Shōren-in was once the city residence of the imperial abbot of the Tendai headquarters on Mount Hiei. As a monzeki temple, its head priests were traditionally chosen among members of the imperial family or high court aristocracy.
The origins of the temple go back to the 12th century, when Emperor Toba (1103-1156) sent his son study under the head priest of Enryaku-ji Temple on Mount Hiei. The emperor built Shōren-in as a residence for their visits to the capital. In the following centuries Shōren-in evolved into a proper temple of its own right.
After the Great Kyoto Fire of 1788, Shōren-in was used as a temporary imperial palace. The main hall (Shijōkō-dō) was rebuilt in 1895.
Facing the Shinden (宸殿), the temple's largest building, is a delicate moss garden, which possesses two massive 800-year old camphor trees.
A smaller garden with a pond, stepping stones and a small waterfall, can be admired from the Kachōden (drawing room) while sitting on tatami mats.
In spring and autumn, the temple is also open for evening visits, during which the grounds are beautifully illuminated.
The temple is open all year-round from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (last entry 4:30 pm). Admission costs ￥500.
How to get there
Shoren-in is located just north of Maruyama Park, opposite Chion-in. It is about 8 min walk from Higashi-yama subway station (Tozai line) or 5 min walk from the Chion-in-mae bus stop.