Anraku-ji (安楽寺), whose full name is "Shishigatani Juren-zan Anrakuji" (鹿ヶ谷住蓮山安楽寺), is a nice temple located in the "Philosopher path" area, just south of the more famous Honen-in (法然院) and its very old moss-covered gate (itself just south of Ginkaku-ji, which is of course even more famous). Like many of the most interesting places in Kyoto, Anraku-ji is only open a number of weeks per year. It's not a bad thing because they open at the best seasons, and Anraku-ji is no exception: you can only visit it in late spring (mid-May to mid-June) for the satsuki season (blooming of rhododendrons) and in autumn for the momiji season (autumn colours).
Anraku-ji was built at the beginning of the Kamakura period (roughly 12th-13th century) by Anraku and Juren, who were two disciples of the priest Honen (now you know why this temple is close from Honen-in (法然院)). Honen was the founder of the Amida sect, whose doctrine called for equal salvation for all people, a very modern thought which quickly became popular. The imperial court didn't like this much, as one can imagine, and persecution was ordered. Honen was exiled and his two disciples Anraku and Juren were executed in 1207. The pamphlet I have states that such persecutions against Buddhists was rare, but it's far from the first time I hear a story like that... Some time after the persecution, the temples were rebuilt to console the spirits of the murdered disciples.
In late spring the front garden of the temple is very coloured with lots of pink and fresh green from the rhododendrons. Nice photo opportunity with the main hall (本堂) in the background. The best part, however, is the rear zen garden, from which most of the pictures below were taken. The read garden consists almost exclusively of rhododendrons and the colours can be quite impressive at the right time. I visited the place a bit early, so the pictures below lack in pink and red. Note that like most Japanese gardens with rhododendrons, two varieties are present: the tsutsuji and satsuki types. The first one blooms earlier, has a sparser foliage with big leaves, and the colour of the flowers are white or pink. The satsuki type blooms later (early June) and the flowers are more on the red/pink side. It has a denser foliage with smaller leaves, which makes it nicer to look at outside the blooming season. Of course zen gardeners know that, and you will usually see more satsuki bushes in zen gardens. Which means you should aim for late spring if you want to get the best colours.
In autumn, the stairs leading to Anraku-ji's front gate are covered with maple leaves, and this is in fact the photo of this temple that everyone sees in pamphlets and advertisements about Kyoto's high season.
Recommended for: Access:
Nearby: Reikan-ji 霊鑑寺 (70m), Wachu-an 和中庵 (150m), Yōji-ya よーじや銀閣寺店 (150m), Ōtoyo-jinja 大豊神社 (290m), Hōnen-in 法然院 (360m), Kōun-ji 光雲寺 (440m), Shinyo-dō 真如堂 (570m), Saiun-in 西雲院 (580m), Hakusa Sonsō Villa 白沙村荘 (680m), Ginkaku-ji 銀閣寺 (710m),...
External links: Website, ウィキペディア, Kyoto Navi, Trip Advisor, Kyoto Design, 京都風光, Inside Kyoto, Marutake, そうだ京都, Satellite view, Map
Keywords: Japan, 日本, Japon, Kyoto, 京都, 左京区, Sakyo-ku, 安楽寺, Anraku-ji, temple, 寺院, 仏閣
Sakuradanicho 47 (桜谷町47)