Japan is known for its large number of amazing Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. In fact, the Kyoto area alone has over 2,000 of them, so choosing which ones to see can be extremely overwhelming. We enjoy seeing temples and learning about their history, but it wasn’t our sole purpose of traveling through Japan. We started to feel a little temple tired after a while. Unless you go the first thing in the morning, there are hundreds of people everywhere and they all cost $4-$5 to get into, so a day full of temple hopping can be exhausting and expensive. We had decided to forego the temple sightseeing for a few days until our hostel manager suggested Otagi Nenbutsu-ji. When I said, “hmm, I’ve done a ton of research on top temples here and never heard of it” he replied “exactly, but it’s the best kyoto temple.”
The next day we planned to explore the Arashiyama area, which is the Western part of Kyoto and the Otagi Nenbutsu-ji was near that area, so we immediately added it to our itinerary, and we are so glad we did.
The admission price was 300 yen, which was the lowest price we had seen for any temple in Japan thus far. It’s understandable why it’s lower though– it’s not as popular and it’s not as large as a lot of the other temples in Kyoto, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
The temple has quite a history. The original temple was built in 770 in a completely different area of Kyoto, but the it was completely washed away during a Kamo-gawa River flood. The temple was quickly rebuilt, but was neglected and over time, began to deteriorate once again.
Third time’s the charm, right? In 1922, the temple’s small remains were moved and reassembled to its current location in Arashiyama only to be destroyed yet again by a typhoon in 1950.
Finally, in 1955, a new head priest by the name of Kocho Nishimura was appointed and he had a different vision for the temple. He asked visitors to carve their own statues to be placed in the temple. These statues are known as “rakan” and represent Buddha’s disciples. They are each unique, as they were each carved by a different person, and they all have their own characteristics.
There are over 1200 rakan at Otagi Nenbutsu-ji!
You could spend hours studying the faces and poses of these guys! Some are scary, some are quirky and there’s even a pair of drinking buddies!
It is truly a sight to see! Not to mention, since it’s off the beaten path, you will be able to enjoy the peacefulness of this temple with less than a dozen tourists and get some amazing pictures while you’re at it!
As I said earlier, this temple is close to the main sites in Arashiyama area. We rented bikes and started at the Bamboo Forest, walked around Tenriyu-ji Temple and then biked to Otagi Nenbutsu-ji. It was about 15 minutes by bike and was slightly uphill, but perfect to work up an appetite for a delicious ramen lunch!
If you visit Kyoto, I’d highly recommend adding this to your itinerary! It was a historical and entertaining temple to visit and a huge bonus that there’s no crowds. Trust me, you’ll want some peace and quiet at a temple in Kyoto!
Address: 2-5 Sagatoriimoto Fukatanicho, Ukyo-ku
Japanese address: 右京区嵯峨鳥居本深谷町2-5
Hours: 8 AM-5 PM
Price: 300 yen
Leave a comment! Do you have a favorite temple in Kyoto? Would you consider adding this to your Kyoto itinerary?