It's no secret that Kyoto is the centre of traditional Japanese culture. There are lots of beautiful shrines and temples that each have a unique charm. But with literally hundreds to choose from, it can get difficult to pick and choose which ones to go to, besides the obvious Kinkaku-ji and Kiyomizu dera. So here are my thoughts on two temples that you may be considering- Ryoanji and Ninnaji. I visited both on the same day as they are a mere 5 minutes away from each other.
Ryoanji is one of the many UNESCO world heritage sites in Kyoto. Right at the foot of the hills of Northern Kyoto, Ryoanji was easily one my favourites. I spent a good 2-3 hours there. This temple seems to be overlooked by tour groups, which is a huge bonus. Besides a few small school groups and old couples, there was barely anyone there. And this temple is seriously beautiful, especially since I went when autumn was in full swing. The temple has a garden that is covered in maple trees, and has many scenic spots to take pictures, with no tourists in the background. Ryoanji is most famous for its zen rock garden, which has a small entry fee of about 500 yen. It has a really interesting arrangement of 15 rocks, from which at any given angle (besides from above of course) only 14 can be seen at one time. It is said that to see the 15th, you must attain enlightenment.
Since I was not planning on attaining enlightenment anytime soon, I took great joy in counting and taking pictures of the 14 rocks I could see. The large pond was also lined with maple trees, and their leaves created ripples as they fell into the water, creating an absolutely wonderful atmosphere. I seriously can’t recommend this temple enough, especially if you plan to visit Kyoto in autumn. Location
Like Ryoanji, Ninnaji is also a UNESCO world heritage site. Ninnaji was even more quiet, with there being no school groups at all. Ninnaji is a large temple complex with a lot of historically significant architecture. The temple grounds are also famous for its sakura trees, which colour the area bright pink in spring. Obviously, it would have been much better to visit this place in spring when the sakura are in full bloom. The Goten of Ninnaji is actually styled like an imperial palace, and showcases impressive painted sliding doors. The goten also offers views of smaller gardens from elevated platforms within the temple. I also really like how the buildings were built on stilts, it somehow adds to the serenity of the place. There were many open spaces and structures to look at. Ninnaji is a great place to view traditional Japanese architecture and art. Location
To be honest, Ninnaji didn't have much of a chance to win, because after seeing Ryoanji my expectations had shot up immeasurably, and nothing I saw that day could have possibly topped it. I’m also a huge fan of nature and Ryoanji simply had more of it. With that being said, Ninnaji is great for fans of old architecture, and I say visit both and see for yourself!
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