Kyoto Moss

Kyoto Guide: Moss コケ

Moss is held in high esteem in Kyoto and Japanese gardening. Part of that is practical - Japan's humid, hot summers and heavy rains are ideal for many species of moss - and part is esthetic.

The green undulating effect of moss serves as a perfect backdrop for other elements in a Kyoto garden.

The best-known example is the easy to remember Moss Garden (in Japanese koke-dera, and pictured below right), or more formally Saihoji. Koke-dera is a World Heritage site but only one of many temples and shrines that make good use of moss in their gardens. Tenryuji, Tofukuji (below left), Katsura Rikyu, and many others also have gardens with a carpet of lovely moss.

Moss in Kyoto, however, is apparently under siege.

Because of global warming, the moss is beginning to dry out. In spite of hosting Cop 3, which produced the Kyoto Protocol, the city is in danger according to some of losing its moss.

At Tenryuji Temple, in Arashiyama, more than 100 species grow. The moss is set against white sand, and looks like water flowing past the nearby rocks.

Saihoji Temple, Kokedera, Kyoto.
Is Kyoto's moss drying up due to global warming? This moss covered garden is at Saihoji Temple, aka Kokedera, in western Kyoto.
Tofukuji Moss, Kyoto
Tofukuji Moss, Kyoto
Saihoji Moss, Kyoto
Saihoji Moss, Kyoto

High temperatures, pollution, and fewer and fewer days of the city's famed drizzling rain, however, are taking their toll.

In a survey of thirteen temples famed for their moss, nine reported a deterioration in the quality and amount of moss. Some of the priests and landscape gardeners fear for the future of the moss.

The head priest of Tenryuji was quoted as saying: Moss is the essence of the Japanese garden. It produces an appearance of such mellowness. For moss to survive, it needs soft rain, morning dew and sun. But the weather these days is like that of a subtropical region.

Saihoji, which is also suffering from climate change, boasts more than 120 species of the plant.

Moss canmoreover be used in bonsai and is commonly used in small, home gardens in Kyoto.

Kokedera, the moss temple, Kyoto.
Moss at Kokedera in western Kyoto
Kokedera, the moss temple, Kyoto.
Moss at Kokedera in western Kyoto

Saihoji Temple

56 Kamigaya-cho, Matsuo, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto.
Tel: 075 391 3631

Admission

Entrance is by appointment only. You must apply by return postcard. The fee is 3,000 yen, which is the highest in Kyoto. Prior to entering, you will be asked to take part in two hours of zazen or the chanting of sutras. If you would like us to take care of the application process see here.

Saihoji Access

From Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma subway line to Shijo Station. At that point change to bus: #29. Ride to the Kokedera-michi stop.

For a full listing of Kyoto Museums & Art Galleries click here

Kokedera, the moss temple, Kyoto.
A carpet of moss at Kokedera (Saihoji Temple) in western Kyoto

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