Nanzen-ji Temple

Attraction Nanzen-ji, Japan 〒606-8435 京都府京都市 左京区南禅寺福地町86 Published on: 28-02-2016

2 hours
08:45 AM - 05:00 PM
09:00 AM
11:00 AM
First-time visit
Must see
Temple & Monument
4.50 USD

Nanzen-ji Temple is good for

Good for family with kids Family with kids Good
Good for senior Senior Good
Good for couple Couple Good
Good for solo Solo Good
Good for group Group Good
  • Highly recommended by fellow travellers.
Nanzen-ji Temple is a former aristocratic retirement villa that was turned into a temple on the death of its owner.

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Why Nanzen-ji Temple is special ?

Nanzen-ji Temple is a former aristocratic retirement villa that was turned into a temple on the death of its owner.

This temple is a sprawling Zen paradise surrounded by lush green hills. Nanzen-ji is a secret waterfall grotto about 200 meters up in the hills behind the temple

This is one of the most rewarding temples in Kyoto, with its expansive grounds and numerous subtemples. At its entrance stands the massive San-mon . Steps lead up to the 2nd storey, which has a fine view over the city. Beyond the gate is the main hall of the temple, above which you will find the Hōjō , where the Leaping Tiger Garden is a classic Zen garden well worth a look.

Nanzen-ji began as a retirement villa for Emperor Kameyama but was dedicated as a Zen temple on his death in 1291. Civil war in the 15th century destroyed most of the temple; the present buildings date from the 17th century. It operates now as headquarters for the Rinzai school of Zen.

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What to explore at Nanzen-ji Temple?

Nanzen-ji (Southern Mountain Temple) is considered the most famous and important Zen temple in the world. Home of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism the temple consists of 12 sub-temples, which only a few are open to the public. Also within the temple grounds are several gardens, of which only three are available to be viewed. Two of the sub-temples also serve vegetarian lunches.

As you walk towards the main entrance of the temple you will see a two story gate called the San-mon (Mountain Gate) by some and Tenkanoryu-mon (Dragon Gate) by others. This gate is one of the three largest gates in Japan, though as one may expect it is not the original

Look above the waterfall and you’ll find a small grotto hidden in a giant boulder that contains several mysterious Buddhist images

This temple is famous for its momiji (maple leaves) which become red and yellow in Autumn. You can view the maple trees for free. There is a great mon (gate), paid entrance, from where the view is beautiful.

Follow the path around the pond and you will find yourself in facing a large gateway that leads to a path lined with lanterns and ending in a Shinto Torii. To get inside the wall you see follow it around until you come to a Kara-mon (Chinese Style Gate).

How to get to Nanzen-ji Temple?

It takes 35 minutes by Kyoto City Bus No. 5 ( JYP.230 - $ ).or Raku Bus #100 from Kyoto Station to Hoshoji-machi bus stop or Nanzen-ji-Eikan-do-mae Bus stop then 5 minutes on foot

It takes5-10 minutes on foot from Keage station of subway Tozai line. ( JYP.260 - $ ) from Kyoto Station by subway )

Bicycle is a good way to see Nanzenji It allows 20-25 minutes at a leisurely speed as you ride slightly uphill

Selling points

  • Beautiful area and impressive gate
  • Amazing place we stumbled upon
  • Favorite spot in Kyoto with a hidden secret
  • Beautiful autumn foliage
  • Grandeur SanMon gate, simple temple, wabi sabi culture, highly imaginative zen garden
4 Days 3 Nights in Kyoto

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4.0 days
181.16 USD
Total travel distance
Number of places
20 places




Nanzen-ji, Japan 〒606-8435 京都府京都市 左京区南禅寺福地町86

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Tips for you

  • There is a Western style toilet at the entrance- very rare for Japan. And it's free!!!
  • There is a coin machine here where you can buy a golden souvenir of the temple's namesake, add another to your Kyoto temple coin collection
  • There is also an aqueduct behind the temple which still flows, and makes for a great photo opportunity.
  • While you're in the Hōjō, you can enjoy a cup of tea while gazing at a small waterfall -¥500(( $ 4.2) ask at the reception desk of the Hōjō)
  • You should wear dark or colored socks, or bring them with you
    What to wear
  • You have to take off your shoes if you enter the buildings
  • December 1 - December 27 and January 1 - End of February: It opens from 8:40 A.M - 4:30 P.M December 28-31: this temple is closed.
  • You shouldn’t miss the walk up to the forest shrine beyond the aquaduct beside the temple.
  • Nanzen-ji is also very close to Eikan-do, and one can take Philosopher's Path to Ginkakuji quite easily
    Things nearby
  • If you go on to the upper floor of the gate and you will not only be able to see a fine view of the city on the outside platform of the gate, but you will also see a room which holds images of Buddha, Ieyasu, Todo Takatora, 16 holy men, and 2 bodhisattvas. There is a huge wooden gate, and a couple of carefully raked zen gardens for some deep contemplation.
  • You must pay the admission fees to enter Hojo garden: Adults: JYP. 500 ( $ 4.2) High school students: JYP. 400 ( $3.4) Junior high and elementary school students: : JYP. 300 ( $2.5) San-mon gate: Adults: JYP. 500 ( $ 4.2) High school students: : JYP. 400 ( $3.4) Junior high and elementary school students: ($ 2.5 )
    Ticket and Pricing
  • The aqueduct is particularly interesting, and there is a great hiking trail behind.
    Things to do


TripAdvisor View more

This temple is really quite impressive, if nothing else for the area over which it sprawls. Most visitors start at the Sanmon gate. It's quite a neat wooden structure, but is somewhat expensive costing almost $5 just to climb to the top. THE PROS: Beautiful sprawling grounds, lots of different buildings to admire. The ruins of the aqueduct are really quite spectacular and reminded me of a Roman structure transported to Japan. There are plenty of places to get some peace and quiet around here and meditate on the surroundings. See my hidden tip as well. THE CONS: Nothing is more annoying than being nickeled and dimed. Every little structure/gate/sub-temple seems to have a separate and not-insubstantial entrance fee. I think you could drop $25-$30 on admissions just within this temple complex. Come on folks...just charge a $10 flat fee a the front gate that includes everything. THE SECRET TIP: There is a hidden temple in the woods near here, Nanzen Oku-no-in. Ok, well it's not really hidden, and yes the Lonely Planet mentions it...nonetheless, no one seems to go there. Walk up past the cemetary along a path into the forest. Follow a stream up a steep hill and steps. You'll come to a beautiful shrine and a neat grotto. There are various sub-shrines all around this site. It was one of the most beautiful and meditative stops I had in Kyoto...a perfect moment of religion and nature coming together. also an enjoyable walk.

During the third weekend of November, I was very impressed with Nanzen-ji and its koyo/autumn colors. The central temple grounds is huge and free to walk through. There were many trees of beautiful fall-colored leaves as well as an old-looking aqueduct as well, which makes for fun pictures. I love how there are also some places and ledges to sit and relax while viewing the maple trees. There are many temples, gates, and gardens that you can pay admission for, but even just the central area is enough to get your fair share of fantastic fall colors. Nanzen-ji is also very close to Eikan-do, and one can take Philosopher's Path to Ginkakuji quite easily too

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