Hidden Gem in Higashiyama Ward
This is a really quiet temple in Higashiyama Ward, one of the busiest areas in Kyoto. Most of the visitors to Higashiyama Ward usually pick highly popular temples introduced in travel guidebooks, including Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kodai-ji Temple, etc. But what you see in such popular places are "huge crowds of people" unless you visit there very early in the morning or on a very cold snowy day. When I moved in Kyoto, one of my friends here who knew I did not like crowded places suggested that I should visit Shoren-in temple. I did, and I was so grateful for the suggestion.
Temple of the Highest Class
Shoren-in is one of the three "Monzeki" temples which belong to Enryaku-ji temple, the head temple of Tendai Buddhist sect. There are several different classes of temples, and "Monzeki" is considered the highest in the classes. The reason for that is the chief priests of "Monzeki" temples are from imperial family.
When Enryaku-ji temple was founded in 788 in Mt. Hiei by Dengyo-Daishi (Saint "Saicho") who established Tendai Buddhism sect, a number of houses of Buddhist priests were built near the temple. One of the houses was called "Shoren-bo" where St. Saicho would live and it was taken over by succeeding priests over generations. Near the end of Heian Period (794 - 1185), Shoren-bo house was moved down to city of Kyoto. In 1150, Shoren-bo was renamed to the current name (Shoren-in) and began serving as a temple for Empress "Bifukumon-in", when the class of the temple was upgraded to "Monzeki" class. From there on, chief priests of the temple have been selected from the imperial family. In Kamakura Period (1185 - 1333), Shoren-in temple was moved to the current location to avoid floods of the rivers.
In 1788, Imperial Palace was destroyed by the Great Fire of Tenmei era, at which time Shoren-in was used as a temporary palace for the Emperor "Gosakuramachi". In 1893, however, Shoren-in was burnt out by a fire, so most of the buildings we see now are the ones restored after then.
Shoren-in has two beautiful gardens, which can be seen from the two buildings - Kacho-den Hall & Shin-den Hall. I especially like the main garden which is a promenade style garden with a pond in its center, representing a beautiful natural landscape with mountain, waterfall, lake, forest, etc. You can have Japanese Green Tea with small sweet sitting on the Tatami floor, overlooking the main garden.
In autumn, the gardens are illuminated in the evening (6:00pm - ) - gorgeous views through the gardens.