Ohara in Kyoto

Ohara, in Kyoto’s most remote northeastern area, is a farming community endowed with an exceptional array of remarkable temples. Located along the narrow road that ultimately winds on further north to the Japan Sea, Ohara has no train service, and buses from central Kyoto drive up through the Takano River Valley past rice fields and roadside shrines. From the modest Ohara bus terminal, a country lane along the Ryo River leads up to Sanzen-in, a spectacular mountainside of historic temple halls and sculpted gardens that began as an 8th-century hermitage. Trails above Sanzen-in curve past Raigo-in, constructed in 1200 as a training center for shomyo Buddhist hymnal chanting, to the delicate Otonashi Waterfalls, silent cascades of pure water over mountain boulders and weathered rockface on the Ritsu River.

Ohara in Kyoto Photo Gallery

The lane below Sanzen-in runs by Jikko-in, Shorin-in, and Hosen-in Temples. A 700-year-old pine tree skillfully shaped in the revered profile of sacred Mount Fuji can be glimpsed above the garden wall of Hosen-in, where the interior gardens are both elegant and meticulously maintained. Floorboards from Kyoto’s historical Fushimi Castle, stained with the blood of loyal fallen samurai, are respectfully incorporated as ceiling panels above the garden veranda at Hosen-in. Further afield, in Kochidani Valley to the north, the more rarely visited Amida-ji Temple is reached by a fragrant forest road that climbs into a scene from Shangri-La. Crystalline waterfalls lead upwards to the mountain temple just above, where Zen-like gardens and temple buildings of bare weathered wood overhang the hilltop plateau with unexpected perfection on the silent mountainside.

The Hondo Hall of Shorin-in Temple, founded in 1013.

The abbot of Hosen-in points out planks, originally floorboards from historic Fushimi Castle bearing the bloodied imprints of valiant fallen samurai, reverentially reused in the veranda’s ceiling.

The upper Yusei-en Garden at Sanzen-in Temple.

The Shoin Study at Hosen-in Temple.

A sand cone in the lower garden at Hosen-in.

The cinnabar Suzakumon Gate at Sanzen-in.

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