Lonely Planet review
This is one of our favourite temples in Kyoto, with its expansive grounds and numerous subtemples. It began as a retirement villa for Emperor Kameyama but was dedicated as a Zen temple on his death in 1291. Civil war in the 15th century destroyed most of the temple; the present buildings date from the 17th century. It operates now as headquarters for the Rinzai school of Zen.
At its entrance stands the massive San-mon . Steps lead up to the 2nd storey, which has a fine view over the city. Beyond the gate is the main hall of the temple, above which you will find the Hōjō , where the Leaping Tiger Garden is a classic Zen garden well worth a look. (Try to ignore the annoying taped explanation of the garden.) While you're in the Hōjō, you can enjoy a cup of tea while gazing at a small waterfall (¥500, ask at the reception desk of the Hōjō).
Dotted around the grounds of Nanzen-ji are several subtemples that are often skipped by the crowds.
To get to Nanzen-ji from JR Kyoto or Keihan Sanjō Station, take bus 5 and get off at the Nanzen-ji Eikan-dō-michi stop. You can also take the Tōzai subway line from the city centre to Keage and walk for five minutes downhill. Turn right (east, towards the mountains) opposite the police box and walk slightly uphill (toward the mountains) and you will arrive at the main gate of the temple.