This Shingon-sect temple, founded in the 8th century, has a lot going for it, including Japan's oldest pagoda (the Tahōtō, built in 1194) and an impressive location atop a stone outcrop, but it's most famous for hosting one of the world's earliest artists-in-residence: according to lore it was during a stay here that Murasaki Shikibu first dreamt up The Tale of Genji, in 1004.

There are also lovely walks through the grounds, partly forested and partly manicured, and views of Biwa-ko from the pavilion Tsukimi-tei. The temple is a 10-minute walk from Keihan Ishiyama-dera Station (continue along the road in the direction that the train was travelling).

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Kansai attractions

1. Mii-dera

4.16 MILES

Established in 672, over a century before the founding of Kyoto, Mii-dera gets its name for its three springs ('mi' means 'three' and 'i' means 'spring')…

2. Daigo-ji

4.55 MILES

Daigo-ji is a World Heritage–listed sprawling temple complex located in the Daigo district of Kyoto, which lies on the east side of the Higashiyama…

3. Nanzen-ji Oku-no-in

6.49 MILES

Perhaps the best part of Nanzen-ji is overlooked by most visitors: Nanzen-ji Oku-no-in, a small shrine hidden in a forested hollow behind the main…

4. Nanzen-in

6.69 MILES

This subtemple of Nanzen-ji is up the steps after you pass under the aqueduct. It has an attractive garden designed around a heart-shaped pond. This…

5. Nanzen-ji


This is one of the most rewarding temples in Kyoto, with its expansive grounds and numerous subtemples. At its entrance stands the massive San-mon. Steps…

6. Eikan-dō

6.76 MILES

Perhaps Kyoto’s most famous (and most crowded) autumn-foliage destination, Eikan-dō is a superb temple just a short walk south of the famous Path of…

7. Tenju-an

6.79 MILES

A subtemple of Nanzen-ji, Tenju-an is located on the south side of San-mon, the main gate of Nanzen-ji. Constructed in 1337, Tenju-an has a splendid…

8. Nomura Museum


This museum is a 10-minute walk north of Nanzen-ji. Exhibits include scrolls, paintings, implements used in tea ceremonies and ceramics that were…