Nestled in the quieter part of the renowned Arashiyama district and away from the overcrowded Bamboo Forest is a humble temple hidden away at the base of Mount Ogura. However, there is nothing humble about its view and unassuming beauty. Jojakko-ji (常寂光寺) is the place where we saw our 3 favorite autumn highlights: Japanese maple leaves, Japanese ginkgo trees, and moss. Its location spoke of the intention of its founding monk who wanted to live in seclusion on the tranquil mountainside.
After the ticket doorway, the main entrance of Jojakko-ji was preceded by a canopy of autumn leaves just turning into its early autumn coat of golden yellow and patches of moss on its stone parapet, setting the stage for what we were about to experience in this off the beaten path destination in Kyoto.
Upon entering, we were immediately greeted by a long flight of stone stairs with moss and fallen autumn leaves flanking both sides.
Crimson red autumn leaves fell and were wedged in the valleys of moss and in the crevices of rocks. The moss looked so soft and velvety against juts of rocks here and there. And that juxtaposition of colors! The deep luscious green and that blazing red were stunning. Coupled with that, the textures all around had us in a moss-maple-rock wonderland. If such a place even existed, it’s here!
An earlier visitor laid out the fallen maple leaves in a heart on that moss carpet. 🍁
As we ascended the stairs, the maple leaves got redder. At the top of that first flight of stairs, we turned around and admired the beauty of the moss-covered thatched roof under the arches of the Japanese maple trees.
We got to a small resting area before the next climb where we sat down to sip some tea from our thermos and sampled some sansho (山椒) snack which the temple was selling. Even at this humble resting area, the maple trees decked out their reds.
Ready to tackle the next flight of steps, we got up and passed a small bamboo garden. There is indeed no lack of them at Arashiyama.
Standing at the pride of place is the 12-meter pagoda, which Japan designated as an Important Cultural Property. Surrounded by ancient pine trees and Japanese maple trees, this is the most scenic spot at the temple with the cityscape sprawling in the distance.
The maple leaves were just turning red and the graduation of colours — from green to yellow to orange to red — on every single leaf on the lower branches was stunning. Having seen the peak autumn reds of these maple leaves at Tokufu-ji, we have come to appreciate actually witnessing this color change of the maple tree’s autumn coat.
As we climbed higher up the steps beyond the pagoda right to the top, the Sagano area spread out before our eyes with the rolling hills on our left.
And if you’re wondering “What about the Japanese ginkgo trees you mentioned earlier?”, a towering gingko tree was located near the restrooms, beckoning us with its bright yellow leaves silhouetted against the blue skies.
The way down and out of Jojakko-ji was just as picturesque! Moss-covered lamps, mossy grounds, the beautiful camellia japonica (or tsubaki 椿), and the arcadian thatched roof in the background all made for a dreamy stroll down to the exit.
If you are into moss like we are, you might like to add Kokedera to your itinerary. Their moss garden is simply magical, surreal, and resplendent! To me, no superlatives are enough to describe the exquisite beauty of that moss garden temple.
Okay, back to Jojakko-ji.
pling thinks…with no UNESCO title to its name, it’s easy to undermine Jojakko-ji’s rustic beauty. Though its autumn colors may not be as spectacular as Tokufu-ji, nor is it as famous as the vicinity’s Tenryu-ji, the temple definitely has its own charms — quiet as these charms may be, rustic as the landscape may be, small as the place may be. It’s less crowded here and maybe that itself is charming enough in the Arashiyama district.
How to get to Jojakko-ji
A PDF Map to Jojakko-ji is available in English and Japan
Entry Fees: ¥500
Open 9am to 5pm (Last entry: 4.30pm)
- From Kyoto Station, take the JR Sagano line (Platform 32, 33) to the JR Saga-Arashiyama Station. The train ride takes about 20 minutes.
- From the JR Saga-Arashiyama Station, follow the PDF map link to see the 3 ways to walk to Jojakko-ji. What’s helpful is using Tenryu-ji or the Bamboo Groves as a landmark anchor to guide your direction. Personally, we walked past the shopping street upwards and in the direction away from the Togetsukyo Bridge (perpendicular to Katsura River and the Hozugawa River).
- Alternatively, if you are planning to take the Torokko, you can alight at the Torokko Arashiyama Station and walk from there. Though it’s a shorter walk, we don’t recommend this because you would not be able to enjoy the full ride and the scenery along the Torokko route which you’ve already paid good money for.
- Walk till you see the entrance of Jojakko-ji.