Some bloggers mention Ninnaji Temple (仁和寺) is their favorite temple in Kyoto. It is not a small feat for any Kyoto temple to become someone’s favorite given the city has over 1600 temples. We had high expectations for Ninnaji before the trip and was delighted to check out this head temple of the Omuro school of the Shingong Sect of Buddhism on our first day. Following street signage, it was an easy 15-minute walk from Ryoanji to Ninnaji. The air was cool and refreshing in the northwestern foothills of Kyoto. The occasional vivid autumn leaves along the way made our walk even more pleasant. Founded in AD 888 by Emperor Uda, Ninnaji Temple maintained its close connection with the imperial family until Meji Restoration in the 19th century. For a thousand years the temple’s abbot had always been served by someone in the imperial family . Today most surviving buildings date back to the 17th century.
Ninnaji Temple is consisted of two main parts: Garan (伽藍) and Goren (御殿). The monumental main gate Nio-mon Gate (二王門) is one of the three famous gates in Kyoto, representing the magnificent timber skills and sense of beauty of ancient craftsmen. We started our visit at the Goren (御殿) just behind the ticket office. After taking off our shoes, we entered the Goren through a zigzag covered walkway, which ended at a peaceful dry zen garden known as the Dantei (南庭), or the South Garden. The pebbles and sand were arranged in rows across a large area, with the beautiful Chokushi-mon Gate (勅使門) and the Nio-mon Gate as prominent visual focuses in the background. The tranquil atmosphere of Dantei prompted us to stay for a short while to enjoy the pleasant moment. Following the covered verandas, we walked around Dantei to admire the traditional wall paintings inside prayer rooms along the way. The paintings on the golden walls in the Shinden (宸殿), the main hall, revealed an imperial touch in the design as if the interior of an imperial palace. After another turn we reached a completely different garden, the Hokutei (北庭), the North Garden. The main focus of Hokutei was a serene reflecting pool, reflecting the autumn foliage and the Five-Storey Pagoda in the Garan further in the background. Just a few minutes before we were admiring the abstract dry landscape of Dantei, where sand and pebbles metaphorize the sea, rocks as islands and trees as forests. A few minutes later we had entered a lush world of greenery and water in the Hokutei.
After the Goren, we walked over to Chu-mon Gate (中門) into the much larger Garan (伽藍). The entire Goren area was like a park, with several buildings scattered over in the area. We first headed over to the Gojunoto (五重塔), or the Five-storey Pagoda, an elegant tower visible from many places in Ninnaji. Behind the pagoda, we arrived at Kusho Myojin Shrine (九所明神), a peaceful Shinto shrine under the shade of trees. After clapping, praying and bowing in front of the shrine, we continued to wander around Garan. Next came Kyozo Sutra Hall (経蔵), a squarish timber building used to store the Buddhist scriptures. Back to the central area, we reached the largest building in Garan, the Kondo (金堂), or the Golden Hall, and the orange painted Syoro (鐘楼). None of these buildings were open, but it was the poetic atmosphere of these historical buildings in the natural setting that we enjoyed the most. Before leaving, we had a quick visit of the Miedo (御影堂), a Buddhist hall dedicated to Kukai (弘法大師) – the famous 8th century Buddhist monk who studied Buddhism in Xian of China and founded Shingon Buddhism in Japan. After a thorough visit of Goren and Garan, we walked through the monumental Nio-mon Gate once again, leaving Ninnaji slightly after 3pm. Because of the time of year the sun was already quite low, and it felt like late afternoon. We decided to quickly take the bus a few stops northwards to probably the most popular attraction in Kyoto, the Kinkakuji (金閣寺), or the Golden Pavilion.
It was a pleasant 15-minute walk from Ryoanji Temple to Ninnaji Temple.
We walked past beautiful autumn maples along the way.
We finally reached the monumental Nio-mon Gate, the main gate of Ninnaji Temple.
The timber structure of the Nio-mon Gate is a beautiful piece of architecture.
After getting the admission tickets, we entered the Goren (御殿) via a stone path flanked by the dry landscape of pebble and sand.
We took off our shoes and entered a zigzag covered walkway to enter the main buildings of Goren (御殿).
The Dantei (南庭), South Garden, of Goren (御殿) is a peaceful dry landscape of pebbles and sand, with the Chokushi-mon Gate (勅使門) and Nio-mon Gate (二王門) as background.
We followed the covered verandas to circle around the buildings of Goren (御殿).
The dry landscape of Dantei (南庭) could be appreciated at different angles along the way.
An intimate pavilion just outside the timber veranda.
The golden interiors of the Shinden (宸殿) reveals a sense of imperial aesthetics.
The “wet” landscape of Hokutei (北庭) provided a stark contrast from the dry landscape of the Dantei (南庭).
The sun was already getting low when we wandered around Ninnaji Temple.
The Chu-mon Gate (中門) led us into the much larger Garan (伽藍) area.
The old statue of a Buddhist Guardian at one side of the Chu-mon Gate.
The Gojunoto (五重塔) in the Garan (伽藍) as seen from below.
Under the tree shades, the Kusho Myojin Shrine (九所明神) looked peaceful.
The squarish Kyozo Sutra Hall (経蔵) was a decent one-storey timber building with a big roof.
The Kondo (金堂), or the main hall in Garan in the park setting.
The maple colour near the Kondo (金堂) were its peak.
The orange Bell Tower adjacent to the Kondo.
Autumn foliage in front of the Bell Tower.
The Miedo (御影堂) was the last building we visited in Ninnaji Temple.
Before leaving Ninnaji, we passed by the maple leaves under the roof of the Kondo one last time.
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan