Saihoji (西芳寺), also commonly referred to as Kokedera or Moss Temple in English, is located in a residential area of Kyoto. It is one of Japan's many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, registered in 1994.
The temple's nickname of Kokedera literally translates to "moss temple," and is affectionately referred to as such by visitors and locals alike. Visitors can expect to find an abundance of moss in the temple's 35,000-square-meter garden which is famous for having over 120 different types of moss spread throughout, carpeting the ground beautifully.
Saihoji Temple was originally established in the year 749, but has been severely damaged by floods and fires throughout it's long life, leading to the need for reconstruction and restoration over the years. Some claim that the moss in the garden came about naturally after major flooding which may have occurred during the Edo period (1603-1868) or perhaps during the Meiji Era (1868-1912), and was never intentionally planted. Either way, I'm happy that the moss is here today for us to enjoy.
Saihoji Temple has a very strict entry policy - the strictest of any temple I've ever visited. Visitors must be 12 years or older, and every visitor must have an advanced reservation otherwise they will be refused entry.
Although entry requirements to Saihoji moss temple may seem a little strict, they were put in place for good reason. The temple quickly became popular after opening to the public in 1928, and as the number of visitors continued to increase, so did the number of problems in the surrounding area. Residents began to notice an increase in litter, traffic accidents, and noise in addition to a number of other problems.
After trying for several years to solve these issues, the temple decided to implement a reservation system in 1977 in order to keep the number of visitors down, and in turn, keep the number of problems down. Since that time the temple has only accepted visitors who have made an advanced reservation.
Thanks to the reservation system, the Zen temple can now choose how many people they allow to enter at any one time, and can ensure a peaceful environment is maintained on the temple grounds.
How to make a reservation for Saihoji Temple/Kokedera?
The original application system for entering Saihoji (which is still used today) was by return postcard. This system worked well for the temple for many years, however, in recent times many people began to complain that it was too troublesome - and you'll see what they mean if you check out the return postcard reservation system here. A little complicated, right?
In June 2021 the temple adopted a new online reservation system, making reservations much more simple. Currently the online reservations for Saihoji are only available in Japanese, but there are plans to introduce an English language system soon.
As for the price of entry, entry via the return postcard reservation system currently costs 3,000 yen, and entry via the online reservation system costs 4,000 yen. I understand that this does seem extremely expensive, however after visiting Saihoji Temple for myself one autumn, I honestly felt that the price of entry was one hundred percent worth it.
I'm not sure if I'll visit this temple again, as I still have many other places to explore, however, if someone invited me to Saihoji, I wouldn't say no!
Saijoji Temple may very well be the best temple in all of Japan to visit in autumn. The green moss against the red and yellow leaves is simply stunning. The sunlight peeking through the leaves and onto the moss was like something out of a fairytale. And thanks to the strict entry requirements, I was able to enjoy this beautiful temple and garden in peace.
As you can see, this temple is stunning in autumn! The colors of the moss and leaves really come alive at this time of year. Autumn is the busiest time for the temple, so be sure to get your reservation application in early.
How to get to Saihoji Temple?
Osaka Umeda station to Saihoji Temple
From Osaka Umeda station take the Hankyu Kyoto line to Katsura station. Change trains at Katsura station to the Hankyu Arashiyama line. Get off the train at Kami-Katsura station. From here you can reach the temple on foot in around 15 minutes.
Total time: Around 1 hour.
Kyoto Kawaramachi station to Saihoji Temple
From Kyoto Kawaramachi station take the Hankyu Kyoto line to Katsura station. Change trains at Katsura station to the Hankyu Arashiyama line. Get off the train at Kami-Katsura station. From here you can reach the temple on foot in around 15 minutes.
Total time: Around 30 minutes.
Kyoto station to Saihoji Temple
From Kyoto station take the Karasuma line to Shijo station. From Shijo walk to Karasuma station on the Hankyu Kyoto line. From here take the Hankyu train to Katsura station. Get off the train at Kami-Katsura station. From here you can reach the temple on foot in around 15 minutes.
Total time: Around 35 minutes.
Note: It is possible to catch the bus from Kami-Katsura station to Saihoji Temple.
Take bus 73 in the direction of Kokedera Suzumusidera 3 stops (about 5 minutes) and get off at Kokedera Suzumusidera bus stop. From here the temple is a 2 minute walk.
The JR Pass can not be used on any of the above routes.
Over to you...
Hopefully this post has been helpful for anyone searching for information on how to make a reservation for Saihoji.
Would you like to visit this beautiful temple, or do the strict entry requirements and high admission cost put you off? Let me know in the comments below!
For some less expensive (but very beautiful) options for autumn leaf viewing in Kyoto, take a look at my blog post about the must-see places in Arashiyama.
Have a great autumn!
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