Saiho-ji: how to visit Kyoto's Moss Temple



Saiho-ji: how to visit Kyoto's
Moss Temple


The stunning garden of Saiho-ji Temple is a must-see while in Kyoto. However, you’ll need to go through a reservation process to get in. While not difficult, it will require a bit of advance planning. 

About Saiho-ji Temple

Saiho-ji Temple Kokedera Moss Temple Kyoto
The karesansui dry landscape portion of the garden. 

Saiho-ji Temple is one of Kyoto’s World Heritage Sites. This area was turned into a temple by the Buddhist monk Gyoki in the Nara Period. In 1339, the gardens were renovated by Muso Soseki, a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk and teacher who gained considerable recognition during his lifetime as a calligrapher, poet, and garden designer. 

Muso’s gardens are the highlight of this temple. Approximately 120 varieties of moss grow inside the temple compound, covering the ground in a lush green carpet. Because of this, Saiho-ji Temple is often affectionately referred to as Koke-dera, meaning "moss temple." 
Saiho-ji Temple Kokedera Moss Temple Kyoto
The chisenkaiushiki portion of the garden.

The garden is divided into upper and lower sections. The style of the upper section is karesansui (枯山水), meaning a dry landscape garden. The style of the lower section is called chisenkaiushiki (池泉回遊式), a style that features paths around a pond. The pond in the garden is shaped like 心, the kanji for heart. Shonan-tei, the tea room inside this part of the garden, is also a designated Important Cultural Property. 

Entering the Temple

Saiho-ji Temple Kokedera Moss Temple Kyoto
The main gate into Saiho-ji Temple. (The actual entrance is the smaller door on the left side.) 

You'll present your postcard from the temple at the main gate to enter and pay the entrance fee at the entrance to the main temple building which is called the honden. Inside the honden, you'll participate in the Buddhist practice of copying sutras called shakyo (写経). You will copy the Heart Sutra using a brush and ink. When you have finished, take your copy to the altar and head into the garden. You can expect your visit to Saiho-ji temple to take about 90 minutes from start to finish. 

How to Make a Reservation 

Saiho-ji Temple Kokedera Moss Temple Kyoto
There are approximate 120 varieties of moss growing in the temple gardens. 

Reservations to visit Saiho-ji can be made from one-week to two-months in advance. On a postcard addressed to the temple, you will need to write your name, the desired date for your visit, the number of people in your group, as well as the name and address of your “group representative” (this can be you). You will also need to send a self-addressed stamped postcard or use a return postcard. 

If you are applying from inside Japan, you can pick up a return postcard called an oufuku hagaki from a post office or convenience store and address it as written below. Be sure that you mail your application at the very least one week before your desired visitation date, but the general rule is the earlier you can send it the better. 

The temple will confirm your reservation time and date via your self-addressed return postcard. 

Important Points
Postcards from the temple can only be sent to addresses in Japan.
Please note that your visit is not confirmed until you receive a postcard from the temple. 
Please bring the postcard with you to the temple as it will serve as your ticket. 

If this all seems a bit complicated, there are services that will handle the reservation process on your behalf for a fee. An online search of the keywords Saihoji reservation help should yield several options. Keep reading if you're interested in learning how to make the reservation for yourself. 

How to Fill Out the Return Postcard (Oufuku Hagaki) 

How to fill out an oufuku return post card for Saiho-ji

On the side with the kanji 返信 (henshin) meaning "reply" written under the stamp, write your name and address or those of your group representative on the left. On the right side, write the date(s) you would like to visit (giving a few options is best), the name of your group representative, the address of that individual, and the number of people who will be visiting. 
How to fill out an oufuku return post card for Saiho-ji

On the side with the kanji 往信 (oushin) meaning "reply," write Saiho-ji's address on the left. Leave the right side blank. Saiho-ji will write the confirmed date and time here and send you the self-addressed postcard. 

The temple address is: 
Sanpai-gakari Onchu 
56 Jingatani-cho, Matsuo 
Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto, 615-8286, Japan

The admission fee of 3,000 yen per person is paid at the time of the visit.
Return Postcard from Saiho-ji

The return postcard will look something like the above. The translation of the text on the postcard is as follows: "please come with this postcard on (specified day) at (specified time). Please have ready the entrance fee of 3,000 yen per person in cash the day of your visit. 

It is not possible to view only the gardens. Please enter the gardens after you have copied the Heart Sutra in the main temple. The entire experience should take about 90 minutes. There is no parking area at the temple, so please refrain from coming by car." 

Note that the year will be written following the Japanese Imperial calendar, which is based on the current emperor. 2018 is written as 平成30 (Hesei 30), but you can assume that your reservation will be for the current year. 


Saiho-ji Temple (Koke-dera) | 西芳寺(苔寺)
Address: 56 Jingatani-cho, Matsuo 
Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto, 615-8286, Japan
Access: take the Kyoto Bus to the Saiho-ji・Suzumushi-dera stop. 

Have you ever been to Kyoto's moss temple before? If so, do you have any tips for readers planning their first visit? Let us know in the comments. 

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