The Saihoji Temple belongs to the Rinzai school of Japanese Buddhism. The temple is more commonly known as Kokedera, the Moss Temple, referring to the temple garden’s estimated 120 different varieties of moss. In 1994 the site was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Entrance to this temple requires a reservation made well in advance by mail.
Kokedera was originally the site of Prince Shotoku’s villa before becoming a temple in the Nara Period. In 1339, the temple was renovated and converted into a Zen temple under the priest Muso Soseki. Muso is also credited with creating Kokedera’s gardens.
Inside the garden, the Shonantei teahouse (an important cultural asset) was built during the Momoyama Period by Shoan, the second son of tea matser Sen-No-rikyu.
Thanks to the invitation of our friend, Mr. F., who took care of the renovation of two of our machiyas, we were lucky to have joined a group of architects for the visit of the temple. This enabled us to avoid the demanding procedure of the reservation (sending letters, etc.) I didn’t expect to have to follow the calligraphy session during which sutra are copied (all visitors are actually expected to follow this — it is compulsory.) It is the first part of the visit, the garden comes after. I was quite surprised by the ease with which I could write all these kanjis using a brush. This was a nice experience.
And of course, the visit of this garden is also something quite special, mainly because of the unusual very small number of visitors, and of course the beauty of the season. Automn, to enjoy the colors (Kouyou) is probably the best season to visit this place.
A unique experience
Kokedera offers a unique opportunity for visitors to participate in some of the temple’s religious activities. Every visitor to Kokedera is asked to contribute to the observances of kito and shakyo (respectively, the chanting and copying of Buddhist scriptures, called sutra). After entering the gates, visitors should proceed directly to the temple to pay the entrance fee and begin the sutra copying. They will take a seat at one of the low-writing desks. A monk leads the room in sutra chanting and then the copying begins. When ready, visitors can take their sutra paper up to the alter and exit. After the kito and shakyo, a stroll through the moss garden is not to be missed. Completing the entire activity may take over an hour and sitting on the floor for this length of time can be uncomfortable. It should be stressed, however, that copying out the sutra is not as challenging as it may first sound. A tracing of the Japanese characters guides even those with no previous knowledge of Japanese calligraphy or Buddhism.
About the reservation
To make a reservation, send a request by postal mail to the temple with your name, the number of people in your group, the name and address of your “group representative” and the proposed date of your visit, as well as a self-addressed, stamped return postcard. The request must reach the temple seven days before the date of your intended visit, but far more time is recommended.
For visitors applying from inside Japan, a special return postcard called an “ofuku hagaki” is available from the post office for exactly these purposes. It comes in a set of two postcards, one of which is used by the receiving party to reply. Visitors applying from overseas can make use of an International Reply Coupon, available from most local post offices around the world. A reply indicating your reservation date and time will be sent to you by the temple on your self addressed return postcard. Reservations are not possible via internet or over the phone.
The temple address is: Saihoji Temple 56 Jingatani-cho, Matsuo Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto, 615-8286, Japan
The admission fee of yen 3,000 per person is paid at the time of the visit.