, but offer visitors a quiet and pleasant atmosphere. Keishunin Temple has a number of gardens that visitors can walk out into, and there is an attractive tea room that makes for a relaxing spot to enjoy the scenery. Daishinin Temple is the smallest of the four subtemples, but has an attractive rock garden, a garden of peonies and some simple temple rooms.