Saihō-ji is a Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple located in Matsuo, Nishikyō Ward, Kyoto, Japan. The temple, which is famed for its moss garden, is commonly referred to as “Koke-dera”, meaning “moss temple”, and is also known as “Kōinzan Saihō-ji”. The temple, primarily constructed to honor Amitabha, was first founded by Gyōki and was later restored by Musō Soseki.
According to temple legend, Saihō-ji was constructed during the Nara Period by Gyōki, on the location of one of Prince Shōtoku’s former retreats. The temple first operated as a Hossō temple dedicated to Amitabha, and was known as “Saihō-ji”, a homophone of the current name. The name was selected because Amitabha is the primary buddha of Western Paradise, known in Japanese as “Saihō Jōdo”. Legend states that such famous Japanese monks as Kūkai and Hōnen later served as the chief priests of the temple.
The famous moss garden of Saihō-ji is situated in the eastern temple grounds. Located in a grove, the garden is arranged as a circular promenade centered around Golden Pond. The pond is shaped like the Chinese character for “heart” or “mind” and contains three small islands: Asahi Island, Yūhi Island, and Kiri Island. The area around the pond is said to be covered with more than 120 varieties of moss, believed to have started growing after the flooding of the temple grounds in the Edo Period.
Photo Credit: Mikael