Enkoji Temple (圓光寺, Enkōji) is located in northern Kyoto, Japan near Shugakuin Imperial Villa and the Silver Pavilion. Most beautiful during fall colors season in November and December, Enkoji is stunning year-round thanks to its diverse features, art, and architecture.
In this post, we’ll share photos from our various experiences at Enkoji Temple. We’ll also offer some tips and info for visiting, transportation, and our thoughts about incorporating Enkoji Temple into a couple of different touring plans. While Enkoji Temple is already a prominent stop on one of my favorites, our Northern “Cool Kyoto” Itinerary, it’s also possible to visit as part of our 1-Day Eastern Kyoto Itinerary.
We’ve now visited Enkoji Temple several times, but you might notice that it was only an honorable mention in our Top 10 Fall Color Spots in Kyoto, Japan list. This is because our timing thus far has been awful for Enkoji in the fall. The autumn photos in this post are both pre-peak and post-peak from two different years. Objectively speaking (and based upon photos we’ve seen), Enkoji Temple is undoubtedly worthy of a place in a fall Kyoto itinerary.
No matter when you visit, Enkoji Temple is stunning. Its natural beauty is impressive, with cherry blossoms in the spring, lush summertime vegetation, fiery red fall foliage, and a snow-covered winter mountainscape. Enkoji’s official site has photos of each season (take a look at these peaceful winter photos!), which underscores the seasonality of the temple.
As if the ever-changing natural beauty wasn’t enough, Enkoji offers a small art display that is regularly rotated. You’ll also find diversity via numerous buildings, serene gardens, a small bamboo forest, beautiful fusuma art, and a scenic overlook of Northern Kyoto.
Enkoji Temple is my favorite type of Kyoto temple–one that takes on a different personality with each season, offering endless re-visitability and chances for unique photos.
This is why Enkoji Temple makes our 10 Best Hidden Gem Photography Spots list for Kyoto; a set of photos from Enkoji could very well look like they were shot at several different temples at different times.
Per the temple’s pamphlet, Enkoji (or Zuiganzan Enkouji Temple, as it’s referred to there) was founded in 1601 by the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in Fushimi, Kyoto as an educational institution. He invited Zen priest Genkitsu Sanyo to be its first headmaster, and invited the general public in addition to Buddhist monks.
The temple is famous for having published numerous books in the 1600s, and the 50,000 original wooden blocks used to print these books–the oldest such blocks in Japan–are still preserved in the temple today. Enkoji Temple was moved Shokokuji Temple in the 1600s, and to its current location in 1667.
Enkoji’s principal object of worship is a statue of the thousand-armed Kannon Bodhisattva, which was purportedly produced by famed sculptor Unkei.
The temple has an array of other art, including two Important Cultural Properties of Japan, a statue of its founder and two six-fold screen paintings of bamboo forests by the master painter, Ohkyo Maruyama.
Enkoji Temple is nestled in a pocket of Northeastern Kyoto that could be considered ‘hidden gem’ territory.
Within a short walk of Enkoji, you can also reach both Manshuin or Shisendo Temples, as well as the aforementioned Shugakuin Imperial Villa.
Consequently, all of these spots are fairly popular with private tour guides in Kyoto. This area is a nice neighborhood to walk through, and visiting relatively quiet and “undiscovered” locations is always a hit with their clients.
Keep in mind that ‘fairly popular’ is a relative term–a tour group of ~5-10 people is still nothing compared to what you’ll encounter at the Golden Pavilion or Kiyomizudera.
I’m not so much a fan of Manshuin or Shisendo. Partly because we’ve always encountered small tour groups there, and partly because I just don’t think either are that strong. If I wanted something undiscovered that offers true serenity, there are better out-of-the-way options.
However, if you’re already in the neighborhood of Enkoji Temple, it does make sense to visit those other stops and form your own opinion.
Our personal approach for Enkoji Temple is very different. Since we’ve been fine tuning our itineraries, it’s become our first or last stop of the day and either the southernmost temple we do while visiting Northern Kyoto or the northernmost stop while doing Eastern Kyoto.
Ending the day at Enkoji while walking Eastern Kyoto is the more difficult approach, as it’s a 35-minute walk from Silver Pavilion (or 25 minute bus ride). We nevertheless like this option, as it’s an interesting walk through a charming neighborhood.
In terms of transportation from other locations, the easiest scenario is taking the Keihan Main Line to its final stop, Demachiyanagi Station. Then take the Eizan Railway to Ichijoji or Shugakuin Stations, depending upon what else you’re going to see in the area.
As we note in our Northern Kyoto Itinerary, we recommend the Eizan Railway 1-Day Unlimited Pass for those heading farther north.
I’ve come to prefer visiting Enkoji Temple at the end of the day for sunset. Due to the temple’s operating hours, this isn’t possible in the summer, but it is for most of the fall through spring, when the temple is at its most beautiful.
Standing atop the hillside overlook with a view looking out on most of Kyoto and watching the sun dip below the horizon is a serene and special experience.
Overall, we love Enkoji Temple. It’s one of our top 20 temples in Kyoto, and one of the few that we make a point of regularly revisiting because it looks so different with each passing season. It’s really a treasure trove of natural and manmade beauty, with stunning scenery and engaging architectural and landscape design. Enkoji is not the easiest temple to incorporate into a 3-day or less Kyoto itinerary, but if you’re able to squeeze it in, you won’t be sorry. Even with several visits to this temple under our belts, we’ve still yet to see snow and peak fall colors at Enkoji, so we’ll keep returning!
If you’re planning a trip to Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend that you start 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 Enkoji Temple? If so, during which season? What did you think of the experience? Would you recommend it to a first-timer visiting Japan? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Does visiting this temple in Kyoto interest you? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!