The magic of Kokedera, the temple of moss

The monk is wearing a dark kimono and tabi, the split toe socks. He opens his arms to invite us on a small path surrounded by more than fifty shades of green. The variety of mosses on the ground, trees, and rocks is baffling: everyone has its own shape, shade, and texture. The Japanese garden is very peaceful, with a few monks respectfully sweeping the leaves from the moss with a twig broom and the greatest possible care. An occasional small pink flower lays on the green moss offering us a delicate contrast. Beautiful red carps evolve in the central pond blurring the reflection of its small stone bridges. The pond is shaped as the Chinese character “shin” (heart). A couple of tea ceremony houses are scattered on the grounds. The greyish tone of bamboos adds the last touch to that painting on the East side of the garden. We are taking in the magic of Kokedera, the temple of moss.

Popularly known as Kokedera, Koinzan Saihoji is a very special Buddhist temple and requires quite a bit of efforts to be visited, as its precious treasures need to be protected: 120 different types of mosses are grown in this stunning Japanese garden that was designed in 1338 by the Zen priest Muso Kokushi.
It started two months ago when we applied by postal request to the temple. About a month later, we got the good news: our request was approved and we were expected at 10am sharp on the 29th of July at Kokedera!

On that day, we biked to the temple at the foot of the Western mountains of Kyoto with the card that was sent back to us by the monks and the exact change of ¥3000 per person (about 25€, being about 6 times more expensive than other temples in Kyoto).

Leaving our shoes outside, we quietly walk bare feet into the temple where we enter a tatami mat room. As the few other Japanese-only visitors, we sit on our knees in front of an individual little black table. Three monks enter the room and after burning a scent stick and bowing deep to the altar, they start chanting the prayer. One of the monks beats the rhythm on a sculpted wooden drum regularly, another one strikes a big and thick bronze bowl to give a resonating ring tone, while they all sing their prayer in a unison of their deep voices.

After the prayer, we are handed a thin wooden board the size of page keeper to write our wish on one side and our name and address on the other. We bend slightly to the right to use the calligraphy brush and some thin black ink contained in a stone recipient. Once done, we donate it close to the altar, bowing and dropping a coin in. The monks will gather them all and pray for our wishes to be realized.

It is now time to uncover the jewel of the temple: this wish has definitely been realized.

Claire

Travel tips:

  • Take a visual tour of Japan!
  • As it was a challenge for us to find the accurate procedure to visit Kokedera, here are a few tips for future visitors:

1. Our letter in English:

Hi,

We would like to visit Koke-dera:

Group’s name: ____________

Number of people in my group: ___

Dates we would like to visit the Koke-dera temple: ________ (put several days to give several options – remember, you can apply 2 months ahead of your visit at the earliest).

Thank you in advance,

2. Postal address where requests should be sent:

Saihoji Temple
56 Jingatani-cho, Matsuo
Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto, 615-8286
Japan

Do not forget to enclose an envelope for the answer to be returned to you. Inquire in a decently-sized post-office before your trip as every country has a specific system. The easiest being to have a Japanese friend taking care of all this for you!!

3. On the day of your visit: take the card from the temple with you, as well as the exact change (at the time of writing: ¥3000 per person). And don’t be late, or you will not be admitted.

  • Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!

One thought on “The magic of Kokedera, the temple of moss

  1. Pingback: Temple hopping in Kyoto: our top chart | Best regards from far,

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