Daigoji Temple was built in the ninth century and later restored in the 16th century by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, then the supreme leader of Japan. Its name has an unusual but logical meaning, as described below.
The temple is accessible by train and then on foot or by taxi.
From Kyoto Station, take the Tokaido-Sanyo Line to Yamashina Station and transfer to the Tozai Line. Get off at Daigo Station. It's a 13-minute walk from there.
Daigo translates to ghee, or clarified butter. This metaphorically translates to "ultimate truth" in Buddhism, as this Nirvana sutra illustrates: "From cows to fresh milk; fresh milk to cream; cream to curdled milk; curdled milk to butter; butter to ghee. Ghee is the best." Daigoji is thus named for this most enlightened of states.
One of the largest temple complexes in all of Kyoto, Daigoji spreads across the entire expanse of Mt. Daigo in the southeast of Kyoto. It is divided into three parts: the Sambo-in and the Shimo-Daigo at the bottom of the mountain, and the Kami-Daigo at the top. The complex has more than 80 buildings.
At the bottom of the mountain you will find the kondo, or main hall, and a five-story pagoda, both designated National Treasures. Built in 951, the pagoda has the distinction of being the oldest surviving structure in Kyoto.
Sanpo-in and Shimo-Daigo are easy to get to, so they draw the biggest crowds. In contrast, getting to Kami-Daigo isn't for the faint of heart. Located at the top of Mt. Daigo, you must endure a rather strenuous hike to reach it, but you will be rewarded by the lack of crowds, a serene atmosphere, and beautiful buildings and gardens.
Daigoji has been famous for its cherry blossoms since Toyotomi Hideyoshi restored it.