Choraku-ji 長楽寺 is one of those temples that not even the Japanese visit. At least not very often. I my book it also has the dubtious privilege of being the worstly maintained temple. But it's not a reason to skip it...
Choraku-ji was founded in 805, which does make this temple pretty old (the buildings, however, are more recent). The temple had strong ties with the emperor, and at the beginning could not be visited. Infact, it only opened for very special events, such as an enthronment. Choraku-ji belonged to several bouddhist sects, following the paths of its head priests: Tendai sect, Jodo sect, Jishu sect, etc. The temple has a very old and fragile statue of one of the seven deities. Although made of uncooked mud, the statue has endured for more than 800 years.
Choraku-ji used to be much larger, its land including the present day Maruyama park. This day the temple covers a relatively small area, mostly hidden in the woods at the foot of Higashiyama hills. The very small zen garden was built around an equally small pond surrounded by the low temple buildings. While most temples have staff to maintain them, Choraku-ji seems to let nature go its own way. The garden has lots of weed or bare mud patches. The pond has seem better days. Its water is muddy and I don't think carps live in it. The halls have cobwebs in their corners, and on the tatami and tokonoma you can almost count the preys eaten by this year's spider. The pond is also a nice breedig site for mosquitoes which will drive you crazy if you stay for more than 15 minutes looking at the garden. The temple office is also rarely manned, or the person behind the counter is sleeping and the feeble bell won't wake him up.
And yet... this place has potential. There is a traditional dance festival in November, and the place is maybe cleaned up for that event. Plus at least it's a quiet and natural place, away from the busloads of tourists that invade the area in autumn. So if you're in the area give it a try. You may be surprised!
Nearby: Evening tea ceremony 冬の夜の茶会 (260m), Chion-in 知恩院 (260m), Kōdai-ji 高台寺 (320m), Daiun-in 大雲院 (330m), Ryōzen Kannon 霊山観音 (340m), Shōgunzuka 将軍塚 (360m), Entoku-in 圓徳院 (390m), Shōren-in 青蓮院 (420m), Tōkei-ji 東景寺 (440m), Higashiyama Overlook 東山山頂公園 (470m),...
External links: Website, ウィキペディア, Kyoto Navi, Trip Advisor, Kyoto Design, 京都風光, Marutake, そうだ京都, Satellite view, Map
Keywords: Japan, 日本, Japon, Kyoto, 京都, 東山, Higashiyama, 長楽寺, Choraku-ji, temple, 寺院, 仏閣