Koke-dera Temple, the Moss Temple, is most famous for its magnificent moss covered gardens. It is officially named Saiho-ji. There is an upper hillside stone garden overlooking a lower garden. The lower garden surrounds a large central pond built to represent the Chinese character “kokoro”, meaning heart. The lower garden is covered with over 120 species of moss, which cover it in varying shades of lush green. It is a beautiful site that is designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty in Japan.
Legend says that the property was originally the villa of a prince that was turned into a temple by a monk named Gyoki in the early 8th century. Centuries later, it was restored and turned into a Zen temple with artistic stone gardens created by the monk and master gardener, Muso Kokushi, in 1339.
The original gardens were not covered in moss. They were stone and white sand gardens. After the temple was flooded twice in the Edo Period, the moss began to grow. Over the years, it has covered the lower garden and transformed it from a stark stone garden to a magical forest of green moss.
Best Times to Visit
The moss garden at Koke-dera Temple is especially lush in the early summer rainy season. Another favorite time for visitors is during the autumn leaves when the contrast of brightly colored leaves against the green carpet of moss is especially beautiful.
There are several buildings on the site. All are reconstructions of the original buildings that were destroyed in the Onin War in the 15th century, or modern buildings built in the 20th century. There are three tea houses, two of which were built in the 1920s, a main hall, a temple hall, and a three story pagoda that was built in 1978.
ADVANCED RESERVATIONS REQUIRED
Unlike the 16 other UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites in Kyoto, Koke-dera Temple requires advance reservations and has a relatively high entrance fee. The temple limits the number of visitors to the gardens to protect the delicate moss. Visitors must plan ahead and make reservations one week or more in advance. The entrance fee is 3,000 yen.
Once allowed to enter the temple grounds, visitors must perform two Buddhist rituals to help the monks continue the performance of these rituals. First, visitors chant with the monks, then they spend an hour copying Buddhist scriptures. When finished, they may spend 90 minutes in the gardens. The rituals add a sense of history and tradition to the experience of spending time in this ancient Zen Buddhist temple garden.
Getting to Koke-dera Temple
From Kyoto Station (30 minutes by train then a 20 minute walk)
Karasuma Subway Line to Shijo Station, then
Hankyu Kyoto Line to Katsura Station, then
Hankyu Arashiyama Line to Matsuo Station
Walk 20 minutes
Kyoto Bus #73 to Koke-dera (via Arashiyama) (1 hour)
Walk 5 minutes
(Note: Not covered by Kyoto City Bus One-Day Pass)
By advance reservation only
Reservations requests must be received at least seven days in advance.
(Allow more time, if possible, to assure your desired date.)
Reservations must be made by mail and include a stamped, self-addressed, return postcard.
(In Japan, purchase an “ofuku hagaki” at the Japan Post Office. Outside Japan, purchase an International Reply Coupon at the Post Office in your country.
No reservations may not be made over the phone or Internet.
Include in your request:
Number of people
Name and address of group representative
Requested visit date
Note: Reservations cannot be made by telephone
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