The original temple complex contained seven buildings, but fires throughout the centuries destroyed much of the original architecture. Today three outstanding buildings remain: the Dharma Hall, the principal building; a tea house; and the Imperial Messenger Gate. The gate dates back to the 12th or 13th centuries; marks from stray arrows during battles can still be seen today. Kennin-ji boasts a tranquil Zen garden. Numerous tours stop here, particularly those focusing on religion, architecture, and garden design.
Things to know before you go
- Remember to dress modestly and remove your shoes before entering temple halls.
- Discounted admission is available for students.
- Wheelchair users will find some difficulty accessing the temple, with uneven paths and small steps to navigate.
How to get there
The temple is located on Hanamikoji Street in the tourist-friendly “Geisha District” of Gion, just around the corner from Marauyama Park. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Gion Shijo Station on Kyoto's Keihan line and from Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line.
When to get there
Like many temples in Kyoto, Kennin-ji's hours vary between seasons. The temple is typically open during the day, with slightly longer hours in March through October. The temple is closed from December 28-31. Go first thing in the morning to avoid crowds and note that admission ends half an hour before closing.
The Kyoto Gozan
The Five Mountains of Kyoto is a system inspired by South China's erstwhile "five mountain system" in which five state-sponsored Zen temples were created to help the government influence temples. In Japan, this system was used to promote Zen practices and gain political control. Kennin-ji was one such temple, along with Tenryu-ji, Shokoku-ji, Tofuku-ji, and Manju-ji, all of which stand to this day.
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