Ninnaji Temple in western Kyoto, Japan is a prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kyoto is culturally rich city that is home to some of Japan’s most significant temples and shrines. Among the most popular temples, there is the Golden Pavilion Temple as well as places like Fushimi Inari Shrine. Outside of those mainstream temples and shrines, there are slightly lesser known places that still has great historical and cultural significance, and that is Ninnaji Temple.
Ninnaji Temple dates back to the Heian period. The construction of the temple was ordered in 886 by Emperor Koko. However at the time, it was called the Nishiyama Goganji Temple and its purpose was to spread Buddhist teachings and bless the land. Unfortunately, Emperor Koko was unable to see the completed temple and it was the following emperor, Uda who saw the completion of the temple. When the temple was finished Emperor Uda renamed it “Ninna” after the late Emperor Koko. An interesting tradition at the temple started with Emperor Uda, following his retirement from the throne Emperor Uda became the first aristocratic priest or abbot of Ninnaji Temple. From that point it became tradition for the reigning Emperors to send a son to Ninnaji Temple to serve as the head priest when the role was vacant. This 1000 year practice saw 30 different head priest before it ended in the late Edo period.
Unfortunately you won’t find any of the original buildings standing today, but you will find a number of other buildings dating back several hundred years. Many of the original buildings were burned downed during the Onin War in 1467, and the land was untouched for about 150 years before it was rebuilt. Most of the buildings remaining are from the Edo period. There are 12 different buildings here that are classified as “important cultural property of Japan” and the golden hall is recognized as a National Treasure of Japan. Scattered around the temple grounds you will find a number of Omuro-zakura or dwarf cherry trees.
Walking in from Niomon gate or the south gate, you are almost immediately greeted by an intersection, each leading to different parts of the temple. You can visit the garden and the tea house, see the main hall, or visit the five-story pagoda. With over 20 different structures to observe, you may need a few hours to fully explore Ninnaji Temple.
When visiting Kyoto, there are so many opportunities to view and learn about Japan’s history. There are countless temples and shrines waiting to be explored. Since there are many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you may even discover your inner history nerd here. Ninnaji Temple is certainly worth visiting for the sheer number of buildings and it’s millennia of history.
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Address: 33 Omuroouchi, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
Access: 7 minute walk from Omuro-Ninnaji Station
9:00 AM – 5:00 PM (March – November)
9:00 AM – 4:30 PM (December – February)
500 yen (Adults)
300 yen (Children)
Website: Ninnaji Temple