Among Nishikyo’s attractions is the Katsura Imperial Villa which was built as a retreat for nobles to go moon viewing. The villa is also an opportunity to witness some purely Japanese architecture and landscape design as the gardens of the villa are priceless in their own right. Another of Nishikyo’s temples continues the garden tour; the Saiho-ji temple is known as the Moss Temple for its 120 varieties of lush green carpet-like moss. Arguably Kyoto’s oldest shrine the Shoji-ji is more famous for its cherry blossoms than its Heian era origins.
Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa
One of Japan’s most significant large-scale treasures, and a truly distinguished example of pure Japanese architecture and gardens, the Katsura Imperial Villa was built primarily for moon viewing and features a spacious platform extending from a veranda to do so. The strolling gardens at the villa have been called a work of art, incorporating water from the Katsura River for a central pond around which sit quaint tea houses and a Buddhist hall. The Imperial Household Agency administers the Imperial Villa and accepts visitors by appointment only. There are several free tours daily, but tours aren’t held on Sundays or public holidays. Tours must be booked in advance with your passport at the Imperial Household Agency’s office. To reach the villa, take the Hankyu line to Katsura station.
- Opening Hours: Imperial Household Agency office open Monday–Friday, 8.45am to midday, 1pm to 5pm
- Location: Katsuramisono, Nishikyo, Kyoto 615-8014, Japan
- Tel: +81 (0)75 211 1215
Saihoji (The Moss Temple)
Thought to be one of the oldest gardens associated with Zen philosophy, Saihoji Temple was established during the Nara Period by a monk named Gyoki. The temple was converted to Zen in 1339 and it wasn’t until it fell into disrepair in the Meiji Period that its famous moss started to grow. Now said to contain over 120 types of moss, the temple is called Kokedera, literally The Moss Temple. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994, the gardens have been designated a special place of scenic beauty especially the area around the pond which is shaped like the Chinese character for ‘heart’. The garden has influenced designers throughout its history. To view the temple and its amazing moss garden you must apply in writing with your name, number of people, preferred date and mailing address to the address below. It costs ¥3,000 to enter Saihoji Temple, payable on the day.
- Location: 56 Jingatani-cho, Matsuo, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto, 615-8286, Japan
- Tel: +81 (0)75 391 3631
Matsuo-taisha is one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Kyoto, dating back to around 701, and is home to a natural spring that is believed to have blessed water. This water sees local sake makers and miso producers visiting the shrine to pray that their products are blessed and thus successful. The shrine serves kinpaku miki – a special blessed sake filled with gold leaf – during the New Year festival. The temple is walking distance from Matsuo station on the Hankyu Arashiyama line.
- Location: 3 Arashiyama-miyamachi, Nishikyo, Kyoto, 616-0024, Japan
- Tel: +81 (0)75 871 5016
Shojiji Temple (The Cherry Blossom Temple)
Shojiji Temple is a very old Heian-period landmark that's believed to date back to 680. As with many of Kyoto’s religious sites, it's famous for its cherry blossom trees and indeed the masses of pink flowers cascade in splendor every April. On the temple verandah sits a carving of Binzuru, a Buddhist devotee who is said to have had healing powers. Japanese patrons pray to the carving to ensure good health.
- Opening Hours: Daily from 9am to 4.30pm
- Location: 1194 Minamikasuga-cho, Oharano, Nishikyo, Kyoto, 610-1153, Japan
- Tel: +81 (0)75 331 0664