Set in the more rural northwest side of Kyoto, Daikaku-ji(大覚寺) is a gorgeous temple complex with simple yet beautiful landscaping. One of the oldest temples in Kyoto, it was originally in the imperial villa of Emperor Saga(嵯峨天皇) who first built the temple in the early 800s. Daikaku-ji is officially known as the Old Saga Imperial Palace Daikaku-ji Monzeki(旧嵯峨御所大覚寺門跡), though most of the buildings there today were added much more recently.
At the entrance hall, a veiled doorway is decorated with an emblem called a mon(紋). This mon is the imperial seal of Japan, called the chrysanthemum mon or kiku-mon(菊紋), modeled after chrysanthemum flowers.
Inside, the complex opens up to a large courtyard with spacious landscaping. Walkways connect the buildings, each well-crafted with unique design. The temple halls features varying architecture styles from different periods of Japan’s history.
At one end of the courtyard, Chokushi-mon(勅使門), a special gate for the imperial messenger, is only opened when the emperor visits Daikaku-ji.
Shin-den(宸殿), one of the buildings, contains multiple rooms once used for imperial residence. Nightingale floors(鴬張り) make a sound like the call of a nightingale and give away any visitors throughout the corridors and verandas.
The interiors are beautifully decorated with paintings of wildlife and landscapes. Many of the paintings are significant cultural relics.
Mie Hall(御影堂) contains statues of Emperor Saga and other imperial figures. Murasame Corridor(村雨の廊下) links Mie Hall with Shin-den and Shoshin-den(正寝殿). The low ceiling prevents assailants from swinging swords or spears. Nightingale floors here also prevent enemy intrusion.
Yasui-do(安井堂) was moved to Daikaku-ji from eastern Kyoto; previously it was the founders hall in the imperial temple called Rengeko-in(蓮華光院). This hall is famous for illustrations including a ceiling painting of a dragon in the clouds over the inner sanctuary. The sanctuary also contains the image of Emperor Saga.
The main hall, Godai-do(五大堂), is still used for sutra transcription and overlooks the garden pond.
Osawa Pond(大沢池) beside the temple is Japan’s oldest artificial garden pond, older than the temple itself. Emperor Saga modeled the pond after Dongting Lake(洞庭湖) in Hunan, China.
Built in 1967, Shingyo Treasure Tower(心経宝塔) contains a sacred jewel and statue. Overlooking Osawa Pond, it commemorates the 1150th anniversary of Emperor Saga’s Heart Sutra transcription.