If I were to describe Gio-ji temple in just two words, those words would be calm and tranquility.
Far from the crowded and colorful streets of Kyoto, located in a quiet and pretty neighborhood in the beautiful Arashiyama area (Sagano district), Gio-ji temple is the perfect place to find your inner peace and admire the greenest green that could possibly exist.
The paradox of this place is that, although essentially just a small garden with only a hut and nothing spectacular, it makes you want to linger there and just enjoy this purest piece of nature. Although it lacks the glitter of Kinkaku-ji or the majestic views of Kiyomizudera, Gio-ji is an oasis of peace and quiet that it is hard to forget, and definitely the perfect choice for those who want to relax off the beaten tourist track.
Like many shrines and temples in Kyoto, Gio-ji also has a long history behind it and is related to a story from the famous Heike Monogatari epic. The story is about the famous dancer Gio, who loses the favor of Taira no Kiyomori (a chieftain from the Taira clan who lived in the 12th century). She leaves the capital along with her mother and sister to become nuns. Both Gio and Taira no Kiyomori have statues in the temple. It is said that the graves of Gio and her sister are also here.
Gio-ji temple belongs to the Shingon Buddhist sect and was supposedly founded by Nembutsubo Ryochin, a disciple of Priest Honen. Initially called Ojo-in and covering a much larger area, it later took the name of Gio-ji and was reduced to what it is today, especially after the reorganization from the Meiji Period. The main building was remade in 1895 and enshrines the statue of Buddha Dainichi (Buddha of Light).
Covered in moss and maple trees, Gio-ji is certainly different from the other temples that Kyoto offers. I arrived there right after the rain and the vegetation seemed even greener. On the same alley there is also Danrin-ji (the first Zen temple founded in Japan) and it is also just a kilometer walk away from Daikaku-ji, so these could make a nice combined visit. The entrance ticket costs 300 JPY and is about 10-15 minutes walk from the Sagashakado-mae bus stop.
Photos by Alexandru Mihai Gheorghe