Chishaku-in (智積院) is one of those places that are relatively famous (in Kyoto of course), relatively large, quite beautiful, and yet few people visit it. Which I won't complain about ;-) The funny thing is that Chishaku-in is very close from Sanjusangen-do (三十三間堂) which is far more crowded, far less interesting and where... you can't take pictures inside. So if you're in the area first pay a visit to Chishaku-in, and then, if you have some time left, go see the thousand Buddha. Of course this depends on the season, as zen garden are best visited during the satsuki (皐月) season (early June) or the autumn colors in late November.
The temple is a major center of the Shingon sect and was very popular during the Edo period as a center for Buddhist studies and training. It is still the headquarters of about 3000 temples of that sect in Japan. Several rock and zen gardens of various sizes surround the temple buildings.
The main garden with the large pond was inspired by the area around Mt. Lushan in China, or so the pamphlet says. Around the pond are numerous satsuki bushes (a type of Japanese rhododendron) that bloom in late May/early June. This is probably the best time to see this garden. As with many zen gardens, rocks play an important part and many have been set among the bushes. They usually have a meaning, but I lack documentation on this. Interesting features of this garden include its long and thin stone bridge. Close to the hall were you can sit and watch the zen garden, a tsukubai (つくばい - 蹲い) or stone water basin is placed under a small roof. The basin is cut in a large upright stone and has an interesting ladle support made of bamboo.
There is a couple of smaller inner rock gardens tucked between the temple buildings, then, as you reach the other side of the temple, you arrive at another large garden which... is not that interesting (in my humble opinion). This garden does, however, feature another stone water basin, this time very long and thin. And still massive, since it's also cut in one large upright stone. There is usually a long bamboo on top of it, to support a ladle that is never there ;-) But the basin is so thin that with the bamboo on top, it'd be hard to use any ladle anyway!
While I don't usually spend much time admiring the painted sliding doors in temples, Chishaku-in is an exception. The temple has four rooms (one per season) with doors painted only with black ink. This contrasts with the more baroque (and thus over-decorated) sliding doors found behind bullet-proof glass in other temples. The style here is completely different and much more recent, since they have been offered in 2008 by artist Toshio Tabuchi. They provide a very peaceful and nice atmosphere to those four rooms.
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Nearby: Myōhō-in 妙法院 (180m), Hōjū-ji 法住寺 (320m), Sanjusangen-dō 三十三間堂 (380m), Toyokuni-jinja 豊国神社 (430m), Kawai Kanjiro Memorial 河井寛次郎記念館 (530m), Kanshundō sweets shop 甘春堂 (560m), Rakutoihōkan 洛東遺芳館 (850m), Hōon-in 法音院 (900m), Hanbei-fu Bento Museum 半兵衛麩弁当美実館 (940m), Rokuhara Mitsui-dera 六波羅蜜寺 (950m),...
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Keywords: Japan, 日本, Japon, Kyoto, 京都, 東山, Higashiyama, 智積院, temple, 寺院, 仏閣, Chishaku-in