Japan, Kinki Region, Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto, View of Sanzen-in Temple. (Photo by: JTB/UIG via Getty Images) (Photo by: JTB Photo/UIG via Getty Images)

UIG via Getty Images


Top choice in Kansai

Famed for its autumn foliage, hydrangea garden and stunning Buddha statues, this temple is deservedly popular with foreign and domestic tourists alike. The temple’s garden, Yūsei-en, is one of the most photographed sights in Japan, and rightly so.

Take some time to sit on the steps of the Shin-den hall and admire the beauty of the Yūsei-en. Then head off to see Ōjō-gokuraku-in (Temple of Rebirth in Paradise), the hall in which stands the impressive Amitabha trinity, a large Amida image flanked by attendants Kannon (goddess of mercy) and Seishi (god of wisdom). After this, walk up to the garden at the back of the temple where, in late spring and summer, you can wander among hectares of blooming hydrangeas.

Sanzen-in was founded in 784 by the priest Saichō and belongs to the Tendai school. Saichō, considered one of the great patriarchs of Buddhism in Japan, also founded Enryaku-ji.

If you’re keen for a short hike after leaving the temple, continue up the hill to see the rather oddly named Soundless Waterfall (Oto-nashi-no-taki; 音無の滝). Though, in fact, it sounds like any other waterfall, its resonance is believed to have inspired Shōmyō Buddhist chanting.

The approach to Sanzen-in is opposite the bus stop; there is no English sign but you can usually just follow the Japanese tourists. The temple is located about 600m up this walk on your left as you crest the hill.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Kansai attractions

1. Jikkō-in

0.05 MILES

Only about 50m north of Sanzen-in, this small temple is often praised for its lovely garden and fudan-zakura cherry tree, which blossoms between October…

2. Shōrin-in

0.08 MILES

This temple near Sanzen-in is worth a look, even if only through its admission gate, to admire the thatched roof of the main hall. It’s a good option if…

3. Hōsen-in


A quiet option, this temple is just down the path west of the entry gate to Shōrin-in. The main tatami room offers a view of a bamboo garden and the…

4. Jakkō-in


Jakkō-in is a small temple on the opposite side of Ōhara from Sanzen-in. It’s reached by a pleasant 15-minute walk from the bus station through an ‘old…

5. Enryaku-ji

1.66 MILES

Located atop 848m-high Hiei-zan (the mountain that dominates the skyline in the northeast of the city), the Enryaku-ji complex is an entire world of…

6. Yuki-jinja

3.59 MILES

This atmospheric Shintō shrine is located along the trail up to Kurama-dera. The stairs to the main hall are flanked by two enormous cryptomeria trees.

7. Kurama-dera


Located high on a thickly wooded mountain, Kurama-dera is one of the few temples in modern Japan that manages to retain an air of real spirituality. This…

8. Sōjō-ga-dani Fudō-dō

3.83 MILES

This small subtemple on the descent to Kibune enshrines a figure of Fudō, one of the myōō (Buddhist Kings of Light).