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Saihoji | Japan's Moss Temple: The best place to see autumn leaves in Japan?

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.

Japanese garden with moss and trees with autumn leaves. Sun peeking through the trees creating shadows. Saihoji (西芳寺)/Kokedera, Kyoto Japan

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 this famous 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.

The original application system (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 a new online reservation system was adopted, making reservations much more simple. Currently the online system is only available in Japanese, but there are plans to introduce an English language system soon.

Green moss covered in dry red Japanese Maples leaves, with trees in background at Saihoji (西芳寺)/Kokedera, Kyoto Japan

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.

Over to you...

Would you like to visit this famous moss 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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Top: Japanese garden, ground covered with green moss, with trees scattered around. Sun shining through trees creating beautiful shadows. Bottom: Red Japanese Maples leaves on green moss. Text reads: Saihoji, Japan's famous moss temple.

Japanese garden, ground covered with green moss, with trees scattered around. Sun shining through trees creating beautiful shadows. Text reads: Saihoji, Japan's famous moss temple.

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