The garden of Saiho-ji is acclaimed by many as Kyoto's most beautiful garden and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage.
It is especially famous for its moss garden, for which reason it is also commonly known as Moss temple or Koke-dera (苔寺). The mountain name, a second, formal name used for Zen temples, is Koin-Zan. It is also the name of the mountain that lies behind Saiho-ji.
In 1339, the famous Zen monk Muso Soseki became the head priest of the temple and remodeled the garden. For him, creating gardens was part of his zen meditation routine. He founded a lot of temples and built or remodeled their gardens, but Saiho-ji is clearly his masterpiece.
The emperor Komyo and other members of the imperial household visited the garden on several occasions – enjoying boating parties and admiring the cherry blossoms. Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) sat here in meditation in the upper part of the garden commemorating the garden's creator Muso Soseki. Yoshimitsu's grandson shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1435-1490) loved this garden so much that he modeled his own retreat, the Temple of the Silver Pavillion – Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺), after Saiho-ji.
Famous monks of different Buddhist sects have been head priests of the temple – namely Kukai (774-835), Honen (1133-1212) and Muso Soseki (1275-1351). During the Edo period the temple fell into disrepair. It must have been at this time that moss slowly encroached the garden until it covered all of it. Today, there are roughly 120 types of moss in the garden.
The best times to view the garden are during the rainy season (mid-June until mid-July), when the fresh moss is soft and spongy, and in autumn, when the red and orange of the maple's leafs contrast nicely with the lush green of the velvety moss.
History of the temple
Buildings of the temple
Muso Soseki's Garden Philosophy
The Lower Garden
The Upper Garden
How to get there