Myoshinji (妙心寺, Myōshinji) is a large temple complex in northwestern Kyoto which includes about 50 subtemples in addition to its main buildings. While a few of the temple halls can be entered, the majority of the subtemples are closed to the public. However, visitors are free to wander along the walking paths. In several ways the temple complex resembles Daitokuji Temple.
Within the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, Myoshinji is the head temple of the Myoshinji school with over 3000 affiliated temples and calls itself the largest of all Zen temples. Myoshinji was founded in 1337 when an abdicated emperor had an imperial villa converted into a Zen temple.
The main buildings of Myoshinji are located near the temple's southern gate near Hanazono Station. Situated in a row one after another are the Sanmon Gate, the Butsuden Hall, the Hatto Hall and the Ohojo building. The Sanmon Gate and Butsuden Hall are both considered important cultural properties but can only be observed from the outside.
The Hatto Hall can be viewed from the inside as part of a guided tour. The hall features a giant painting of a dragon on its ceiling that looks differently depending on the angle it is viewed from. There is also an ancient bell on display that is one of the country's oldest, dating back to the late 7th century.
The guided tour also includes a visit to the temple's bath room (yokushitsu), which is located in a small building and predates the Edo Period (1603-1867), although it was still used into the 20th century. Guided tours start at the Ohojo building, the head priest's former living quarters. They are conducted in Japanese and last about half an hour.
Of Myoshinji's many subtemples, four are open to the public throughout the year and five have seasonal or occasional openings. A few of the closed temples have their front gate open so that a glimpse can be taken at their inner gardens. Walking along the many paths that connect the buildings is a nice way to enjoy the temple atmosphere. Although detached from the rest of the temple grounds these days, the nearby Ryoanji Temple is also one of Myoshinji's subtemples.
Taizoin Temple is the most famous of the subtemples on Myoshinji's main grounds. The temple's beautiful pond garden was constructed during the mid 1960s and is considered one of the best gardens of the Showa Period (1926-1989). Its rock garden was designed in the the 1400s by the famous painter Kano Motonobu. The temple is also in possession of a highly valued painting from the 1400s that depicts a Buddhist parable of a man trying to catch a fish with a gourd.
The other two subtemples that are permanently open to the public are not as large or well known as Taizoin, but offer visitors a quiet and pleasant atmosphere. Keishunin Temple has a number of gardens that visitors can walk out into, and there is an attractive tea room that makes for a relaxing spot to enjoy the scenery. Daishinin Temple is the smallest of the four subtemples, but has an attractive rock garden, a garden of peonies and some simple temple rooms.