By Bonson Lam
The history of Shoji-ji temple predates that of Kyoto itself. Founded in the year 686, it is known for its feeling of remoteness, as well as the hundreds of cherry and maple trees in the gardens, which are a photographer’s delight in both spring and autumn.
This is one of the best spots in Kyoto to view cherry blossoms without the springtime crowds. So beautiful are the flowers here, that this temple is also known as hana no dera, or the Temple of Flowers. In the Heian period nearly a millennia ago, a poet called Saigyo built his home in the gardens. The cherry blossom Saigyo zakura was named in his honor. His poems about life and beauty inspired many other writers, including the poet Basho.
When you are walking up the well-worn stone steps, imagine the generations of pilgrims who have trod these grounds in the last millennia. The faded red gate almost looks as old, and if you take a close look inside, you will find two stone statutes representing the guardians of this temple. Statues of disciple Binzuru also abound, made famous by stories of him curing illnesses and flying around in mid air.
These gardens, along with Jurinji nearby, make a good day trip from Kyoto or Osaka. From Hankyu’s Higashi Muko or JR Mukomachi Station, there are Hankyu Buses to Minami Kasugachō (南春日町), which is the closest stop to Shoji-ji temple. Just take the Route 63 or 65 from Stand 2 at JR Muko in front of the west exit, or Stand 1 of Hankyu Higashimuko station, just south of the west exit.
From Higashi Muko Hankyu Railway Station, the buses on weekdays are 7:07, 7:52 and 8:22 am, and then nothing until the afternoon at 15:12, 15:42, and then every 20 minutes to 1832. Note that as the temple shuts at 5pm I suggest that you get a morning bus, or for a lightning visit, you can make a run for the temple after boarding the 15:12 bus in the afternoon. The bus takes about 18 minutes. The Hankyu Railway Company offers a 700 yen unlimited day railway pass between Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe, making this an attractive option if you are traveling from Osaka or Kobe.
It is an 18 minute walk from the Minamikasugachō (南春日町) bus terminal to Shojiji Temple, or a 1.1 km walk through some bamboo groves. So all up it just under 40 minutes to escape from modern civilisation to a temple lost in time, with the stroll making it suitable for those who would like a short hike.
If you miss those buses, the ordinary route 63 bus gets you to Oharano Elementary School, and then it is a 1.8 km walk from there to the temple. There are buses at 12 past every hour. Alternatively, you can take a taxi or a bicycle, which you can hire from Kyoto Station or Fushimi with Kyoto Cycling Project, or from Nishi Muko Railway Station starting from just 200 yen for 4 hours. It is quite a hilly and lengthy ride, so bring a pocket WiFi device to activate the GPS on your smartphone.
Whether you ride, walk or bus to this hidden gem, be sure to take some food and drinks for your journey. The shopping center, which is just a short walk from Higashi Muko Railway Station, stocks everything from donuts to bento boxes.
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