Over the weekend I got to go to an exclusive World Heritage site, Saihoji.
Saihoji is best known for having an exceptionally beautiful moss garden. But to protect the delicate moss from being trampled and ruined by hordes of foreign people, the monks decided to make the temple accessible by invitation only.
You have to apply with the date you would like to visit before you go (apparently it is best to go in the rainy season which is early summer in Japan. I was a bit too early).
Send a postcard to this address:
To the Head of Saihoji Temple
Postal Code: 615-8286
Matsuojingatanicho 56, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
Write the day you would like to go, number of people in your group, your address, and send it a week before the desired day.
You have to do it by 往復ハガキ (round-trip postcard). You might want to ask your hotel/hostel to try and send this card before you arrive (if they are nice, they may try and help you….)
Your response will come about a week later………………………..
My invitation letter. YUP, 300o yen. Considering that most temples is Kyoto are 500-600 yen, this is quite steep. But, you should consider Saihoji as an experience, because before you get to see the moss garden, you have to write this:
Don’t worry, though: you trace over the letters with a brush and ink. It took me about 30 minutes to complete, but the monks know it is hard for people not used to Chinese characters, so they will let you see the gardens after you try at it for several minutes, after they have chanted the sutra. You also will write your wish/prayer on the sutra paper when you give it to the monks.
The temple garden has a path that is a giant loop around a pond, that swings up a little hill and then goes back down to the main temple.
I think spring is a pretty good time to come as well, because the trees are all just getting their leaves and they are a bright neon green color.
The invitation card tells you that you have only 90 minutes to enjoy Saihoji. I spent all 90 minutes enjoying it. However, this trip may only be worth it for people who want tranquility, less crowds, and a ton of moss.
If you love moss and the fact that you are not right in the middle of Kyoto but are scared away by the price, you might want to check out Sanzenin. I write about it in my list of must see temples in Kyoto.
Places that are easy to visit before/after Saihoji:
Suzumushi Temple Temple filled with crickets! It also has a beautiful garden. Just 5 minutes walk from Saihoji.
Arashiyama Area This area is a must-see place for tourists. There is a large area of shops for tourists, restaurants, a large bamboo grove, temples, and a scenic bridge. Arashiyama is just a 15 minute bus ride from Saihoji.