A stone's throw from Shugakuin Imperial Villa in the northeast of Kyoto, Enko-ji should be on your schedule for its autumn foliage, impressive gardens and scenic location.
The temple belongs to the Rinzai Zen sect of Buddhism
It was once a school that was open to the general public
You can get a bird's-eye view of Enko-ji by climbing the hill behind the temple garden
The temple grounds are easily accessible on foot from Shugakuin or Ichijoji stations.
From Kyoto Station, catch the JR Nara Line to Tofukuji Station, and then transfer to the Keihan Main Line to Demachiyanagi Station. From there, ride the Eizan Railway to Ichijoji Station. You can also take the number five bus from Kyoto Station all the way to the Ichijoji Sagarimatsucho bus stop.
The temple was founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu in the 1600s as the Rakuyo School and became known as a uniquely open-minded place of learning, welcoming both laity and clergy.
It also attracted an unconventional crowd of artists and writers. Later it became a seminary for women, always keeping its doors open to all.
Enko-ji is famous for the suikinkutsu, a musical ornament often found in traditional Japanese gardens. A pot is buried upside down in the ground and water collects within it through a hole in its top. When more water drops onto the surface of the water, a calming bell sound is emitted, adding to the Zen atmosphere of the temple.
If Arashiyama's bamboo forest is too crowded for your liking, Enko-ji's smaller bamboo forest may be just right for you. It's located just behind the garden's quaint pond.
Enko-ji also features two impressive rock gardens. Honryu-tei, or Running Dragon, is quite unusual as sharp rocks jut out of the sand at various angles to symbolize a flying dragon. The other is filled with maples that transform the area into a fiery field of red and orange during autumn. A small hill behind the temple affords a grand view of the mountains of Kyoto.
While you're in the neighborhood, visit nearby Shisen-do, a serene Buddhist temple of the Soto Zen sect. It was built in the 1600s and considered a masterpiece of its time.