Kōmyō-in is a sub-temple of Tofuku-ji located near Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. It’s a hidden gem best known for its traditional Chinese dry landscape garden. In this post, we’ll share further thoughts, tips, photos, and anecdotes from Komyoin Temple.
While Komyoin ranks as #30 on our list of the Top 100 Temples & Shrines in Kyoto, Japan, that’s our attempt at objectivity and represents a “conservative” number. At the same time, Komyoin Temple makes our 1-Day Brickers’ Perfect Kyoto, Japan Itinerary of things we’d do with only a single day in the city. It’s so far under-the-radar that you’re unlikely to see anyone else here when you visit, and it’s such a hidden gem that you might literally have difficulty finding it, as the temple blends in with other structures from the street.
To give some context, Komyoin Temple currently has 62 reviews on TripAdvisor with a 4.5 rating and 132 reviews on Google with a 4.6 rating. Both of those scores are very good, even by temple standards, but that’s not the point. The low number of reviews is the key here. Compare those with Kiyomizudera, which has 14,000 Google reviews, or nearby Fushimi Inari, which has 20,000. Pretty stark contrast!
Our first visit to Komyoin Temple solidified its position as one of Kyoto’s truly magical experiences. We started with an early morning at Fushimi Inari Shrine, setting out for our favorite spot in Kyoto right around sunrise. That visit entailed heading up the Senbon Torii path like normal, until arriving at the Yotsusuji Crossroads, which is the popular viewpoint before the Summit Loop Trail.
We then found the trailhead for the Higashiyama Course of Kyoto Isshu Circuit Trail, which leads down to Tofukuji. We took that path down through a series of interesting sub-shrines, including separate ones featuring horses, mossy foxes, and serpentines.
This dumped us out right near Komyoin, where our “adventure” continued. If you’re interested in this hike, our Hiking Kyoto Trail: Fushimi Inari Shrine to Tofukuji Temple post covers everything you need to know, and the steps for taking this easy route. It’s a great experience that we highly recommend.
Komyoin Temple was practically right in front of us at this point, but it did take us a couple of passes by to “discover” it. For what it’s worth, the Google Maps location is accurate, and Komyoin Temple does more closely resemble a traditional Japanese machiya townhouse than it does a temple.
Upon arriving at the entrance to the temple, we encountered no one. Literally. Apparently, Komyoin Temple is so unpopular (I really hate using that term, as the review consensus is that those who visit love it) that they can’t justify the cost of staffing it.
Instead, the entry fee is paid into a bamboo slot via the honor system. Only in Japan.
Inside, there are a series of interconnected rooms, each of which offers a different perspective into the karesansui, or dry landscape garden for which Komyoin Temple is known.
These rooms are all simple and straightforward, and exist to highlight the garden. There’s also a teahouse known as Ragetsu (or “Mossy Moon”) that overlooks the garden.
Komyoin Temple’s dry landscape garden is named Hashin-no-Niwa and consists of rocks, water, moss, pruned trees, shrubs, plus white sand and moss to achieve its design. Hashin-no-Niwa features 3 sets of rocks arranged in circles, and the arrangement of the stones makes them appear to radiate light.
There are satsuki and azaleas that bloom in early summer along with bellflowers, which is said to give Komyoin Temple a kaleidoscope of color. (We’ve yet to see this.) As a result, Hashin-no-Niwa is sometimes informally referred to as the Niji no Kokedera (or “Rainbow Moss Temple”).
The autumn foliage that forms the backdrop of Komyoin Temple is also said to be famous. This would seem to check out. On the interior walls, Komyoin Temple proudly displays some of the ad campaigns featuring the garden, and almost all of them showcase the fall colors.
One is even a nationwide Japan Rail poster, which makes me question how is Komyoin still under the radar?!
Whatever the explanation, we’re glad that tourists don’t flock to Komyoin. For one, the small space couldn’t handle colossal crowds. We love sitting inside, soaking up the serenity and being alone with the mesmerizing Hashin-no-Niwa garden.
You don’t need much time to see everything here (10 minutes would probably do), but we love sitting here. We could do just that (and have) for an hour.
If you don’t access Komyoin Temple via the aforementioned hike, the easiest way to find it is from Tofukuji Station along the JR Keihan Line; it’s a 10 minute walk from there. Other nearby train, subway, and bus routes are also available–just consult Google Maps.
Admission to Komyoin Temple is 300 yen and it’s open from 8 a.m. until sunset.
Ultimately, a big thing that makes Komyoin Temple so special is that it’s usually deserted. The garden itself is stunning, but it wouldn’t be as impactful if it were crammed with people. Accordingly, it’s pretty much a requirement that word doesn’t spread too far and wide about Komyoin.
The upside is that this article is unlikely to ruin anything. There are already a surprising number of blog posts elsewhere about this hidden gem, and those haven’t had an impact. Even many of you who do read this advice imploring you to visit Komyoin Temple are likely to ignore it (no offense taken), as it’s on exactly 0 Kyoto top 10 lists and few other resources recommend it. That’s good news for the few of you who do heed our recommendation…and for us as we make return visits to our newest “must-see” temple in Kyoto.
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 Komyoin Temple? 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? Any questions about what we’ve covered here? Does visiting this spot in Kyoto interest you? Hearing about your experiences—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!