Calm in Kyoto

by - Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Kennin-ji Zen Temple in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto beckons the tired and weary soul for a day of peace, quiet and tranquility. It was established in 1202 by Eisai, a Japanese Buddhist priest, father of Japanese tea culture and founder of Rinzai School of Zen Buddhism. Kennin-ji Temple is believed to be the oldest zen temple in Kyoto. The temple is an 8-minute walk from Gion Tatsumi Bridge, a beautiful stone bridge located at the juncture of Shinbashi Dori and Gion Shirakawa. Gion is Kyoto's famed Geisha district with its charming stone streets, lanterns, ryokans and old wooden houses. We stopped by Miffy Kitchen Bakery Gion for some usagi/rabitto shaped bread, cookies and trinkets before heading to the temple. 

A solace from the touristic crowds of Higashiyama, Kennin-ji Temple offers a path of contemplation to the visitors. To enter the temple gardens, a minimum entrance fee is collected at the reception counter. We left our shoes (my rented geta sandals) on old wooden racks for safekeeping. Photographing people inside the temple gardens is prohibited to give privacy to the guests and visitors. 

I enjoyed the warm feel of antique wooden floors as I quietly walked along the corridors, admiring the view of the zen gardens which looked beautiful at any angle. The shoji windows opened up to a spectacular vision of red pine, Japanese maple trees, moss and stone. I imagined the ever changing colors and scenery that those windows framed. As it was late spring, the trees were in youthful shades of green. 

You may opt to sit on cushions in tatami matted meditation rooms facing a rock or moss garden. You can also also enjoy the scenery  through round windows called Windows of Enlightenment as you meditate on the wholeness of the universe or the cyclic nature of life. Through square windows aptly called Windows of Confusion or Delusion, one may ponder the inevitability of life, old age, illness and death.

There are meandering stone paths to immerse oneself in the the beauty of nature- crisp seasonal foliage, warm sunlight filtering through the maple trees and water glistening on stone and bamboo basins. Amidst the tranquility, your ears will catch the subtle fluttering of bird wings. Slippers are provided near the stairs descending to the rock garden if you fancy a stroll in the lush, healing garden. 

Visitors can also enjoy a cup of specially prepared uji green tea and biscuits at the temple cafe and gift shop. There are souvenir items for sale to bring home to remember your visit to Kennin-ji Zen Temple.

The peace that one can experience in a zen temple is profound. One's chaotic mind naturally falls in orderly alignment once faced with the harmonious elements of nature. Truly a garden for the mind and soul. 

“One must be deeply aware of the impermanence of the world.” 
— Dogen

“Only when you can be extremely pliable and soft, can you be extremely hard and strong.” 
 Zen Proverb

Not thinking about anything is Zen. Once you know this, walking, sitting, or lying down, everything you do is Zen.” 


“The obstacle is the path.” 

— Zen Proverb

Furu ike ya

kawazu tobikomu

mizu no oto

古池や 蛙飛び込む 水の音

The Old Pond

Old pond…

a frog jumps in 

water’s sound

-Matsuo Basho

“Zen is a path of liberation. It liberates you. It is freedom from the first step to the last. You are not required to follow any rules; you are required to find out your own rules and your own life in the light of awareness.” 


"Let go, or be dragged.” 
 Zen Proverb

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