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Saihoji (F, Saihōji), more commonly known as Kokedera (ێ), is one of Kyoto's Unesco World Heritage Sites. Entrance to this temple requires an advance reservation.

Kokedera means Moss Temple, referring to the temple garden's estimated 120 different varieties of moss. Outside of winter, visitors to the temple can walk through this spectacular garden, which has strongly influenced subsequent Japanese garden design.

Kokedera was originally the site of Prince Shotoku's villa before becoming a temple in the Nara Period. In 1339, the temple was renovated and converted into a Zen temple under the priest Muso Soseki. Muso is also credited with creating Kokedera's gardens.

Kokedera offers the unique opportunity for visitors to participate in some of the temple's religious activities. Every visitor to Kokedera is asked to contribute to the observances of kito and shakyo (respectively, the chanting and copying of Buddhist scriptures, called sutra).

After entering the gates, visitors should proceed directly to the temple to pay the entrance fee and begin the sutra copying. They will take a seat at one of the low writing desks. A monk leads the room in sutra chanting and then the copying begins. When ready, visitors can take their sutra paper up to the altar and exit. After the kito and shakyo, a stroll through the moss garden is not to be missed.

Completing the entire activity may take over an hour and sitting on the floor for this length of time can be uncomfortable. It should be stressed however, that copying out the sutra is not as challenging as it may first sound. A tracing of the Japanese characters guides even those with no previous knowledge of Japanese calligraphy or Buddhism.

During winter (mid January to February), the garden is closed to tourists to allow it to rest and undergo maintenance work. Instead, visitors can tour the temple's main hall and see its many fusuma sliding screens which adorn paintings of 20th century painter Domoto Insho. Instead of copying a sutra, visitors can participate in zazen meditation during a winter visit.

Getting there and around

Kokedera is a 20 minute walk from Matsuo Taisha Station on the Hankyu Arashiyama Line.

From Kyoto Station

Take the Karasuma Subway Line to Shijo Station (3 minutes) and transfer to the Hankyu Kyoto Line to Katsura Station (8 minutes). At Katsura Station, switch to the Hankyu Arashiyama Line which takes five minutes to Matsuo Taisha Station. In total, the trip takes about 30 minutes and costs 460 yen.

Alternatively, Kyoto Bus number 73 runs 1-3 times per hour from Kyoto Station via Arashiyama to Kokedera (1 hour, 230 yen one way, not covered by the 1-day bus pass). On busy days, this bus is likely to be delayed due to congestion in the Arashiyama area.

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Hours and Fees

Kokedera requires advance reservations, which can be made online or by postal mail. All visitors must be at least 12 years old. Admission costs 4000 yen, plus a service fee of 110 yen for online reservations.

Online reservations

Online applications are possible on the official English reservation system for dates starting two months before the visit until the day before the visit, but the number of spots is limited.

Note that some special visiting programs, which include additional activities at higher costs, are offered on selected days. They can also be reserved online on the official website.

Reservations by postal mail

Previously the main method of applying for a visit, reservations by postal mail require you to send a request by postal mail to the temple at least 1-2 months before the intended date of visit. Consult the temple's official website for details.

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