Explore the Wonders of UNESCO World Heritage Site “Ninnaji” – A Majestic Five-story Pagoda and Elegant Palace Gardens

Founded in the year 888, Ninna-ji is the head temple of the Tendai-shu Omuro School. This temple is also known as Omuro Palace because Emperor Uda shaved his head and established the Omuro (sacred place) within the temple grounds. During spring, Jingo-ji, famous for its cherry blossoms, attracts numerous tourists.

Inside the temple grounds, you’ll find historic structures from the Edo period, such as the five-story pagoda and Niomon gate, evoking a sense of historical charm. In 1994, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the “Cultural Properties of Ancient Kyoto.”

In this article, we’ll explore the highlights of Jingo-ji and recommend nearby tourist spots to enhance your overall experience.

What’s Ninnna-ji Temple Like?

Ninnna-ji Temple, constructed in the second year of the Jowa era during the early Heian period, was a temple built upon the imperial decree of Emperor Kotoku. Emperor Uda, who succeeded Emperor Kotoku, completed the temple, and it was named Ninnna-ji after the corresponding era. Following Emperor Uda’s ordination, he established a monk’s quarters within the temple grounds, giving it the alternate name “Omuro Palace” or “Omuro-gosho.”

Before the Meiji Restoration, it served as a temple where imperial family members’ children were ordained, hence the reference to it as the “Former Omuro Palace.” Ninnna-ji, renowned for its cherry blossoms, attracts numerous visitors during spring. With historically significant structures like the Niomon gate and five-story pagoda, Ninnna-ji holds a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Ninnaji, a temple where successive members of the imperial family have served as head priests since Emperor Uda, maintained the highest status as a monastery during the Heian to Kamakura periods. Entering the Muromachi era, a gradual decline began, and in 1467, during the Onin War, most of the temple grounds were destroyed by the fires of conflict.

However, it is said that the main statue of Amida Triad and sacred scriptures were safely taken away. Over 150 years later, during the Edo period, the restoration of Ninnaji was approved by the third shogun of the Tokugawa family, Tokugawa Iemitsu. Buildings that still exist today, such as the Imperial Palace, the Golden Hall, and the Goeido, were successively renovated, and by 1646, almost everything had been reconstructed to its original form.

In 1867, the history of imperial family members serving as head priests at Ninnaji came to an end when Prince Jinnō returned to secular life. Entering the Showa era, Ninnaji became the head temple of the Omuro branch of the Shingon sect.

As of 2019, with numerous important cultural properties within its grounds and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ninnaji has become a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from all over the world.

Accessing Ninnaji Temple

Ninnaji Temple is located in the area known as Rakusai, which is home to UNESCO World Heritage sites like Kinkakuji and Ryoanji. To reach this cultural gem from the central hub of Kyoto Station, you can easily take a train or bus, and it usually takes around 30 to 40 minutes. Given that Ninnaji is a popular spot, especially during cherry blossom season, it’s advisable to use public transportation not only during peak times but also for regular visits.

Both trains and buses have nearby stations, so you can choose either option based on your preference. When the author visited Ninnaji, they opted for the bus on the way there due to its frequent schedules and the train for the return journey, considering the limited buses heading towards Kyoto Station.

Using Train

  • Take the Sagano Line from JR Kyoto Station, and after a scenic ride, alight at Hanazono Station. From there, it’s just a 15-minute walk.
  • Alternatively, hop on the San’in Main Line at JR Kyoto Station, disembark at Uzumasa Station, transfer to the Randen line at “Shooting Studio Mae Station,” and a short 2-minute stroll will lead you to the enchanting Omuro Ninnaji.

Using Bus

  • Take JR Bus Takao-Kyoto North Line and get off at “Omuro Ninnaji” stop, just a short walk away.
  • Board City Bus No. 26 from JR Kyoto Station, alight at “Omuro Ninnaji,” and it’s a short walk from there.
  • From Keihan Electric Railway’s “Sanjo Station,” take City Bus No. 10 or 59, and after getting off at “Omuro Ninnaji,” it’s just a short stroll.
  • If you’re coming from Hankyu’s “Omiya Station” or “Saiin Station,” hop on City Bus No. 26, and after getting off at “Omuro Ninnaji,” it’s a quick walk.

Access to Kyoto Station from Various Locations

  • Approximately 55 minutes by Osaka Airport Limousine Bus from Osaka International Airport (Itami Airport).
  • About 75 minutes by JR Airport Express “Haruka” from Kansai International Airport.
  • Around 29 minutes by New Rapid Service from JR Osaka Station.
  • Approximately 47 minutes by Miyakoji Rapid Service from JR Nara Station.
  • About 51 minutes by Limited Express from JR Sannomiya Station.
  • Around 92 minutes by Super Kuroshio Limited Express from JR Wakayama Station.
  • 2 hours and 30 minutes by Shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station.

Tourist Information for Ninnaji Temple

Address: 33 Omurodainai, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture

Map: Google Maps

Phone Number: 075-461-1155

Closed: Open every day

Operating Hours: [March to November] 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM, [December to February] 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Admission Fee:Omuro Imperial Palace: Adults 500 yen, High School Students 500 yen, Junior High School Students 300 yen, Elementary School Students 300 yen (Separate admission fees apply for other areas like the Reihokan and special exhibits)

Official URL: [Ninnaji Temple’s Official Website]

Ninnaji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, offers free exploration, with some areas requiring admission fees. The main areas, such as Omuro for general strolls and the Reihokan, which showcases exhibits for a limited time, come with entrance fees. During my visit, the Kannon Hall, which had recently undergone renovations, was temporarily open to the public for free.

The temple grounds are expansive, taking more than 30 minutes to fully circle. If you wish to explore the notable spots on the premises thoroughly, it’s advisable to wear comfortable walking shoes.

Explore the Highlights of Ninnaji Temple

To efficiently navigate the expansive grounds of Ninnaji Temple, we’ve carefully selected key highlights for you. Don’t miss out on hidden gems like the Sutra Hall and Mizukake Fudo, often overlooked by visitors. Explore the precious architecture and beautiful scenery of Ninnaji, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and delight in your sightseeing experience.

Abundance of Attractions at the Main Spot, “Ninnaji Goten”

Ninnaji’s Imperial Palace is the main attraction for sightseeing, featuring two gardens, the South Garden and the North Garden, along with structures like the Shoin and Shinden.

To explore the Imperial Palace, purchase tickets at the reception near the entrance of Ninnaji. Remember to remove your shoes at the entrance and, on rainy days, leave your umbrella at the entrance to enjoy the tour unencumbered.

Walking down the corridor from the entrance of the Imperial Palace, you’ll arrive at the “Haku Shoin,” situated on the west side of the Shinden South Garden.

The sliding door paintings in the Shoin were crafted by Haruho Fukunaga, a versatile artist well-versed in various fields from fine arts to painting. The tatami-matted Shoin, surrounded by these sliding door paintings, exudes a sense of charm and tranquility.

Adjacent to the Haku Shoin in the Imperial Palace, the first garden you’ll encounter is the “South Garden.”

Positioned to the south of the central structure, the Shinden, it’s aptly named the South Garden. With cherry blossoms on the right and tangerines on the left, a distinctive feature is the ripple-patterned white sand laid out in front.

Facing the Chokushimon gate built in the 2nd year of Taisho, pine and cedar trees are deliberately sparsely arranged. The elegantly designed garden, with its simplicity, offers a charming view that can be appreciated throughout the year.

On the north side of the Shinden, you’ll find the North Garden, offering an elegant view throughout the year, distinct from the South Garden.

Known as a pond and stream garden, it features a central pond, allowing you to enjoy prominent spots within the grounds like the Five-story Pagoda and the Hito-do-tei Pavilion. While the exact date of its creation is unclear, it was enhanced by Master Doi Kitaro in 1690 and later meticulously maintained by the renowned garden artist Ogawa Jihei VII during the Meiji to Taisho eras, preserving its beauty to this day.

The central building used for ceremonies and rituals in the Imperial Palace is called the “Shinden.”

The current Shinden was constructed in 1914. Inside the Shinden, there are three rooms, each adorned with sliding door paintings featuring seasonal scenery, peonies, and geese.

The Black Shoin, located on the west side of the Shinden, is a renovated sleeping quarters from the former Yasui residence in Hanazono, Kyoto. The rooms showcase fusuma paintings created by Kyoto-born Japanese painter Domoto Insho in 1937. It’s interesting to note that each room in the six-room Shoin is named after a painting created by Insho.

Nestled among trees to the northeast of the North Garden is the “Reimeiden.”

This hall houses the principal image of the Kita (North) family, who were part of the Ninnaji temple’s affiliated residence. The enshrined statue is that of Yakushi Nyorai. One of the highlights is the beautiful scenery around the Reimeiden, with vibrant autumn foliage in fall and blossoming flowers in spring.

Experience History Amidst Spring Cherry Blossoms at “Kannon Hall, Five-story Pagoda, and Omuro Cherry Trees”

In 1644, the five-story pagoda, built through the donation of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty, has been designated as an important cultural property of the country.

This precious structure, dating from the Edo period to the present day, is affectionately known as the “Omuro Tower” because of its commanding presence overlooking the Omuro neighborhood. Similar to the five-story pagoda at Kyoto’s Toji Temple, it is designed with each level having a relatively consistent width from top to bottom.

Inside the usually restricted tower, you can find enshrined Buddha statues such as Dainichi Nyorai and Amida Nyorai. The interior walls and pillars are adorned with depictions of Zen patriarchs, Buddha figures, and chrysanthemum patterns.

If you examine the roof of the five-story pagoda closely, you’ll notice small creature-like figures, resembling little demons, diligently supporting the four corner pillars. By placing the yaksha, who is also a guardian of the Four Heavenly Kings, at the four corners of the roof, it is believed to ward off evil from all directions.

Kannon Hall

In the central area of the temple grounds stands the “Kannon Hall,” a traditional East Asian hipped-roof building with its distinctive tiled roof.

While the interior of the Kannon Hall is usually off-limits, a special viewing was allowed until July 15, 2019, in honor of restoration efforts. Although photography inside the hall is prohibited, let’s take a peek when it opens to the public again.

The current Kannon Hall, like the five-story pagoda, dates back to the Edo period and is recognized as an important cultural property. Inside this revered hall, you’ll find enshrined figures such as the Thousand-Armed Kannon Bodhisattva and Fudo Myoo.


Standing at the front of Ninna-ji, welcoming visitors, is the “Nio-mon” gate.

This grand gate, with its layered, hipped-roof structure, reaches an impressive height of 18.7 meters. As of June 2019, the front side of the Nio-mon gate is undergoing renovation.

Despite capturing a photo of the gate from the rear during construction, you can still sense the imposing and solemn presence typical of Ninna-ji’s main gate. Unlike the Zen-style three gates at Nanzen-ji and Chion-in, the Nio-mon gate at Ninna-ji follows a traditional Japanese style from the Heian period.

Hidden Gems in the Temple Grounds: National Treasure Golden Hall and the Water-Splashing Fudo

Golden Hall

The “Golden Hall” is the main temple located towards the back center when viewed from the front of the temple grounds.

Ninna-ji’s main deity, the Amida Trinity, is enshrined here, and due to its exceptional value, the hall has been designated as a national treasure. Functioning as the oldest surviving Shishinden (ceremonial hall) used for the enthronement ceremonies of emperors, the Golden Hall preserves the architectural style of imperial palaces from its time, offering a glimpse into the past.

Kujo Myojin

The guardian shrine of Ninna-ji, known as “Kujo Myojin,” stands quietly near the five-story pagoda.

The Kujo Myojin shrine consists of three buildings – the main hall, left hall, and right hall – where a total of nine Myojin deities, including the Hachiman Trio, are enshrined. Although the current structures were reconstructed during the Kan’ei era, their history traces back to as early as 1212 when the shrine was confirmed to exist within the temple grounds.


Constructed during the Kan’ei to Shoho eras, this building features a treasure pagoda style with a distinctive tiled roof.

Inside the hall, you’ll find enshrined Buddha statues, including Shakamuni Buddha and Monju Bosatsu, making it a designated important cultural property. Located further behind the Kujo Myojin shrine in the northeast corner of the temple grounds, this spot is surprisingly easy to overlook.


Adjacent to the Golden Hall and catching the eyes of visitors with its vibrant red exterior is the “Rinrou.”

This two-story building, referred to as a “lou” in Japanese architectural terms, features a distinctive design with a hipped-roof structure resembling a hakama, a traditional Japanese garment. The lower part is covered with board paneling, while the upper part is painted in vermilion. Unlike many bell towers where the suspended bell is visible from outside, Ninna-ji’s Rinrou has its bell concealed behind panels.

During certain seasons, the surroundings of the Bell Tower burst into full bloom with cherry blossoms, creating a stunning scene where the vermilion tower and the pink hues of cherry blossoms complement each other beautifully.

Mizukake Fudo

Nestled in the northwest corner of the temple grounds, a hidden gem often overlooked by tourists is the Mizukake Fudo Statue.

This spot, chosen as the fourteenth sacred site of the Kinki Thirty-Six Fudo Pilgrimage, houses a stone-carved Fudo Myoo deity. The name “Mizukake Fudo” comes from the tradition of pouring water on the stone Fudo statue during worship.

When paying a visit, be sure to also stop by the neighboring Important Cultural Property, the Mikagedo Hall.

Recommended Sightseeing Spots around Ninna-ji

Around Ninna-ji, there’s a charming lane known as the “Kinkaku-ji Path,” lined with UNESCO World Heritage sites such as the Golden Pavilion and Ryoan-ji Temple.

The Dazzling Symbol of Kitayama Culture – “Kinkaku-ji”

Located just a 30-minute bus ride from JR Kyoto Station with a transfer, and a short walk from the “Kinkaku-ji Mae” bus stop, you’ll find the stunning temple known as “Kinkaku-ji.” Formally named “Rokuon-ji,” Kinkaku-ji is renowned as an iconic representation of the vibrant Kitayama culture during the Muromachi period. The golden pavilion, known as the Shariden, glistening in gold, was reconstructed in 1955 after a fire incident in 1950.

In 1994, along with places like Ninna-ji mentioned earlier, Kinkaku-ji was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the designation of “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.”

The golden building, representing Kitayama culture, and the surrounding gardens create a landscape reminiscent of a paradise on earth. On clear days, you might even catch a reflection of the “upside-down golden pavilion” on Mirror Pond, with the golden temple and the surrounding trees mirrored in the water.

Tourist Information for Kinkaku-ji (Officially Known as Rokuon-ji)

  • Address: 1 Kinkakuji-cho, Kita-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: Take the city bus from JR Kyoto Station, get off at “Kinkaku-ji Mae” for routes 12 or 59, or at “Kinkakuji-michi” for express buses 101, 102, 204, or 205, and it’s just a short walk from there.
  • Phone Number: 075-461-0013
  • Closed: Open every day
  • Opening Hours: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (Note: Special viewing hours may vary)
  • Admission Fee: Adults 400 yen, Children (elementary and junior high school students) 300 yen
  • Official Website: [Kinkaku-ji]

Ryoan-ji, a Zen temple with a dry rock garden, founded in 1450.

Founded in 1450 by Hosokawa Katsumoto, a prominent figure in the Muromachi Shogunate, Ryoan-ji is a Zen temple that welcomed the monk Giten Gencho. The iconic rock garden, synonymous with the temple, is said to have been created around the same time as the construction of the Hojo in 1499.

In 1975, during an official visit by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, she praised the rock garden, elevating Ryoan-ji to a popular tourist spot both domestically and internationally. In 1994, together with nearby Ninna-ji and Kinkaku-ji, it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the designation “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.”

The specially designated rock garden is officially known as the “Hojo Garden.” Spanning 25 meters in width and 10 meters in depth, the garden is covered with pure white gravel. The arrangement of stones in the sequence of five, two, three, two, three from the right is the charm of this dry landscape rock garden, allowing visitors to experience the beauty of Zen.

The path leading to the Hojo with the rock garden offers a picturesque journey through lush greenery. Take a leisurely stroll along the approach that circles around the large pond known as “Kyoyo-ike,” and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Sightseeing Information for Ryoan-ji

  • Address: 13 Ryoan-ji Goryo-oshita-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Phone Number: 075-463-2216
  • Closed: Open every day
  • Admission Hours:
    • March to November: 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM (Last entry at 5:00 PM)
    • December to February: 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM (Last entry at 4:30 PM)
  • Admission Fee:
    • Adults (Junior high school and above): 500 yen
    • Children (Elementary and middle school students): 300 yen
    • Preschool children: Free
  • Official Website: [Ryoan-ji]

Japan’s Largest Zen Temple – Myoshinji

Located just a 5-minute walk from JR Saga-Arashiyama Line “Hanazono” Station or a 5-minute walk from the bus stop “Myoshinji-mae,” Myoshinji is one of Japan’s largest Zen temples.

Known for its rigorous training practices, Myoshinji, along with Daitokuji, is renowned as a representative temple of the “Rinzai” sect among Zen temples in Kyoto. Visitors can experience the Buddha-like mindset of “Zen meditation” and the essence of Zen through activities such as sutra copying and seated meditation, emphasizing a mind that doesn’t cling to one place or one thought.

While the temple grounds are generally open for worship 24 hours, it’s advisable to make reservations in advance if you wish to participate in activities like seated meditation or sutra copying. The main hall at the heart of the temple grounds, constructed during the Edo period, is a historically significant cultural property of the country. Inside the hall, the principal image of Buddha, Shakyamuni, is enshrined.

Myoshinji Temple Visitor Information

  • Address: 1 Hanazono Myoshinji-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
  • Map: [Google Maps]
  • Access: Just a 5-minute walk from JR Saga-Arashiyama Line “Hanazono” Station or a 5-minute walk from the bus stop “Myoshinji-mae” when taking bus route 91 from Hankyu Saiin Station.
  • Phone: 075-466-5381
  • Closed: Open every day
  • Hours:
    • Temple Grounds: Open 24 hours for worship
    • Main Hall (Hatto): 9:00 AM to 4:40 PM (Guided tours in the 4:00 PM hour are available from March to October)
  • Admission:
    • Main Hall (Hatto): ¥700 for adults, ¥400 for elementary and middle school students
  • Official Website: [Myoshinji Temple]

Ninnaji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, boasts numerous attractions within its grounds, including important cultural properties and national treasures. If you’re interested in temple exploration, Ninnaji is conveniently located near other UNESCO World Heritage sites like Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) and Ryoanji Temple. Marvel at the historical architecture and exquisite gardens, such as the National Treasure “Kon-do” (Golden Hall), which preserves the palace-style construction, and the Edo period-built “Gojunoto” (Five-story Pagoda). Immerse yourself in the rich history and beauty of these cultural gems during your visit to Kyoto.


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