The best moss gardens in Kyoto
A moss garden combines the best of a few of Japan's highlights - the millennia of culture embodied by a Japanese shrine or temple, the pride and wonderful attention to detail that makes all Japanese gardens so special, and the zen tranquillity permeating any Buddhist undertaking.
And happily, for those tourists like ourselves who are keen to experience a moss garden during a trip to Japan, Kyoto offers a wealth of good options.
Saihoji (Kokedera) moss temple
Perhaps the most well-known of Kyoto's moss gardens is the Saiho-ji temple, also called Koke-dera, in the west of the city.
So popular is this World Heritage Site temple though, and so oversubscribed, that gaining access is not particularly easy. Nor is it all that cheap, the entry to Koke-dera temple being noticeably pricier than the other moss temple options mentioned below.
Just turning up at Koke-dera without a reservation is not possible, and some planning will be required - tickets have to be acquired in advance, and the application process can be a bit onerous.
For those keen to experience the truly lovely moss gardens at Koke-dera temple on a visit to Japan, this page of the Saiho-ji temple website provides more detail on how to go about the application process.
Fortunately for anyone unable, or unwilling, to jump through the hoops necessary to access Koke-dera, Kyoto offers a few other amazing examples of lovely moss temples. Here are 3 more of our favourites.
3 amazing moss temples in Kyoto that are easy to visit
Giouji moss temple, Arashiyama, Kyoto
Hands-down our favourite moss garden on this list is the wonderful-in-every-way Giou-ji temple, near Kyoto's north-west Arashiyama district.
Perfect for viewing during a day trip to see the Arashiyama bamboo grove and the Iwatayama monkey park, this is a great way to escape the tourists thronging the more popular sites in the area, and is an opportunity to see a real hidden gem.
Amble up through the suburbs on a gentle walk from the station, slowly but surely leaving the other visitors behind, and by the time you reach Giou-ji temple and its immaculate moss garden you will have the place practically all to yourself.
The entry price is a very modest YEN300, worth every penny. This lovely little temple is a pocket-sized moss garden that will seduce every visitor with its gorgeous carpets of green - meticulously maintained by the local monks.
Highly recommended! For more information on this lovely moss garden, read our full Giou-ji temple blog post.
Jojakkoji temple, Arashiyama, Kyoto
Also situated among the many temples in the Arashiyama district is the Jojakko-ji temple, which is easily visitable on the way to or from Giou-ji temple.
While not strictly a moss temple, as the temple gardens offer so much more than that, there are some beautiful examples of cultivated moss gardens flanking the pathway as visitors enter the garden through the temple gate.
Also on offer, for those lucky enough to be visiting during the blooming of the sakura trees, is its gorgeous example of a cherry blossom at the entrance to the site.
Alongside the temple building itself is a peaceful stream and a pond, where visitors can have a seat and take in the calming atmosphere. And anyone venturing further up the hill into the gardens behind the temple will be rewarded with some of the best views back in the direction of central Kyoto.
Honenin temple and moss gardens, Kyoto
Another one of our favourites, this delightful temple is a stone's throw from many of the popular tourist sites in Kyoto, but for all that it remains a bit of a hidden gem.
Sightings of moss begin even before arriving at Honen-in, as the thatched entrance gate to the temple is itself carpeted in moss, and is beautifully photogenic.
Inside the temple, the Japanese gardens are stunning, and there is much to discover, including some lush green moss lawns to either side of the various stone pathways winding throughout the property.
Honen-in is a delight, and a tranquil haven in an otherwise bustling Kyoto. For more on what to see, read our complete review of Honen-in temple.
Honourable mention: Ginkakuji temple, Kyoto
All the temples above are great examples of settings with proud moss gardens, and all of them embody the feeling of peace and serenity that goes hand in hand with a visit to a moss garden.
For another option to experience a great moss garden in Kyoto there is also the very well-known, and very well-visited, Ginkaku-ji temple.
The Silver Pavilion is firmly on the radar of every visitor to the city, and with good reason. Its magnificent temple buildings, that arresting sea of silver sand, and the wonderful gardens and ponds all combine into one of Kyoto's best temples.
The offside of this fame is that the Ginkaku-ji temple is heavily frequented, and a trip to this wonderful site is bound to be shared with hordes of other eager tourists.
So go, for the views of Ginkaku-ji's moss gardens and for everything else. But don't expect to find peace or tranquillity - for that, stick to Japan’s lesser-known temples and shrines not yet discovered by the mainstream guide books, and which remain just that little bit more magical for it.