Daitoku-ji (大徳寺)

Daitoku-ji(大徳寺) is a zen Buddhist temple complex consisting of several historic temples in northern Kyoto. Most of the temples are not open to the public, but some allow self-guided tours. A few have entry gardens that can be appreciated in passing. Some of Japan’s significant gardens are also within Daitoku-ji.

Shuho Myocho(宗峰妙超) established Daitoku-ji in the early 1300s. Today, there are over twenty temples included in the complex, most including tea houses and many including gardens.

The entrance features large gates and halls including Daitoku-ji Buddha Hall(大徳寺仏殿). This old structure houses a large image of Buddha and exemplifies the great architecture of the complex.


The courts within the complex contain some tidy walkways and religious artifacts worth exploring.


One of my favorite Daitoku-ji temples is Zuiho-in(瑞峯院), one of the larger temples featuring dry landscape gardens or karesansui(枯山水), also called “zen gardens”. These gardens are made of deliberately placed stones and raked pebbles.

Zuiho-in was dedicated in 1546 by Otomo Sorin(大友宗麟), who later converted to Christianity. Known as the “Christian daimyo”, Otomo’s faith is memorialized in the Garden of the Cross and a hidden statue of Virgin Mary.

Ryōgen-in(龍源院) is another of my favorite Daitoku-ji temples, famous for its five gardens. It was built in 1502 and preserves a very old meditation hall and sliding door pictures.

The karesansui gardens here are some of the oldest in Japan. There is even an ancient moss garden. Each garden illustrates a zen teaching about truth and the universe around us.


Totekiko(東滴壷), within Ryogen-in, is famous for being the smallest zen garden in Japan. Raked sand illustrates a metaphoric zen teaching that a stone cast with greater force creates more ripples.

Daisen-in(大仙院) and Koto-in(高桐院) are also usually open to the public.