Japan is known for being a country that has a lot of historical landmarks that are well kept and preserved because of the history and importance it holds for the Japanese culture. Every single one of these historic attractions can be categorized as “must-see” attractions which make it quite difficult for a traveler to visit every single one due to a number of these attractions alone. With this said, if you can only fit a certain amount of trips around the many attractions in Japan, an attraction that will be surely worth the time and effort to go to is the Tofukuji Temple found in Kyoto.
The History of the Tofukuji Temple
The first major selling point of why you should go to the Tofukuji Temple is that it is one of the oldest temples in Japan. It was built in the year of 1236 under the order of Kujo Michiie, who was a great statesman of Japan at that time. He supposedly wanted to boost his family’s prestige and the way he saw fit to make that happen was to create a major temple that could compete with the great temples of Nara which are namely the Todaiji and the Kofukuji. He also wasn’t shy about his intention to create something that could rival these temples because he even merged their names together and this is why the Tofukuji Temple is named the way it is.
These types of temples have abbots assigned to them and they are responsible for the safekeeping and preservation of these temples. In the case of the Tofukuji Temple, it was a monk named Enni Ben’en who was the very first abbot of this amazing temple. Enni Ben’en was a student of Zen meditation from China but he viewed all forms of Buddhism equally and harmoniously. In addition to the Zen teachings Enni was able to impart to the temple and the visitors, he also brought to Japan Chinese literature which was specifically about the Sung dynasty. Enni Ben’en is also responsible for the popular green tea in the Shizuoka Prefecture because it was him that brought it into Japan as well. It is for this reason that his birthday is celebrated in Shizuoka City as the Shizuoka Tea Day.
Like a lot of the other temples and landmarks in Japan, the Tofukuji Temple also has its share of destruction throughout its time. The original buildings were burnt down in a series of fires that happened in the 14th century. In all the other temples that got damaged due to several things, Japan has always been able to rebuild it back to its glorious look. The same thing happened to the Tofukuji Temple as it was also faithfully rebuilt back to its original form.
Another fire hit this temple complex in the year of 1881 which led to the destruction of the Buddha Hall, Main Hall, and Abbot’s Quarters. The Main Hall and Abbot’s Quarters were eventually rebuilt once again but, sadly, the Buddha Hall or the Butsuden was not rebuilt after it was burnt down. Despite this, you will still be happy to know that the majority of the structures you’ll see there presently have been there since the medieval era.
Information about the Tofukuji Temple and Good Time to go for a Visit
Unlike some of the temples you’ve visited in the past, some of the Tofukuji Temple’s sub-structures work separately in a way. Usually, you need only pay an entrance fee once to view all the attractions to be seen in the temple grounds. In the case of the Tofukuji Temple, some of the attractions require individual entrance fees to access.
The first attraction that requires an entrance fee of 400 yen is the Hojo or the Abbot’s Quarters. If you are an elementary or junior high school student, you get a discount and need only pay an entrance fee of 300 yen. It is worth paying the entrance fee because gaining access to this part of the temple allows you to see and appreciate the 4 gardens that surround the Hojo. Each one of these gardens is decorated differently and they all have different meanings as well.
When you see the southern garden, you will see a traditional Zen garden that is designed with a sea of sand that is raked into precise patterns. You will also see rocks arranged in a certain way and they are said to represent the sacred mountains. The eastern garden is decorated with cylindrical standing stones that are arranged in a way that mimics the constellation of the Big Dipper. You will also see raked sand to complement the standing stone design. The diversity of the materials used to create these designs are not by accident. It was requested by the abbot of the temple to conform with the Rinzai Zen belief that nothing should go to waste.
If the garden of the south and east make use of stones and sand, the northern garden is designed with a checkerboard pattern which is made up of alternating stones and moss. The moss supposedly signifies the rice fields while the stones were used to maximize the waste created by the paving stones for the entrance. From this garden, you will be able to bask in the beauty of the ravine that is filled with maple trees. The western garden is also decorated with a checkered pattern that is made up with a mix of moss, sand, and pruned azalea bushes.
The other attraction that requires an entrance fee before you can access it is the Kaisando or the Founder’s Hall. The fee to be paid is also 400 yen for adults and 300 yen for students. This attraction is worth the cost because you will get to tour through the Tsutenkyo Bridge, which translates to “bridge crossing heaven”, to reach the Hall. This bridge is the one that runs over the ravine that is filled with maple trees and it is one of the biggest reasons to go here in autumn because all these trees turn red, giving your walk through it a more cinematic view. It might not be like the cherry blossoms you see in Tokyo and Osaka but no one can deny the beauty it adds to the Tofukuji Temple. Once you reach the Founder’s Hall, you will see the statue of Enni Ben’en, who was the first abbot of this temple. Aside from this historic statue, you will also be able to enjoy the other gardens found here that are as beautifully decorated as the gardens in the Hojo.
The other attractions in the temple grounds might not require payments but do not ever dare to think of skipping them because these free attractions are actually the ones that were given a certain level of national importance. For example, the Sanmon or the “enlightenment gate” is the largest and the oldest Zen temple gate found in Japan and because of this, it has become a designated national treasure. It stands at two stories and 22 meters high and the way it is designed really showcases how Zen architecture can be so majestic to look at when preserved properly.
The Tosu and Zendo found in the temple grounds also have national importance for their own respective reasons. The Tosu used to be the temple toilet and it is the oldest temple toilet in Japan. Despite the Tosu being simply a toilet, it created a vast about of revenue to the temple once upon a time because the human waste gathered there before was sold as agricultural manure to the farmers.
The Zendo, on the other hand, is Japan’s largest and oldest meditation hall which is why the reason for its national importance. You will also see two gates in the vicinity of the Zendo that is also of historical importance. The first gate is the western gate called Chokushimon and this is of historical importance because it used to be the Imperial Messenger’s Gate. The other gate is the Rokuharamon Gate which used to be the gate of the Rokuhara headquarters because it was moved. This gate is from the early Kamakura period which makes it the oldest structure on the temple grounds.
Getting to the Tofukuji Temple from the Fushimi Inari Station and Other Stations
Traveling around Japan is pretty simple because of its public transportation routes are very well thought of and well connected. With this being said, a guide isn’t necessary because all you really need to know when you want to get around is which station that particular area is near to. You can be staying in any hotel and you’ll still be able to get to Tofukuji with ease.
Tofukuji Temple is only ten minutes away from the Tofukuji Station which serves the JR Nara Line. To be more specific, it is the station that is in between the Kyoto Station and the Fushimi Inari Station. The Tofukuji Station is also accessible via Keihan Main Line so wherever you are, rest assured that there will be many ways to get there. Aside from the trains, you can also opt to take a bus because the Tofukuji bus stop is also a 10-minute walk from the temple. If you are coming from the Kyoto Station, a bus ride to Tofukuji would be around 230 yen and would have a travel time of about 15 minutes.
Now that you know how to get there, you should know the operating hours of the temple. It never stays open until night time. From the months of April to October, the temple is open from 9 AM until 4:30 PM. From November to early December, they operate from 8:30 AM until 4:30 PM. Lastly, for the months of early December to March, they are open from 9 AM until 4 PM. You should also know that this temple does not have closed days and that should make planning a trip to this plan a little easier.
Feedback and reports from previous visitors say that this place is definitely worth the time and effort to see because of all the views and the history it holds. This is very evident in how there are numerous structures in this temple complex that are known to be the oldest ones you can find in Japan. It may not have a sacred animal that it particularly pays tribute to but it surely is valued just as much by Japan because of the history that lies within it.