Nanzen-ji (南禅寺) is one of the major temple complexes in Kyoto. Located near the south extremity of the Philosopher's Path, just south of Eikan-do (永観堂), the temple started in 1264 as the favourite villa of emperor Kameyama. Thirty years later, the latter retired and became a monk, transforming his residence in a zen temple. Since its beginnings the temple enjoyed prosperity and was renowned as one of the "five great temples" (五山 or gozan, literally "five mountains" as temples are often given honorary mountain names).
As temple complex Nanzenji has several sub-temples, some of which can be visited: Tenju-an (天授庵), beautiful in autumn, Konchi-in (金地院) and its large rock garden, the smaller Nanzen-in (南禅院), the less visited Saisho-in (景勝院) and the (very) rarely visitable Koun-ji (光雲寺). Of course the main "attraction" for most will be the main temple itself.
The visit of the main temple starts with a dark long corridor which leads to the main garden, the one in front of the abbot's quarters (方丈 - hojo). The garden was named "young tigers crossing a river" (虎の子渡し - toranoko watashi) after the shape of the large rocks (don't expect to see tiger-shaped rocks though, it's very very very subtle...). The garden was designed around 1600 by Kobori Enshuu, who also designed the garden of Kodai-ji. It is a classical design which uses the popular "borrowed landscape" technique for mountains around the temple. The path of the visit goes around the main building, with several smaller and different gardens placed between buildings. Behind the main hall, a T junction in the covered path will lead you to a pond with a tea house (not usually accessible, but you can see it from a distance). The main building contains several important paintings on its sliding doors (fusuma - 襖), some of them quite remarkable indeed. On the way back, you will see a dark tatami room opposite to the ticket booth in the entrance hall. You can get tea there.
The temple grounds also contains various buildings, halls and gates sprinkled among a copious number of cherry trees and maples. The large gate in front of Konchi-in can be visited. Also unique to Nanzen-ji is a Victorian style, red-bricks aqueduct which runs in the temple compound. If you follow the flow for a couple of hundred meters you will reach a pumping station, from which you can go back to the train station. This industrial heritage is part of the Biwako Canal system, a tunnel that ran from Biwako Lake to Kyoto and that boats could use to reach Osaka. Fun fact: the pumping station is at one extremity of 何有荘 (Kaiuso), a property bought by the founder of Oracle Corporation for $80M.
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Nearby: Seiryu-tei 清流亭 (290m), Eikan-dō 永観堂 (400m), Murin-an 無鄰菴 (500m), Awata-jinja 粟田神社 (750m), Ōtoyo-jinja 大豊神社 (860m), Kōbun-tei 好文亭 (890m), Shōren-in 青蓮院 (910m), Sakuradanicho 47 桜谷町47 (980m), Saiun-in 西雲院 (1km), Namikawa Cloisonné Museum 並河靖之七宝記念館 (1km),...
External links: Website, ウィキペディア, Wikipedia, Wikipédia, Kyoto Navi, Trip Advisor, Kyoto Design, 京都風光, Inside Kyoto, Marutake, そうだ京都
Keywords: Japan, 日本, Japon, Kyoto, 京都, 左京区, Sakyo-ku, Nanzen-ji, 南禅寺, 瑞龍山南禅寺, temple, 寺院, 仏閣