Daikakuji Temple, Kyoto 大覚寺
Daikakuji Temple is on the western outskirts of Kyoto, located to the north of Arashiyama. Daikakuji was originally an Imperial villa or "Detached Palace" of the Emperor Saga (786-842 AD), later becoming a temple in the ninth century as the Emperor of that time wished to show his dedication to the Shingon sect of Buddhism and its founder Kukai (Kobo Daishi). The present buildings at Daikakuji Temple date from the 16th century onwards.
Daikakuji Temple is associated with a number of retired emperors in Japanese history, who continued to wield power from behind the scenes during the Muromachi Period. A peace conference to unite the Northern and Southern courts was held at Daikakuji in 1392. Daikakuji is also mentioned in Japan's oldest novel, the Tale of Genji.
The main building at Daikakuji is the Shinden, which was moved here from the Imperial Palace in the 16th century. In front of the Shinden is an imperial-style garden with an ancient orange tree and an equally venerable plum tree.
The Shoshinden hall is just to the left of, and back from, the Shinden, if you're standing in front of it, and houses several ink paintings from the Kano school of artists from the 15th to 18th centuries, mostly on its fusuma sliding doors, including a particularly well-known one of a hawk.
North of the lake that is beside the Shinden and its surrounding buildings is the vermilion pagoda known as the Shingyoden, which contains the Heart Sutra inscribed by the Emperor Saga on the suggestion of Kobo Daishi to ward of one of the many plagues that struck Kyoto during the Heian Period. The Shingyoden is open to the public only once every 60 years.
The Reihokan is Daikakuji's Treasure House, which is open to the public in spring and autumn.
The buildings at Daikakuji are connected by raised wooden walkways, which have so-called "nightingale floors" that make a squeaking sound when walked over, similar to those at the Ninomaru Palace in Nijo Castle.
The Osawa Lake or Osawa Pond (Osawa no ike) that takes up much of the grounds is modeled on a recreational Chinese lake and was once used for boating, moon viewing and fishing parties by the Emperor and his court nobles. A reproduction of a dragon-shaped royal boat can be seen here. The lake was later deepened from its original depth of 1m to 4m to act as a reservoir for the surrounding rice paddies.
The tranquil Osawa lake and the parkland adjoining it are perfect for a stroll or lazy picnic and the nearby farmland is dotted with ancient tumuli.
The temple and gardens of Daikakuji are also a popular cherry-blossom viewing spot in Kyoto in spring and for autumn leaves in the fall. Look out for the vermillion Shingyo pagoda near the lake.
Admission fees: Adults: 500 yen; Junior/senior students: 300 yen.
Daikakuji Access - how to get to Daikakuji Temple
From JR Saga-Arashiyama station a 15-minute walk. From the Arashiyama Station on the Keifuku Line, allow 20 minutes. From Hankyu Arashiyama Station, it takes around 30 minutes.
The #28 bus from Kyoto Station will take 45 minutes depending on traffic. Kyoto bus #71 also runs to Kyoto Station while #61 connects with Keihan Sanjo Station on the eastern side of Kyoto.
4 Saga Osawa-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto 616-8411
Tel: 075 871 0071
To the north of Daikakuji is Jikishian Temple, is known for its association with women disappointed in love.
It is possible to go by bicycle from Arashiyama to Daikakuji.