Sanzen-in temple (三千院, さんぜんいん) is one of many famous fall foliage locations in Kyoyo. It is located in the northeast of Kyoto Station in the rural town of Ohara (大原), about 20 km (12.4 mi) by car. Denkyo-daishi Saicho, the founder of Enryakuji (延暦寺) in Mount Hieizan (比叡山), built small buildings on Mt. Hiei as priests' houses in 788, which was believed to be the origin of Sanzen-in. Sanzen-in is the largest temple in the area with multiple buildings and gardens.
We were there in the late afternoon in November. There are many small shops along the uphill walking path from the parking lot to the Sanzen-in temple. You need to try the aisu kyuri (cucumbers soaked in seaweed flavored ice water on a stick). The most famous food in Ohara is miso; they have over hundred types of miso. They are so proud of their miso. The white miso is especially tasty. Sanzenin temple is the major attraction of Ohara. The complex has many temple buildings, gardens, and lovely paths to walk around. First, we passed the gate of the temple (御殿門) and it came the Kyakuden (Guest Hall, 客殿). The buildings are connected by a corridor and the beautiful Shuhekien Japanese garden (聚碧園) with trees and a small pond surrounded by them. It is a nice place to relax and enjoy the fresh air. Shinden (宸殿) is the main building, and we saw the Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall (往生極樂殿) through the colorful maple and cedar trees on the moss garden. Ojo Gokuraku-in Hall is the oldest temple building at Sanzen-in. It was built in 985 and was rebuilt in 1143. It holds a statue of Amida Buddha (阿弥陀如来, 阿彌陀佛), Sanzenin's most valued treasure. The statue of Amida Buddha is accompanied by two attendant deities, Kannon (観音菩薩, 觀世音菩薩) on one side and Seishi (勢至菩薩, 大勢至菩薩) on the other. Besides the above mentioned temples, the Kan'non-do hall (觀音堂) and Konjikifudo-do hall (金色不動堂) are also both worth a visit. The fall foliage is the most crowded season, and sometimes you just can’t easily go inside the halls. If you look carefully enough, you can find a number of stone statues on the moss. It really makes the garden even more worth seeing. The late afternoon makes photo taking most enjoyable.
The admission is 700 yen, and it opens 7 days a week. You can take Kyoto City Bus # 17, which provides a direct connection from Kyoto Station to Ohara (60 minutes). Sanzen-in Temple is beautiful for all the seasons. If you want to avoid the crowd, it is better to go there early in the morning when they open at 9:00 am (Nov. 8:30 am).
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