Travel To Do List: Daigo-ji Temple, Kyoto, via

Travel To Do: The Search for Daigo-ji Temple in Kyoto

Lincoln Internet Meme

Ah, the internet, where you can find everything, and all is just as it seems. What better fuel for wanderlust and daydreams than a vast wonderland of dreamy landscapes and fantastic photos? Except, of course, things are not always ever so accurate, as the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln pointed out in his pointed internet meme.

When faced with the slightest of possibilities for a trip to Japan, I did what any travel fan would: I went straight to the Internet to start planning where to go, what to see, what to do! (Never mind that there were only two chances – slim and none – for this trip to happen.) Right away, I spied one of the most breathtaking photos of fall foliage I had ever seen, purported to be a shrine in the “Garden of Saiho-ji” in Kyoto. Just like that, I was hooked.

The Search for Daigo-ji Temple via

Like many wallpapers and photos found on the Internet, this beauty was inaccurately labeled. The hunt to find its real location put Kyoto on our Travel To Do List.

It didn’t take long to find more about Kōinzan Saihō-ji, the famed moss temple of Kyoto. Also known as Koke-dera (literally, “moss temple”), the garden is one of the oldest gardens in the city and is actually a Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple. Seriously? A Zen temple? Must.Go.Now!

Photo: Bentendo Hall at Daigo-ji Temple

Only, the more I looked at pictures of the Moss Temple, the more I suspected the photo I fell in love with was not taken there. Not that Saihō-ji wasn’t beautiful and unique (120 species of moss grow there!), it just wasn’t the what I was searching for. I wanted to figure out where I could find the scene in that first picture in real life. The search continued.

Eventually, I stumbled across another photo of the building in that first photograph. The caption indicated it was at the Daigo-ji Temple. A quick internet search confirmed it and, as luck would have it, it’s another Buddhist temple in Kyoto. In fact, the two World Heritage sites are practically neighbors! And the beautiful building is Bentendo Hall near the original temple grounds atop Daigo-san Mountain.

Among the temple buildings is the five-storey pagoda Goju-no-to. The beautiful structure is one of 18 National Treasures of Japan at the temple. It was built in 951, and is the oldest surviving building in Kyoto.

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While nearby Saiho-ji is the Moss Temple, Daigo-ji is known as the Temple of Flowers thanks to the many weeping Cherry trees and the flowery grounds that flow up the mountainside. A trail starting near Bentendo Hall takes you to the summit – the original temple site – and rewards you with views all the way to Osaka, on a clear day. At the base of the mountain is the Reihokan Museum where the temple’s collection of historic documents, statues, and paintings is on display.

Photo: Daigo-ji Temple Reihokan Museum Kyoto

Some of the temple’s prettiest Weeping Cherry trees can be found in the lower grounds at the Reihokan Museum. ©

Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan until the 19th century, and is rich in history and culture. As the capital city for more than 1,000 years, Kyoto was the epicenter for the evolution of religious and secular architecture in Japan, and of garden design as well. That rich history of garden design and tradition has continued to influence the rest of the world.

Thankfully, Japan enacted the Ancient Shrines and Temples Preservation Law in 1897, and what we see today, though largely not original, has been faithfully restored and reconstructed. While wandering through the temples and gardens today, you are likely to see almost exactly what the monks practicing there 1000 or more years saw.

In all, there are 16 shrines and temples (including the famous Golden Pagoda) plus the Nijo-jo Castle, along with their gardens, in the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, recognized collectively as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1994. While Daigo-ji Temple first attracted us, the entire World Heritage collection is now firmly on our Travel To Do List!

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Whether or not you’ve been to Kyoto, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this and other “bucket list” destinations in our comments. Feel free to start or join a conversation!

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19 comments on “Travel To Do: The Search for Daigo-ji Temple in Kyoto

  1. Pingback: Travel To Do: Tateyama Kurobe, Japan’s Alpine Route - TravelLatte

    • Hi Agness! Our To Do list for Japan is a mile long!! Not only is there so much to see and do, there’s all of that yummy food. I can see why it’s a favorite of yours! Thanks for reading.

  2. Kyoto is amazing, i can say I m lucky enough, because I had a chance to be there for a couple of days. With this post just came up very nice memories about Japan. Great post, and thank you for sharing that.

    • Hi Csilla – we are so jealous! Glad you had nice memories from Japan, and that we helped bring them to mind. We are definitely looking forward to creating our own Japan memories one day. 🙂 Thanks for visiting our blog! We were just reading your Transylvania Guide. That’s the second time this week we read about Sighisoara…like the universe is trying to tell us something. 😉

  3. Oh, Kyoto! It’s our next stop, too! If we manage to get away from work, that is. We’re planning to go in April when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. I fell in love with Kyoto the first time I saw a photo of it on Instagram.

    • Oooh, we’re jealous! Unfortunately, it’s not in our stars for 2016 (at least, not yet!) but definitely on the short list! A friend is there now and keeps sending crazy-pretty pictures for more inspiration.

  4. Wow. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan and Kyoto is definitely high up on my bucket list particularly to see the blossom and leaves. I love your powers of detective work tracking down the Daigo Temple. How could you not want to see that?? I’m adding this to my never-ending list! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

  5. Wow, how timely.. I’m heading to Kyoto this December! But I think I am going to miss those beautiful autumn foliage since December is a bit late for autumn. 🙁

    • Hi Bumble Bee Mum! How exciting that you’re going to Japan! December is too late for the fall color, but still…Japan! 🙂 I’ve seen some pictures of the castles and temples in snow, and they look breathtaking, too! Enjoy your trip!

  6. I am currently ‘dream’ planning a trip to Japan too! I hate when you see an amazing photo like this and have to try and track down how to actually see the site. The internet is a blessing and a curse!

    Thanks for joining in #wednesdaywanderlust this week.

    • Hi Malinda – thank you for stopping by TravelLatte! You are so right about the double-sided nature of the internet but, if nothing else, in tracking down something like that temple you learn so much more. So there’s the silver lining, I suppose. Now I just need to figure out how to fit the trip in – and the internet doesn’t seem to be helping out there. 😉

  7. Glad you found your temple! Kyoto is one of my favorite cities to get lost in. You should come back in August for O-bon (Kind of like the Japanese Day of the Dead) & Daimonji Gozan Okuribi Fire Festival when they burn Japanese characters into the mountains around Kyoto. But really, Kyoto is a beautiful place anytime of the year.

    • Fire Festival?!? Noted – thanks for the tip! You are right, though: there is so much to see and do across Japan that anytime is surely a good time to visit!

    • Japan is on the same schedule as the U.S. (and all of the Northern Hemisphere) – September and October are peak months for fall color. But the Red Maples you see in some of these photos give the gardens a burst of color all year long. Beautiful gardens, aren’t they? Thanks for stopping by!

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