Ohara Guide

Ohara 大原

Ohara is picturesque village located in the north east of Kyoto known for a cluster of Tendai-sect temples famous for their amazing autumn colors and connections with Buddhist chanting and music.

Ohara is a 40 minute journey by Kyoto bus from Demachiyanagi Station at the end of the Keihan Line or can be reached in about an hour by the same bus from Kyoto Station.

Quiet, peaceful and largely off the main Kyoto tourist circuit, Ohara has its own micro-climate, meaning it is cooler in summer and colder in winter than downtown central Kyoto.

Sanzen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
Sanzen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto
Sanzen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
Sanzen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto

Sanzen-in 三千院

Sanzen-in Temple is a Tendai sect temple established by the founder of Tendai Buddhism, Saicho aka (Dengyo Daishi 762-822), in the late 8th century.

Saicho was also the founder of Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei also fairly close to Ohara in the north eastern part of Kyoto.

Sanzen-in Temple is one of five Monzeki Temples in Kyoto where members of the Imperial family traditionally served as head priests (abbots). The other Monzeki temples in Kyoto are: Bishamondo, Manshuin, Myohoin, and Shoren-in.

Sanzen-in dates from around 784 or later but the temple was rebuilt in 860 by the priest Joun on the orders of Emperor Seiwa.

An image of Yakushi-Nyorai, the Buddha of Healing, possibly carved by Saicho, was installed in the temple and members of the imperial line began to serve as abbot with the second son of the Emperor Horikawa from the 12th century onwards.

Hosen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
Hosen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto

Hosen-in 宝泉院

Hosen-in Temple is one of the so-called "Bloody Temples of Kyoto," with part of its ceiling made up of blood-stained wooden floorboards taken from Fushimi Castle after its last defenders, loyal to warlord Ieyasu Tokugawa, committed ritual suicide when the castle was stormed in 1600.

Hosen-in was founded at around the same time as Shorin-in Temple in the early 11th century to serve as accommodation for the monks at the larger temple. Shorin-in was founded by the monk Jakugen in 1013, a follower of the Tendai monk Ennin (794-864), posthumously known as Jikaku Daishi.

It was Ennin who introduced Buddhist hymns and chanting known as shomyo to Japan, following his visit to China from 838-847. On his return, Ennin became the third abbot of Enryakuji Temple on nearby Mt. Hiei.

With the establishment of Shorin-in, Hosen-in, Jikko-in and later Raigo-in, Ohara became the center of shomyo in Japan and the abbots of these temples have dedicated themselves to its study and development.

Visitors to the temple can enjoy the view of the exquisite garden with a bowl of matcha green tea from a large hall with tatami rooms.

Shorin-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
Shorin-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto
Shorin-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
Shorin-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto

Shorin-in Temple 勝林院

Shorin-in was founded by the monk Jakugen in 1013, a follower of the Tendai monk Ennin (794-864), posthumously known as Jikaku Daishi.

It was Ennin who introduced Buddhist hymns and chanting known as shomyo to Japan, following his visit to China from 838-847. On his return, Ennin became the third abbot of Enryakuji Temple on nearby Mt. Hiei.

With the establishment of Shorin-in, Hosen-in, Jikko-in and later Raigo-in, Ohara became the center of shomyo in Japan and the abbots of these temples have dedicated themselves to its study and development.

Shorin-in was supposedly the venue for a meeting between the Tendai priest Kenshin and Honen, the founder of the Jodo-shu (Pure Land) school, when the great men discussed the intent of prayer.

Jikko-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
Paintings by the Kano School on the lintels of Jikko-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto

Jikko-in Temple 実光院

The Kyakuden (Guest Hall) of Jikko-in Temple was reconstructed in 1921 and contains Edo Period paintings by the Kano School of artists hanging in the hall's lintel known as ranma. The tatami room and tokonoma have a collection of various ancient musical instruments including bells used at the temple for study of Buddhist chants.

The Keishin-en Garden dates from the late Edo Period and is a viewing garden with koi carp-filled pond and fountain (chisen). The garden can be admired from within the hall or slippers are provided to step outside.

The pond is in the shape of the Chinese character for heart (kokoro; 心) and is fed from the Ritsu River. The rocks near the waterfall are meant to represent the sacred mountain of Horai in China. The pine tree on the artificial hill (tsukiyama) is emblematic of a crane, while the island in the pond represents a tortoise. Both animals symbolize longevity and happiness in Japan.

The stroll garden below the temple is a later addition and includes a gourd-shaped pond, rocks gathered from the surrounding countryside and a tea house. There are also stone lanterns, moss, small stone pagodas and the borrowed scenery (shakkei) of Mount Konpira and Mount Koshio to admire.

Raigo-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
Raigo-in Temple in Ohara, Kyoto, is associated with the priest Ryonin

Raigo-in Temple 来迎院

Raigo-in was founded by the priest Ennin in the 850's and like nearby Hosen-in and Shorin-in, Raigo-in is associated with the study and practice of shomyo, Buddhist chanting first brought to Japan from India via China by Ennin.

Later, Raigo-in became associated with Ryonin (1072-1132), the founder of Yuzu Nembutsu, a branch of Japanese Buddhism in the Kamakura Period, that is considered the forerunner of Pure Land or Amida Buddhism. Yuzu Nembutsu stressed that chanting the name of Buddha not only benefited the chanter but all mankind.

Jorenge-in Temple in Ohara, Kyoto.
Jorenge-in Temple in Ohara, Kyoto

Jorenge-in Temple 浄蓮華院

Jorenge-in Temple, another Tendai-sect temple, is a sub-temple of Sanzen-in and also a shukubo, that is a temple that offers accommodation. There are three rooms with tatami-flooring and futon beds.

Jakko-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
Jakko-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto

Jakko-in Temple 寂光院

Legend has it that Jakko-in dates from the 7th century and the Nara Period and was built by Prince Shotoku Taishi to mourn his father. Jakko-in has been a nunnery since 1186 and is associated with the classic feud between the rival Taira (Heike) and Minamoto (Genji) clans. At the decisive sea battle of Dannoura near present-day Shimonoseki, the Taira were defeated and the Empress Kenreimon jumped into the water following her mother, who was holding her infant son, the Emperor Antoku. Kenreimon, however, was pulled from the waters by the Minamoto and retired to Kyoto where she shaved her head and became a nun, dedicating her life to prayer, until she died in 1213.

Amidaji Temple 阿弥陀寺

Amidaji Temple is a small Jodo-sect temple north of the main cluster of Tendai temples in Ohara. To get to the temple involves a 40-minute walk north west of the Ohara bus station or take a bus from there part of the way to the Kochitani bus stop (the third one). From the bus stop, you will soon reach a white Chinese-style gate. It is a further 20 minute walk uphill, through a forest, until you arrive at the temple. (Kochidani) Amidaji was founded in 1609 during the Edo Period. Its Main Hall contains an image of Amida Nyorai and next to it an image of the founder, Tanzei, with some of his actual hair attached. Tanzei, a monk from Owari (present-day Aichi Prefecture) fasted until death and his mummified corpse is shut off in a cave within the temple grounds. Due to its remote location, Amidaji is less-visited than the other temples in Ohara and is particularly lovely during the fall maple season. Indeed one maple tree in the grounds is believed to be 800 years old.

Ohara Access

By bus to Ohara take a Kyoto bus #17 (white color) from Kyoto Station to the Ohara bus stop and then walk about 10 minutes. You can also pick up the #17 bus at Demachiyanagi Station. The journey from Kyoto Station takes an hour and a bit in total. Alternatively, take an Eiden Line train from Demachiyanagi Station to Yase-Hieizanguchi Station and then change to bus #19. You can also get on bus #19 at Kokusaikaikan Station on the Kurasama Line of the Kyoto subway.

Ohara is outside the area covered by the 1-day Kyoto bus pass.

Sanzen-in Temple, Ohara, Kyoto.
The approach to Sanzen-in Temple in winter, Kyoto, Japan

Ohara Attractions

Also in Ohara are the tombs of two emperors: Go Toba (died 1239) and Juntoku (died 1242) and the so-called Soundless Waterfall or Otonashi-no-taki near Raigo-in.

The road up to Sanzen-in from the bus stop is lined with souvenir shops selling local produce, restaurants and there are a number of traditional Japanese inns or ryokan to stay in Ohara. Recommended ryokan in Ohara include Gyozanen Onsen Ryokan, Ohara no Sato and Ohara Sanso.

Ohara Map


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