Daikaku-ji, located in the Saga area close to Arashiyama, is the head temple of the Daikakuji school of the Shingon sect. It was initially founded as a detached palace called Saga-in by Emperor Saga (785 – 842), and was converted into a Buddhist temple in 876.
Since then, the most of the head monks of this temple had been assumed by those from the imperial family until the latter half of the 19th century.
The temple was destroyed several times, and the present complex was reconstructed in around 17th century. Of the architecture of the temple, Shinden and Shoshinden are designated as Important Cultural Properties.
Shinden was constructed in 1619 as the residence for the then empress on the grounds of the Imperial Palace and was relocated here in the late 17th century. Shoshinden, also called Kyakuden (guest house), was erected in the late 16th century.
As the site was established as an imperial villa, it retains its elegant atmosphere even now. Osawa-no-ike, the large pond next to its main constructions, was created by Emperor Saga as part of his imperial villa imitating renowned Dongting Lake in China. It is the oldest surviving artificial pond created in a garden in Japan and is listed as a Places of Scenic Beauty.
In summer, some three thousand lotuses planted in the pond bloom. In fall, colored foliage reflected on the pond is ethereally beautiful, especially when it’s lit up at night. This pond is famous for moon viewing, also.
There are a number of valuable paintings in Daikaku-ji, and wall paintings created by famous painter Kano Eitoku (1543 – 1590) and fusuma paintings by Kano Sanraku (1559 – 1635) finished in gorgeous Momoyama-style are especially noteworthy.
Daikaku-ji is also the headquarters of the Saga school of ikebana (flower arrangement). According to legend, the school originated in the flower arrangement practice of Emperor Saga himself.
Where to eat around Daikaku-ji
There is a famous sweet called aburi-ame in Kyoto. Here in the Sagano area, there’s a kanmi-dokoro (a tea shop featuring traditional Japanese sweets) called Daimonjiya which is famous for this sweet.
The shop is located next to the main gate of Seiryo-ji, also known as Saga Shakado, another well-known temple in the area.
Le Plat Plus
Le Plat Plus is a fashionable and popular bistro which offers filling French dishes for reasonable prices.
Where to stay around Daikaku-ji
Kyoto Arashiyama Onsen Kadensho
Kyoto Arashiyama Onsen Kadensho is a modern-Japanese-style hotel in front of Hankyu Arashiyama Station. It’s an accommodation facility which belongs to a hotel chain called Kyoritsu Resort.
The hotel welcomes you with the odor of incense made from bamboo charcoal. Dinner is in kaiseki-style, and obanzai (a dish native to Kyoto) and tempura are served in buffet-style. Other than large common baths, there are five small but unique tubs.
Hanaikada is a ryokan-style inn across the street from the renowned Togetsukyo Bridge in Arashiyama area. It is equipped with an open-air bath with splendid views overlooking the bridge. Kaiseki-style course dinner using seasonal vegetables is offered for dinner.
Togetsutei is a ryokan established in the Meiji era. It is furnished with a large communal bath using water from a hot spring which is said to mitigate nerve pain and feeling of coldness and to help you recover from fatigue.
It also provides guest rooms with a private open-air bath. This inn, too, offers kaiseki-style course dinner using local seasonal vegetables, but a la carte dishes are also available.