We all love those top attractions in Kyoto, but some visitors are surprised to learn that Kyoto is, in fact, a city, and a fairly busy one at that! When the crowds have gotten frenetic – or even when they have yet to – make some time for a quick trip to neighboring Shiga Prefecture’s Ishiyama-dera (Ishiyama Temple). The mere 26 minute travel time from Kyoto Station belies just how different a vibe can be had.
It’s about more than just the buildings
The incredibly lush grounds meander up a hillside and are dotted with prayer halls and pagodas. With flora so pervasive and ridge-lines creating partially occluded views, you’re going to spend a bit of time exploring to find everything worth seeing. Over the millennium since the temple was established a fair bit has changed, but this does not detract from how the grounds resonate with a palpable sense of the past sharing so much with the present.
The 600 JPY (5 USD) admission fee gives you access to all the gardens and trails, some of which lead to spots where beautiful views from above can be afforded. Admission into the main prayer hall costs a bit more, but you could probably give it a miss if you’ve been to or are planning to be enter similar halls in Kyoto.
Find those gods in the details
Pictured above is a “shimenawa,” which you can find adorning trees on religious grounds across the country. They are there to ward off evil spirits, and loathe is the person told to cut down a tree that has one, as legend has it that bad luck will come calling. The ropey ornamentals pair very nicely with mossy tree trunks.
National treasures before your very eyes and under your very feet
Pictured above is Daikokuten Hall, one of many structures designated by the government as national treasures. Better than just looking at it is going in it. Make sure you have those shoes off when you step inside this regal beauty where time stands still, or rather, time seems unimportant. Look around and consider just how much of the Japanese interpretation of Buddhism is shared with other countries where you may have seen it manifested.
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The eaves are alive
Rooflines are always great at Japanese temples, and Ishiyama is no exception. The clay tiles are considered distinctively Japanese now, but in fact are said to be grounded in Korean technology of the day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these tiles also serve as protectors against evil spirits. Most often there are (usually circular) patterns facing down towards the bystander, but in this case we get a wickedly special treat!
A great place to observe koi
In the soft hued green and gray tapestry of the literal temple grounds you may look down only to be found that you are being looked up to. The koi are plentiful, and – could it just be your mind playing tricks on you? – seem more comfortable with their lot and at peace with their existence. They still would love some food from you, though that is presumably not allowed to transpire.
Big nature, stately architecture, and joy
The first time you go to a temple compound like this, you may find yourself too focused on the big ticket attractions, namely the main prayer halls. Yes, the beauty of Ishiyama Temple can be found there, but it can be made even richer by appreciating the details that fringe, and the nature that encompasses it all. Each season brings something new to feast the senses on and in turn feed the mind, and all with a fraction of the people you would find at the top postcard sites in central Kyoto
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