Spring has arrived, and so have the famous cherry blossoms all across Japan. There are many popular spots throughout the country for both locals and visitors to enjoy the annual cherry blossom festivities. Everyone has their favorite spots, but I think I have found my favorite already in the beautiful Daigoji Temple.
Daigoji Temple was built in 874 by a Buddhist monk named Shobo Rigen Daishi. The temple suffered many fires, and was rebuilt in 1598 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Japan’s most famous historical figures. The temple is dedicated to Emperors Daigo, Suzaku, and Murakami.
The temple is now sectioned off in three parts, and you can view each section for a small fee. Interestingly, the most crowded section on the day I visited was the smallest one, perhaps as it was closest to the entrance. If you are going to visit, you should get a ticket for at least two sections. It’s definitely worth the price!
I headed to the first section with my group, and was immediately taken aback at the sight of the beautiful cherry blossoms in front of us. Many people were taking pictures of the trees, which were about half in bloom.
Cherry blossoms in front of the temple
The blossoms led to the entrance of Sanboin Temple, the main temple in the complex. This temple was built in 1115, but again was rebuilt by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He built an incredibly beautiful garden on the temple grounds, which has now been designated as an important historical spot since it represents the Momoyama period of Japan.
The Japanese garden designed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Inside the temple building, we were only allowed to access some of the rooms, which had many beautiful paintings on screen doors. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to take pictures of these paintings. Three of the halls are deemed as important cultural properties, while the temple itself is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. These three halls are only open to the public on specific dates.
Click to enlarge!
After leaving this temple, we headed up north towards what I believe is the most beautiful part of Daigoji.
Pretty in Pink
This area is the largest and most beautiful of the three sections of Daigoji, but surprisingly it was also the least crowded.
First, you must go down a small road that hosts a flea market. The items sold are pretty overpriced, so be careful! And bargaining is not too common in Japan, save for Osaka.
Next, you will enter the temple gate and walk through a small yet beautiful forest. The towering trees make the area quite dark even on sunny days. If you turn around, you can see the bright cherry blossoms peeking out from behind the gate.
After going through the forest, I took a left to another temple named Kondo. I rushed over as I saw Buddhist monks dressed in yellow robes exiting the temple in single file. It was a sight I had never seen before, as it can be pretty rare to see monks at temples and shrines unless it’s a special occasion. Many people were trying to take their pictures as they walked away from the gorgeous red temple.
After they left, I explored this temple a little more. Inside is a very large and beautiful altar with many statues. It is forbidden to take pictures of altars in temples and shrines, but unfortunately many people were doing just that. The temple was originally built in 926, and suffered a few fires before being rebuilt in 1600 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
Near this temple was a five-story pagoda called Goju-no-to, which is also a Japanese national treasure. The wooden structure looked beautiful while surrounded by trees. The cherry blossoms in front of the pagoda also provided for a nice view. The 125 ft. pagoda was built in 951 by the eldest son of Emperor Daigo.
Across a short path from the pagoda is the Fudodo Hall. A ceremony involving fire is held in front of the hall to pray for world peace. Enshrined in the hall are five statues of Myo-do, more popularly known as Vidyaraja, which are the Five Great Wisdom Kings of Buddhism.
Finally, I made my way towards the northernmost part of the temple complex, which is also the most gorgeous area. You first can see Shinnyo Sanmayado Hall, another beautiful red hall with cherry blossoms in front of it. But the main sight to see is Bentendo Hall, a beautiful red hall that sits on a pond and is connected to the main path by a bright red bridge. I immediately recognized it as I had seen many pictures of this view in Japanese tourist books, websites, etc. The cherry blossoms around the pond were spectacular, and the whole scene was breathtaking. This area is also very popular in the Fall as the autumn foliage makes for an incredible sight. Once you cross the bridge, you can go up a trail that leads to a small stream and waterfall that run to the pond.
Museum of Treasures
Once we took in all the sights, we finally headed to Reihokan, the museum filled with national treasures from the temple complex. As with most Japanese museums, taking pictures inside is strictly forbidden. Inside the main museum building were some ancient scrolls and paintings, along with statues that were taken from Daigoji. Next to the main museum was also a smaller building that is filled with very old statues from the various temples and halls found in Daigoji. These statues are all incredibly old, and, of course, are Japanese national treasures. Surrounding the museum were many cherry blossom trees.
Daigoji is an incredibly beautiful and massive temple complex, and I believe it is a must visit for anyone who travels to Kyoto, especially when the cherry blossoms or autumn foliage is at its peak. It is definitely now one of my favorite temples in Japan!