You may have heard of a Buddhist temple called Ninna-ji in Kyoto. Yes, it’s a prestigious temple which was listed as part of the World Heritage Site “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto” by UNESCO in 1994.
Ninna-ji was established in 888 and had been a “monzeki jiin” – a name for temples whose successive head monks were from noble lineages – until the arrival of the Meiji era. Since the Emperor Uda, the 59th emperor of Japan, started living in the temple after his abdication shortly after the foundation of the temple, it was also called Omuro Gosho (“gosho” is a term for the residences of the rulers of Japan like emperors and shoguns). Ninna-ji was the highest ranking monzeki jiin from the Heian to Kamakura period.
But the temple was burnt down in the Onin War which lasted from 1467 to 1477 and went into a decline since. It was 160 years after that that the temple was reconstructed, with the help of the then shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu.
Buildings like Kondo and Mieido were relocated from the Imperial Palace, and at last in 1646, the temple recovered the glorious appearance resembling that of the time of its establishment. Shinden, one of the temple’s main components, was destroyed by fire in the Edo period, but it was rebuilt in the Taisho era.
Most of the existing temple buildings are now designated as Important Cultural Properties, and of them Kondo is a National Treasure. It still retains the atmosphere of a palace building, so if you’re interested in architecture you may be fascinated.
Fusuma-e (paintings on sliding doors) in Shiro-shoin and sukashibori (openwork) carved on Chokushimon are also delicately handcrafted.
Since the Meiji Restoration, the head monks of the temple are no longer coming from the Imperial lineage.
Ninna-ji is also the iemoto (headmaster) of the Omuro school of kado (flower arrangement art). It is said that it originated as the arrangement of flowers offered to Buddhist divinities, and regards the Emperor Uda as its founder. Kado was for aristocrats and the like for a long time, and it was not until the mid-Edo period that it spread among ordinary commoners. There are still many people who teach kado in the Omuro style.
Another example of what-to-see at this temple is Omuro-zakura flowers which bloom in spring. Omuro-zakura is a name for a sakura (cherry) variety planted around the temple and is said to be as beautiful as sakura trees in Yoshino in Nara Prefecture, therefore attracting many visitors in the season. The temple precincts are admission free usually, but during the period which Omuro-zakura blossom, admission will be required.
Ninna-ji is a 30-minute ride directly from Kyoto Station by bus.
Where to eat around Ninna-ji
How about curry for lunch? Family Kitchen Pu has unusual dishes like tofu curry and boneless-chicken curry on the menu, and they are received well. There’s a dish named Omuro curry, too.
As for sweets, there’s a pastry shop called Monsieur Creme. Cakes, tarts, cream puffs, and other Western confectionery sold here are very popular (takeout only).
Where to stay around Ninna-ji
Ninna-ji Omuro Kaikan
Ninna-ji Omuro Kaikan is an accommodation facility run by Ninna-ji itself. The restaurant at this site can serve a traditional Kyoto course dinner using seasonal foods if you make a reservation. By staying here overnight, you can participate in the morning ritual of the temple.
Tokyu Harvest Club Kyoto Takagamine & VIALA
Tokyu Harvest Club Kyoto Takagamine & VIALA is a hotel located in the Shozan Resort Kyoto. As a resort hotel, its rooms are designed to place value on private experience. Some rooms even have an open-air bath. An aesthetic salon is also situated in the hotel. Beside Ninna-ji, Kinkaku-ji and Daitoku-ji also are not so far from here.
LeBlanc Pension Utano
LeBlanc Pension Utano, which is on the same street as Ninna-ji is, is a cozy, small resort inn run by a married couple. Guests say its meals are superb. Dinner provided here is a full-course meal. Make a reservation for meals also when booking a stay.
Though Ninna-ji is a little away from central Kyoto, there are a lot to see here. Cherry blossom in spring, green leaves in summer, red and yellow foliage in fall, and snow-covered precincts in winter. You can enjoy beautiful seasonal scenery at Ninna-ji.
One more point: this area is part of a path leading to mountainous Takao. We recommend wearing shoes suitable for walking.
Have a nice trip!