修学院 Temple Cluedo

My journey on Saturday was admittedly originally about quantity rather than quality; I wanted to see how many temples I could do in a day. We visited two large and interesting temples alongside several smaller temples, making a total of 6. The small shrines and temples are always a pleasure to visit despite being fairly similar. It feels a bit like entering a puzzle game or mystery novel as there is usually no information as to who built it, when it was built or even what god it’s trying to venerate.

While the tiger temple (see here) was pretty obvious in its intended purpose, the three smallest shrines and temples we visited were pretty sparse on the information front. My very useful book (Exploring Kyoto: On Foot in the Ancient Capital – Judith Clancy) did give a little information but it was mostly interested in the large temples (probably because she couldn’t find much on the small temples either). Regardless, the smaller shrines and the journey along the way were interesting and at least visually stimulating even if there was no historical backdrop to fit them into.

Please refer to my handy map for where we went. You will see that these temples fit very nicely into a route between the main temples of Sekizan Zenin (temple 2) and Manshu-in (temple 4).


The first small temple we visited we nearly missed. I had forgotten all about it despite it being in my walk book, and its discovery was thanks to its best feature – this temple’s gate is also a bell-tower. We stopped to look at it before realising that it was a temple. A pleasant surprise.


This temple was Zenkain 禅華院 (3 on the map), an Edo period temple with some wonderful architecture. The bell tower led into a small garden surrounded by walls and a small open shrine area opposite the gate. Usually there is a figure or important looking ceremonial object in the area for prayer but this temple had a simple screen and flower arrangement which was refreshing. We also discovered a tiny door in one of the walls next to a gate. Perhaps it’s an Edo-period cat flap.

P1040426 P1040423

The garden may have been designed by Kobori Enshu, according to our friend Judith Clancy, but it is pretty vague as to whether he actually did. It could be yet another temple creation myth. Kobori Enshu was a famous garden designer and tea ceremony master of the Edo period who designed many gardens of castles including Kyoto’s Nijo castle. Perhaps he also happened to design the garden of a tiny temple on the outskirts of Kyoto, a smaller garden must be a nice change from grand castles and bossy Daimyo (lords).

P1040436 P1040429 P1040421

Zenkain also has several statues that date back to the Kamakura period to the right of the gate as you enter. These are statues of Amida Nyorai, Kannon and Jizo. They appear to have been left to the elements but they’ve been around since the 12th Century so they’re probably fine with a little rain.

P1040434 P1040432

Our next temple was Manshu-in’s Shinto cousin, Manshu-in Tenmangu 曼殊院天満具 (5 on the map), a small shrine opposite the much larger Manshu-in (see post here). This was certainly a mystery shrine – we had no information from the book (not on the walk despite being next to Manshu-in) and there were no signs or people to glean information from. There was a noodle shop but they probably wouldn’t welcome enquiries about the shrine.

P1040491 P1040486

I did a little research and learned that the two shrine buildings are dedicated to different gods. The first pictured is dedicated to Benzaiten, the only female member of Japan’s seven lucky gods (who we have seen quite a bit recently). She is the goddess of knowledge, art and beauty.


Next to the goddess of knowledge sits a structure dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar of Heian period Japan who was so learned that he is now revered as the god of learning by the name of Tenman-tenjin, hence the temple’s name ‘Tenmangu’. This combination creates a shrine fit for a student – pray here and perhaps all your exam worries will melt away. We were visiting just over a week before finals for this term so hopefully the luck will rub off!

P1040481 P1040484

There was also a pond with lots of very beautiful koi, so I assume someone comes to feed them and it’s not always completely deserted.

Our final stop on our temple extravaganza was Saginomori Shrine 鷺ノ森神社 (6 on the map), a Shinto shrine with an actual person which meant we could get our books stamped. Sadly when they stamped my book the red stamp didn’t take ink properly so it’s a bit faded, I don’t really mind though. The man apologised and looked guilty so I can’t really be annoyed.

P1040497P1040528P1040503 P1040517P1040506P1040507P1040508P1040498

This shrine was established in the 9th Century but was moved to its present location in the 17th Century. It is fairly generic as Shinto shrines go and doesn’t seem to have as much history as many. However, it is located in a forest and has a great sacred tree and guides all say that it’s a great place to visit for plum blossoms, so maybe I will return when they are in bloom.

P1040516 P1040518P1040515 P1040514P1040510P1040522

As well as these temples I really enjoyed the walk; we were close to the mountains and they still have snow from the big fall at the start of January, making them look like they are covered in icing sugar. We also spotted some slightly creepy scarecrows, some small Jizo statues dedicated to travellers and a speaker that had been inexplicably thrown in the river and was amazingly still intact. Perhaps to others that would be unremarkable but in Japan there is barely any litter so to think someone violated the proper procedure of getting rid of speakers (on which there are several leaflets, I am sure) is amazing. I mean, a little rubbish may be excused as an accident, but someone hurling speakers into a river in Japan?! Unheard of.

P1040445P1040316 P1040337 P1040415 P1040441 P1040443P1040523P1040495P1040496P1040494

I have also finished one whole side of my stamp book (it folds out like a screen) and I will be sure to post a full picture of that side soon!

Also please check out my resources and learning Japanese pages in the menu bar. I have compiled a list of the resources I use to write my blog on the ‘resources‘ page and a list of the tools I use to learn Japanese in the ‘learning Japanese?‘ page. I hope you will find these interesting/ useful. 

曼殊院 White Stone Rivers

When you live in Kyoto temples have a tendency to blur into one-another. It’s easy to get into the mindset that once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. Hopefully through my blog you’ve learned that actually almost all the temples in Kyoto have an interesting history or quirk that makes them special. They also have their unique stamp of course. That being said, the act of visiting a temple is often the same; have a wander around, get a stamp done, take pictures of things that look interesting and then on to the next one, so it’s always pleasant when you find something truly different, or just something you haven’t done before. On Saturday I found one of those temples.


Manshu-in 曼殊院 is a temple near Shugakuin and was number 4 on our ‘temple trail’. It was the only temple that we paid an entrance fee for and it will certainly stick in my memory. The reason being that this is one of those wonderful sprawling temples with passageways and rooms and a zen garden; you pay your money and then you go into the temple itself in your socks to explore.

In Japanese houses and temples you certainly don’t wear shoes, ever, but the temple floors were very cold! They had a basket of very warm looking knitted socks at the entrance but I didn’t realise that they would be necessary until my feet were already turning to ice. Despite my feet complaining at the unforgiving freezing wooden floor, I really enjoyed looking around and seeing all the artwork, artifacts and architecture the temple had to offer.

P1040493 P1040462 P1040455

This temple allows you to take photos of the garden but does not allow photos of the inside or artwork. I only realised this after I’d taken some pictures and I’m sure they won’t mind too much if I share them with you – after all you may choose to visit after seeing them! Manshu-in has screen paintings done by several very famous Edo period artists, such as Kano Tanyu, Kano Eitoku and Kanyu, each with their own distinct style. The screens were beautiful and definitely worth going to see. There were also several Buddhist artefacts as well as a collection of old cooking equipment. There were a few signs in Japanese explaining the exhibition but not very much and nothing in English. Bear in mind that there were far more screens and objects than those pictured here as due to aforementioned photo-ban I didn’t take pictures of most of them.  In fact the writing in photo number two to the right of the screen reads ‘photography prohibited’ in Japanese… whoops!

P1040459 P1040453 P1040449 P1040452

All around Manshu-in is a beautiful Zen garden, complete with raked gravel, rocks and trees. In fact, it has an ancient spreading white pine tree that is 400 years old! It’s being propped up but seems to still be going strong. The gravel parted the islands of greenery like a river and the red matting on the temple decking made me feel like I was on the set of a Japanese historical drama. Unsurprisingly this garden has been designated a national place of scenic beauty. Unlike a lot of Zen temples you are not allowed to sit on the outer decking to contemplate the gravel, but to be honest in the winter you wouldn’t want to expose your backside to the cold that your feet are already going through. These photos are guilt-free as you are allowed to take pictures of the outside.

P1040477 P1040475 P1040470 P1040468

Manshu-in was founded in the 8th century but it was moved to its present location in 1656. It is often called Manshu-in Monzeki 饅衆院門跡; Monzeki is a honourific granted to a temple if it traditionally has a member of the royal family as a high priest and Manshu-in’s first head priest was the Emperor’s nephew.

It is also linked to Buddhist royalty as it was founded by Saicho, the founder of the Tendai school, a great figure in Japanese Buddhism. I even had to write an essay on him in my first year of university. He travelled to China (like a lot of monks did, remind you of my previous post?) to bring back Buddhist texts. Two of the ships sent to China sank but Saicho’s made it, sealing the future of Japanese Buddhism.

P1040461 P1040458

Tendai is still one of the main schools of Japanese Buddhism and (without going into specifics because I really don’t understand all the varying Buddhist strands) they believe in a comprehensive approach to Buddhism, supporting all ways to reach enlightenment while also reconciling Shinto beliefs with Buddhsim by declaring that Shinto gods are simply a representation of universal Buddhahood and therefore acceptable to worship. Apparently Saicho was also the first to bring tea to Japan, which if it’s true was pretty monumental and probably as important as bringing Buddhist teachings (depending on who you ask).

P1040472 P1040465P1040527

We also met a very nice cat outside Manshu-in which would not stop meowing. Very pretty cat. I think cats like temples because I see them around temples a lot. Or maybe it’s because I live in Kyoto and temples are everywhere.


Definitely a fun temple to wander round at your leisure, looking down passageways and coming across tiny courtyards with gardens in the middle as well as the garden round the outside. The temple entrance fee was 500円 (£2.80) and worth it in my opinion – being allowed to walk around the inside of a temple is fairly rare and were the artwork in a museum you’d probably pay the same just to see the paintings without the garden or the temple.