Eikandō Zenrin-ji is a sprawling Buddhist temple located at the base of the northern edge of the Higashiyama mountain range in Kyoto, Japan. This post offers our thoughts on whether Eikando is worth a visit, and if so, how to incorporate it into your tour of Kyoto. Along the way, we also offer photos of Eikandō Zenrinji, and some tips for making the most of your experience there. (Last updated June 1, 2018.)
In terms of location, Eikando is conveniently situated between the southern end of the Path of Philosophers and just north of Nanzen-ji Temple. Those are two absolute must-dos if you’re visiting Kyoto, and Eikando is literally right between them–you’ll walk past it.
Consequently, it’s an easy recommendation for a 1-day walking tour of Kyoto that can be visited with minimal effort. I know “it’s close by other stuff” is not exactly a ringing endorsement that makes you want to fork over the 600 yen admission cost or spend time seeing this, but not everything can be the best. Plus, as you’ll see, Eikandō Zenrinji actually does have quite a bit going for it…
Realistically, “close by other stuff” is a pretty solid selling point when it comes to points of interest in Kyoto. We’ve now been to Eikandō Temple a couple of times for that very reason.
And, to be blunt, our first encounter with it was entirely by chance. We had just finished walking the Philosopher’s Path and were heading towards Nanzen-ji, when we stumbled upon the entrance…
It looked interesting, so we decided to roll the dice and head inside. We wouldn’t be surprised if this is how a good number of visitors to Kyoto “discover” Eikandō Temple. Walk past the entrance, do a double-take, and decide to give it a shot.
Since then (and since originally publishing this post), we’ve returned to Eikando Temple three different times, so it must have a bit more than just convenience going for it. Let’s take a stroll through the lovely grounds of this Kyoto hidden gem…
Eikando’s main building is the Shakado (the Hall of Buddha), which includes a small rock garden and a number of beautiful rooms. This building is connected to others at the lower level by a labyrinth of covered walkways.
Navigating this veritable maze towards Amida Hall (where you can see the temple’s principal object of worship, an Amida statue) is fun and interesting, with a good amount to see along the way. If I recall correctly, photos are not allowed in several locations, which is fairly typical for temples in Kyoto (there will be signs up if photos are not allowed).
The first aspect of Eikandō Temple that I really liked was the beautifully painted sliding doors that you pass when walking through its corridors in the lower levels of the compound.
There are actually a number of subtly charming areas of Eikando Temple, and my appreciation of this location–which I’d consider an under the radar highlight of Kyoto–grows with each repeat visit.
When venturing up to the higher elevations, it’s easy to see how it came to be known as “temple in a calm grove,” as Zenrinji is tranquil and relaxing in these areas away from crowds.
Our first couple of visits here were both been relatively early in the day during the off-season; even during shoulder season, Eikando draws minimal crowds.
Since our first visit to Eikando, we’ve returned during both autumn and spring, experiencing the foliage and cherry blossoms at Eikando Temple. Sakura season was just as uncrowded as any other time of year at Eikando Temple, which is undoubtedly because this is not a temple known for cherry blossoms.
With that said, Eikando Temple is a nice option during the spring. The scattering of cherry blossoms provide a decent amount of visual interest and the upper level of the temple provides a nice vantage for viewing the more sakura-dense locations in Higashiyama. Additionally, it’s a nice escape from the crowds after doing Nanzenji or Path of Philosophers.
On the other hand, fall is an absolute madhouse. Eikando Temple goes from being an under the radar temple to one of the busiest in the city. We wrote about our experience attending the evening event here in our Eikando Temple Fall Colors Night Lighting post.
In addition to offering information about this popular event, we share photos of the breathtaking foliage. Suffice to say, there’s a reason it’s known as “Eikando of Fall Colors” among Kyotoites.
My other favorite aspect about Eikando Temple is all of the covered walkways and stairs leading from one area of the temple to the next.
The temple was constructed at the base of mountains, and the gradation among the areas of the temple make walking around the complex quite engaging.
It helps that once you get to the steps of Tahoto Pagoda (arguably the icon of the entire complex), which is highest point of the Eikandō Temple complex, you have some beautiful views of Kyoto.
Our first visit here was just before the start of fall color season in Kyoto. The fall colors were just starting to turn during our visit in late October, and it was obvious that if we arrived a couple weeks later, it would’ve been much more beautiful.
For peak fall colors at Eikando Temple, you’ll want to plan a visit around mid-November. There are a variety of different koyo trees at different elevations here, so you’ll find color from the end of October until early December, but things tend to peak in mid-to-late November.
You can find Eikando Temple as an optional stop in our 1-Day Eastern Kyoto Itinerary. There we note that our main basis for including it is out of convenience, since it’s so close to both Nanzenji Temple and Path of Philosophers.
Ultimately, that’s sort of where we stand with Eikando Temple. We recommend visiting, but not due to its merit as one of the top spots in Kyoto. It does make our Top 25 Things to Do in Kyoto, which is not too shabby given that there are 1,600 temples in Kyoto, but it’s still not one of the truly elite locations…except in fall. Given that you can slot Eikando Temple into you schedule with minimal effort, it’s an easy pick as a way to flesh out your Kyoto itinerary when visiting the Northern Higashiyama area. If accessing Eikando Temple were more difficult, it might not make our list. This isn’t to say it’s without merit, as there are beautiful elements including the covered walkways, beautiful murals, tiered layout of the complex, and colorful foliage. It’d just be a close call. If you’re visiting Kyoto during fall color season, including Eikando Temple in your itinerary is a no-brainer.
If you’re planning a trip to the Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit!
Have you visited Eikandō Temple? What did you think of it? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Questions about including this spot in your Kyoto itinerary? Share any other questions or thoughts you have in the comments!