Stories for  Nanzenji Temple Kyoto trip

Do you know that there is a special type of scenery that can't be seen anywhere in the world except for at Nanzenji Temple?
It is a place where ZEN and ROMAN style coexist and produce an unique atmosphere.

Want to know how it happened? Please read the article to know that!hehe

You can have a wonderful relaxing time on the balcony floor of the San-mon gate. During your visit, don't forget to try the "Yudofu"(Tofu simmered in stock) which is the specialty food of this temple.

Just knowing a few stories about Nanzenji temple will make your experience completely different! Please check the articles!

Read in Japanese



なんでそうなったって? それは記事を読んでください!




【Photo】 Commemorative photo with the Sanmon Gate (三門の前で記念撮影)
Nanzenji commemorative

Story of foundation & Nanzenin-Temple

◎ Nanzen-in used to be a haunted place??

☆Although it was supposed to be a peaceful villa....

Nanzen-in is a small temple with a lovely small garden where you can relax and enjoy tranquility. You can take a stroll around a pond, and a carpet of moss under the trees is a lovely sight.

You may get surprised to know this small place is the birthplace of that huge Nanzenji-temple.

A retirement villa was originally built here for Emperor Kameyama(1249-1305) in 1264 because he loved natural beauty. Unfortunately not only natural beauty but also a Japanese ghost welcomed him.

Oh dear! A ghost!?

It is said that he and his attendants suffered from sleep paralysis and poltergeist. Doors opened when nobody was around...and things disappeared frequently...

【Photo】 Nanzenin-Temple (南禅院)
Nanzen-in temple

Read more about Story of foundation

☆What defeated the ghost?

Then Emperor Kameyama asked some famous monks for help. They really struggled, casting a spell, using a talisman and so on. They tried every possible method but nobody could solve the problem.

Eventually, Emperor Kameyama found a monk who can drive away the ghosts. “Mukanfumon(1212-1292)” was the man, who was already 80 years old but a specialist of Zen meditation.

What do you think he did? Did he cast a spell or use a talisman like other monks did?

No!!  He just followed Zen practice including Zen meditation as usual. Mukanfumon’s way of thinking to solve every problem was not doing something special but just to keep the commandments of Zen(※below are a few examples) and live properly.

※Here are just a few examples of the commandments of Zen

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  • Keep serenity under any circumstances, not only in a quiet place.

  • Wipe away the dust on your mind every single day. That continuous act forms your life.

  • Don't want too much, so you can feel comfortable in your life.(Enough is as good as a feast.)

  • What makes your mind dim is just a delusion on your mind.


Wow, what a profound thought...

Since the ghost disappeared after Mukanfumon started to live there, Emperor Kameyama came to admire Zen Buddhism all the more. Furthermore he became a Buddhist monk himself and turned the villa into a Zen Buddhist temple.

Nanzenji grew steadily after that, and became one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan.

【Photo】 Hojo of Nanzenin-Temple (南禅院の方丈)
Hojo of Nanzenin temple

☆The best place for meditation!

Considering feng shui, Nanzenji-temple seems to be a great spot for meditation.

It may be a part of the reason why Zen practice including meditation defeated the ghost. You might as well experience Zen meditation when you visit Nanzenji-temple.

Read in Japanese










呪文を唱えたりお札をかざしたり?? 違います。


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  • どんな状況下でも心の静けさを保ちましょう。

  • 心に積もったホコリは毎日取り除くその積み重ねが人生。

  • 満足することを知っている者は、心豊かに生きることができる。

  • 心を曇らせているのは自分の妄想。もともと何もないのだと知ること。








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"Tips" to enjoy the Highlights

1. Sanmon Gate / Welcome to the relaxing gate!

The big gate at the entrance of a temple is called “Sanmon”.

The Sanmon gate of Nanzenji was built in 1628, and is a huge one with 22 meters (72ft) in height. You can go upstairs for 500yen. 
Although you may think it’s expensive, it’s worth going, I think. 
Let’s go!

Just after the entrance you will see steep stairs that are almost like a ladder. 
Climb it up carefully, carefully…

【Photo】 Sanmon gate (三門)
Sanmon Gate

Read more about Sanmon gate

☆The Widespread view!


Widespread town view of Kyoto is there! 
I wonder how it was like 500 years ago.

【Photo】 West view (西側の風景)
East side view

Then go around to the opposite side to see the east view. 
You can overlook the Nanzenji precincts that is full of nature with Higashiyama mountains behind.

How about sitting on the balcony floor of this side? 
You feel the time flow slowly and gently. 
It makes you feel relaxed.

I am sure this relaxing time will be a lovely memory of your journey to Kyoto.

【Photo】 East view (東側の風景)
East View of Sanmon

☆The famous line of Kabuki play

In a kabuki play, famous lines by Goemon, a master thief, are in reference to this sanmon gate of Nanzenji.

He exclaimed at the balcony “What an amazing view! What a marvelous view!” 
Many Japanese people would feel like pretending this in kabuki way!

Oh, please don't miss the altar room there. 
It’s dark inside.

At a closer look, you will find the walls decorated with richly colored paintings. 
And you will also find a Phoenix painted on the ceiling. 
It is said that it represents the Buddhists pure land.

After the lovely relaxing time…

You climbed up here, it means you have to go down the steep stairs.

It is really dangerous. 
Be aware of the steps and MIND YOUR HEAD!!!

【Photo】 The steps (階段)

Read in Japanese

1.山門 / ようこそ!リラックスゲートへ


南禅寺の三門は1628年に建てられました。 それは大きく、22m(72ft)あります。 500円で上の階に行くことができます。

高いと思うかもしれませんが、行く価値はある!と私は思います。 さっそく行ってみましょう!











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2. Aqueduct / ZEN + ROMAN STYLE the only scenery in the world!

When strolling through the Nanzenji temple area, you will find an exotic architecture. 
Doesn’t it look like an ancient Roman style architecture?

Yes, it is an AQUEDUCT built in 1890 with reference to Roman style aqueducts.

The aqueduct is the branch line of the Sosui canal which brings the water to Kyoto from Lake Biwa, the biggest lake in Japan.

【Photo】 Aqueduct (水路閣)

Read more about Aqueduct

☆The foundation of Sosui canal

Kyoto had been flourishing as the capital of Japan for about 1000 years. But it had declined after the emperor and capital function were moved to Tokyo.

Before that time, the construction of the Sosui Canal had been predicted that it would greatly contribute to Kyoto’s economy. It was because of various methods of utilizing water like irrigation,conveyance, hydroelectric generation and drinking water etc.

For that, the big project, the construction of the Sosui canal was decided at this timing to achieve the revival of Kyoto.

By the way, why is it running through a temple??

Firstly, the aqueduct was planned to pass through a mountain. Though an imperial mausoleum was found in the site for the construction. Eventually, the imperial family insisted to stop the plan.

As an alternative plan, building the waterway through Nanzenji temple area was suggested. 
Other than Nanzenji temple, there were many temples and shrines in this area so it was very difficult to find a place to construct a huge Aqueduct. 
It is said that the plan was adopted because it was decided as the best way for both preserving the scenery of the area and accomplishing the waterway.

☆The aqueduct is still fully used!

Pass through the brick arch, turn left and go uphill along the aqueduct to see the actual water running from Lake Biwa to Kyoto.

Surprisingly, the aqueduct has been playing its role for over 120 years since it was built. 
Nowadays, the role of the water is mostly as drinking water.

【Photo】 Water of the Aqueduct (水路閣を通る水)

☆Enjoy two contrasting atmospheres!

Do you think that the combination of “ZEN atmosphere” and “Roman atmosphere” would make a good scenery?

Before the Aqueduct was constructed, many people complained that the construction would destroy the beautiful zen atmosphere. But now, we never think this aqueduct is out of place with traditional Japanese wooden structures any more. It strangely matches with Nanzenji temple atmosphere.

ZEN+ROMAN STYLE! It should be the ONLY SCENERY in the world.

【Photo】 Zen+Roman style (禅とローマスタイルの融合)

Read in Japanese

2. 水路閣 / 禅と古代ローマの融合。世界でたったひとつの景色!













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3. Hojo and Gardens / The Emperor or the priest picked his nose!?

☆What is Hojo?

At Zen temples you find a building called “Hojo”. In most of the case you can go and see inside.

What was it for then? It used to be a living space for the head priest. But it was not just a private area, but also a public space where the head priest gave lectures to the trainee monks.

Nowadays priests don’t live there and the Hojo is open to tourists.

We don’t see any furniture. There is no sign of “ordinary living” of someone. It is just an old building with some rooms facing a garden. So most people have no idea what the building was for.

Why don’t you visit the Hojo and enjoy imagining the life of the head priest? He might have picked his nose watching the garden!

【Photo】 Hojo(方丈)

Read more about “Hojo & Gardens”

☆Hojos, National treasure

Nanzenji has two Hojos, “Oh-hojo (big one)” and “Ko-hojo (small one)”.

The building of the Oh-hojo was originally a part of the Imperial Palace, “Seiryo-den”, the living area of the emperor. It was granted to the temple. It was dismantled and reconstructed on the current site in 1611.

But another idea says it was the house for women in the Imperial Palace. In any case, isn’t it exciting to imagine that the emperor might have relaxed in the room, and picked his nose?! Ha-ha-ha!!

【Photo】 Oh-hojo & Rock Garden(大方丈と枯山水庭園)
Hojo Garden

Ko-hojo is located behind Oh-hojo. It is said that this part was from Fushimi-jo castle and reconstructed here in 1652, but it is not confirmed.

Oops!! Don’t miss the paintings on sliding doors inside the rooms ! They are the works by famous artists of Kanoh-ha-school (in Edo period), and are designated as Important Cultural Properties.

☆Dry landscape gardens

Oh-hojo is famous for its rock garden (made in 1644). They say the rock arrangement shows the leaping tiger story (*). But honestly speaking I don’t understand it.

Ko-hojo also has a nice small dry landscape garden (made in 1966, quite new).  It is said that the rocks arrangement represents a Kanji-character “心” (= heart). I wonder if you could find it.

Me? Did I? Hummm... no...

【Photo】 Kohojo Garden(小方丈の庭園)
Kohojo garden

At Zen temple, making the garden itself is an ascetic practice. For us it is not funny to try to think of the meaning. Just sit and relax there on the terrace to watch the quiet gardens. You will find the time going by slowly. Enjoy yourself !

☆Other gardens

Beside the Hojos, there are some other places to visit in Nanzenji. In sub-temples such as Nanzen-in, Tenju-an, Konchi-in, beautiful gardens are waiting for you. They feature a pond and lush gardens with a strolling path, which are quite different from the ones in the Hojo. I strongly recommend you to visit one of these sub-temples.

【Photo】 Tenju-an temple(天授庵)

【Photo】 Konchi-in temple(金地院)
Konchi-in temple

*【Leaping Tiger Garden (Crossing of Tiger Cubs Garden)】

According to an old Chinese story, when a tiger mom has 3 cubs one of them must be a leopard. It is very ferocious and would eat another cub, so that the mom cannot take her eyes off him. When crossing the river the mom carries her cubs in her mouth one by one. She never can leave the leopard cub with the other cubs on the riverbank.

Quiz time!! How would you do it ? Think for the tiger mom!

In the garden, the rocks arrangement is supposed to show the story. But how to link the story and the rocks is a kind of mystery. That may be Zen world….

You can see the “Leaping Tiger Garden” not only here in Nanzenji but also in Ryoanji.

Read in Japanese

3. 方丈と庭園 / 天皇もお坊さんも鼻をほじった!?


禅寺を訪れると「方丈」と呼ばれる建物に出会います。大抵の場合、拝観することができます。方丈って、何だったのでしょう? これは元々、住職の居室であったということです。しかし、ただの私的な空間という意味合いだけではなく、そこで修行僧達に講義をするということもあったそうな。








おっと、方丈のそれぞれの部屋の中の襖絵を見逃さないでくださいね!! 江戸時代、狩野派の有名な画家達が描いた作品で、重要文化財に指定されているのです。


大方丈に面する「方丈庭園(1644年作)」は「虎の子渡しの庭(*)」として知られています。石組みが「虎の子渡し」を表しているのだとか・・・・ 正直、私には理解できませんが・・・

小方丈にも、小ぶりの素敵な枯山水の庭(1966年作)があります。この庭は石が「心」の時に組まれている「如心庭」として知られていますが・・・ こちらも、いかがなものか・・・



南禅寺では、方丈の他にも拝観するに値する塔頭がいくつかあります。南禅院、天授庵、金地院などです。この塔頭の庭も素晴らしい! 池泉回遊式の庭で、方丈の庭とはまったく違うタイプ。是非とも、塔頭のどこか一つは訪問していただきたいと、心からおすすめしたいです!





この庭では、石組みがこのお話を表現しているといわれているのですが... どのように見ればそう見えるのか、石組みとこのお話がどう結びつくのか?というところが謎なんだそうです。


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Souvenirs & Specialty foods

1. Yudofu(Tofu simmered in stock) / Ridiculous? or worth paying?

☆What is Yudofu?

“Yudofu” literally means “Yu(湯)=Hot water” +”tofu(豆腐)=bean curd”. 
"Yutofu" is not easy to pronounce, so we call it "Yudofu", just like flapping "t" in English.

The most popular way of eating tofu is in miso soup. 
We also eat it just with soy sauce. 
And as the speacialty in Kyoto, we eat it as “Yudofu” simmering in stock.

【Photo】 Yudofu@Junsei(湯豆腐@順正)
Yudofu Junsei

Read more about “Yudofu(Tofu simmered in stock)”

☆Why is it popular in Kyoto especially around Nanzenji temple?

Yudofu was originally eaten by the zen temple priests as their source of protein. They were prohibited from eating meat. So the tradition of eating Yudofu started in Zen temples.

In the early years it was produced on the temple grounds, and later some people opened a tofu shop in front of the temple and started to sell it to the priests.

☆The 2 famous restaurants. Which would you go?

Around Nanzenji temple, there are 2 very famous Yudofu restaurants. “Okutan” and “Junsei”. 
In both restaurants you can eat Yudofu while looking at a beautiful Japanese garden.

The difference is… the texture of “Okutan’s” yudofu is creamier than “Junsei’s” one. Junsei’s one is a bit firmer.  For myself, I prefer the creamier one but it’s up to your preference.

Oh, be careful that “Okutan” is open only from 11:00 to 16:00.  “Junsei” is open till 21:30. Most people eat “Yudofu” as lunch. I recommend to visit the restaurant before 11:30AM unless you might have to wait for a long time.

【Photo】 Yudofu@Okutan(湯豆腐@奥丹)
Okutan Yudofu

☆Is it worth paying?

But there’s a worrisome problem! 
The price is a bit expensive! It is about ¥4000 per person for lunch.

If I may express my private opinion, I think it’s WORTH paying. But many Kyoto citizens say that it is soooo RIDICULOUS to pay that much for “tofu”.  “Why on earth do I have to pay so much for tofu. I can buy it for ¥100 in a supermarket!!”

Of course the price differs because of the different quality of the “tofu”, and the dishes which are served together with it are very very delicious.

I think this difference of opinion comes from different viewpoints. Whether looking at Kyoto from inside as a citizen or looking from outside as a traveler.

From the viewpoint of a traveler I’d say that eating “Yudofu” in Kyoto feels like eating sausages in Frankfurt, or fish and chips in London.

Furthermore, the situation makes us thrilled. The restaurants are just beside a super famous temple which represents Kyoto, and the beautiful atmosphere really makes us feel at ease.

It reminds us “Wow, we are in Kyoto, the place we have longed to visit!”.

Isn’t that worth paying a bit more money?

【Photo】 Inside Junsei(順正の店内)
Inside Junsei

Read in Japanese

1. 湯豆腐 / 払う価値がある?いや、バカげている!?


文字で表すと “Yu(湯)=Hot water” +”tofu(豆腐)=bearn curd”で、湯に入った豆腐という意味です。日本語で書くと当たり前ですが・・・










私の個人的な意見を言わせてもらえれば、「十分払う価値がある」と思います。でも、多くの京都に住んでいる人たちに聞くと、「豆腐にそんなに払うなんてバカげている!」と言われます。「豆腐なんて、スーパーで¥100で買えてしまうぞ! 」と。







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Open times(拝観時間)

12/1-2/28 : 8:40-16:30

3/1-11/30 : 8:40-17:00


▪︎Hojo & garden

Adults ¥500
High school students ¥400
Junior high & Elementary school students ¥300

▪︎Sanmon Gate

Adults ¥500
High school students ¥400
Junior high & Elementary school students ¥300


Adults ¥300
High school students ¥250
Junior high & Elementary school students ¥150



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