The Tofuku-ji temple(東福寺) is the head temple of the Tofuku-Ji sect of Rinzai mission and surrounded by rich green of the Higashi-Yama mountain. The significant Tofuku-ji temple has the largest temple sites among Kyoto Gozan Five Mountains. In the Daigaran (large building), there are valuable important cultural assets such as the biggest and oldest national treasure Sanmon Gate.
The Hojo (zen Buddhist priest’s residence) has gardens in the east, west, north and south and each shows you different beautiful garden views by season.
You’ll also enjoy a breathtaking view of colorful autumn leaves from Tsuten bridge, the best spot in Kyoto to see autumn leaves.
Famous Kamakura period garden that has modern abstract art elements
The first place you want to visit in the big temple grounds is “the Honbo garden.” Mr. Mirei Shigomori (a famous garden builder) completed this garden in 1939.
The Tofuku-ji temple is the only temple that has those four gardens in the east, west, north, and south surround the Hojo.
“The southern garden” is a 120-tsubo (4,270 sq ft) Karesansui dry landscape garden expressing islands with rocks and the ocean with raked gravel waves. “The western garden” has a checkered pattern called “Seiden-ichimatsu,“ and a sculptor Mr. Isamu Noguchi described “the northern garden” as “Mondrian style new angle garden.” “The eastern garden” also called “the Big Dipper garden” has stone circular cylinders laid out in the Big Dipper formation on the Unmon-yo Jiwari (a cloud pattern). Each garden has its own unique appearance and is soothing to your eyes.
Exceptional beauty of autumn leaves from here
And off to the Tsuten bridge.
The Tsuten is a corridor that leads to the Kaisando hall, and the beautiful view of autumn leaves from here is particularly famous. From the Tsuten bridge, you can see golden Tsuten maple leaves among red maple leaves.
Tsuten maple trees are the trees that the first chief priest brought back from Song. The shape of the leaf’s top is divided into three forks and this unusual shape leaf is called “Tsuten maple.” The shining golden Tsuten maple leaves add beautiful color to other autumn leaves.
Kaisando hall to quiet your mind!
The Kaisan-toin leading from the Tsuten bridge “the Kaisando hall” is an important cultural asset that enshrines Shoichi-Kokushi Buddhist monk, and it is a unique building with a tower. Beautiful azaleas and sweet flags are in full bloom in May to June in the pond and the stream garden.
The Kaisando is quiet and has a solemn atmosphere. Sitting there silently calms your mind.
Take your time to stroll around the temple grounds
There are a lot more to see on the temple grounds.
The Sanmon-gate is a national treasure built in the Muromachi period (1336 ~ 1573) and it incorporates architectural styles of Zenshu-yo (Zen style), Wa-yo (Japanese style), and Daibutsu-yo (great Buddha style). It specially opens for the Parinirvana Day from March 14 ~ 16.
There are the thirteen story stone pagoda that is the most beautiful in Japan and many more to see on the grounds, and it may be very interesting to walk and look around.
- The autumn leave season is the busiest season and they have 35,000 visitors in one day during the peak period. You may want to leave early in the morning and stand in line before opening the gate because there will a long line of people.
- The Tofuku-ji temple doesn’t have illumination to light up the temple, but Tachu sub-temples such as “Teitoku-in temple” or “Shourin-ji temple” have illumination during the autumn leave season. Check it up!
- The Parinervana Day from March 14 ~ 17 every year, the normally closed Sanmon-gate become open to the public. “Dainehan-zu (painting of Great Nirvana)” will be shown, too.
When you go farther from the Tsuten bridge, you’ll see “the Kaisan-do.” I sit on the veranda looking at the hall or the garden and feel so relaxed. It is my very favorite place.
- Spot name(Ja)
- 15-778 Honmachi, Higashiyama-Ku, Kyoto-City, Kyoto
- 9:00 a.m. ~ 4:00 p.m. (last admission), Nov~ early Dec: 8:30 a.m. ~,Early Dec. ~ March: ~3:30 p.m.
- Parking lot
- 20 cars (free) *closed in autumn season
- HP : http://www.tofukuji.jp/index.html