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Monday, May 07, 2007

Entsuji Temple


Kyoto's Entsuji Temple is a wonderful off the beaten path temple with relatively few tourists. It is best known for its use of shakkei, the Japanese landscape design technique of "borrowing" and incorporating a view into the garden you are creating. In the case of Entsuji, the borrowed view is that of Mt. Hiei, which looms in the distance and is perfectly positioned in the view from the temple veranda.

Entsuji TempleTo get there, we walked the kilometer or so up from the Eizan railways' Seika Daigakumae stop. The mountain road is narrow and experiencing growing pains thanks to development in the area. The nearer you are to the main road and station, the newer (and uglier) the homes; as you get closer to the temple, the homes are old Japanese farm houses with charm (and maintenance) to die for.

The priests at the temple seem almost anti-visitor and anti-tourism. (How contrary! Compare that to the Gold Pavilion and Silver Pavilion and Kiyomizu Temple.) En route, there is one small stone sign--in Japanese--off to the side of the road marking the directions to the temple. At the temple, however, there is a prominent sign--in Japanese and English--that states "no photography in the building" (though you can take pictures of the gardens from within the buildings), "no tour guides," etc. The priests on the grounds ignore the tourists, and a young female docent was patrolling the premises to make sure camera-wielding tourists did not sneak off a shot or two.

Entsuji TempleWhen you turn the corner from a hallway to enter the main room, though, you are presented with the view: of the legendary garden and Mt. Hiei. You sit in silence with others gathered on the veranda, looking. A recording of a middle-aged man in no hurry, speaking in Kyoto dialect, comes on and meanders through the history of the temple--and recent controversy.

The temple is part ground zero of a movement fighting unchecked development in the ancient capital. Kyoto developers seem to hate the city, bulldozing wonderful old buildings and then replacing them with tower blocks, parking lots, and another pachinko or karaoke parlor. The preservation movement is weak and made up mainly of foreigners and Japanese academics.

At Entsuji, the tape explains, in the distance between the hedge and Mt. Hiei you can see construction of a "mansion" (tower apartment building), which will eventually sully the ancient view. On the wall to the left on a tack board are many newspaper articles documenting the fight. The view remains at publishing time for the most part unblemished.

The temple's other gardens consist of many varieties of azalea and camellia.

Entsuji Temple
Tel: +81757811875


From Kyoto Station, take bus 45 for about 40 minutes and get off at "Entsuji Michi" stop. From there it is a ten-minute walk. Or take either the Eizan Railways train from Demachiyanagi Station to Seika Daigakumae Station, or the Karasuma subway line to Kitayama Station--from both it is a 25-minute walk.


April - November, 10 am - 4:30 pm. From December - March, the temple closes at 4 pm.

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