There are three good temples in this area, Tofuku-ji, Sen'nyu-ji and Sanjusangen-do. The first two are famous for autumn leaves. The third has more than one thousand statues in a building. I visited the first two temples in late November and mid January and the third in mid January.
I had seen autumn leaves of Tofuku-ji on TV a year before and I had determined to visit the temple in autumn.
Part one (Late November)
It was a quarter before ten when I got off Keihan railway at Tofuku-ji station.
I did not know which way I should go but there were many people walking toward south. As it was the busiest season of Tofuku-ji, I assumed that they were going to the temple and I followed them.
The first thing I saw of the temple was a small wooden covered bridge. A crowd was on the bridge taking pictures of Tsuten-kyo bridge that was beyond maple leaves. I took a couple of pictures and went on. I arrived at one of the entrance gates of Tofuku-ji before 10 am.
I went to the Sanmon gate, a national treasure. It was built some time between 1384 and 1428 and is the oldest among the existing Sanmon gates in Japan. A leaflet they provided read that there are statues in a room on the second floor of the gate, which is close to public. On the walls, ceiling and pillars of the sole room are Buddhist paintings.
I considered visiting Hojo, but I decided not to. I heard that Hojo was rather new and I was not interested in it. Later, I found that this was a bad decision (please see the part two below).
Then I went to a box office and bought a ticket for 400 yen and went on to Tsuten-kyo bridge. I tried to take a picture of the inside of the bridge, but there were so many people on it that I gave it up.
I walked on the bridge then went on a corridor that led to Kaisan-do. The building looked like a house with a lofty small building on it's top. The garden in front of the building was divided into two parts. The left was Karesansui or dry landscape and the right has a garden of a pond, shrubs, trees and rocks.
After seeing Kaisan-do, I strolled in the small valley to see autumn leaves--- and many people.
Part two (mid January)
I got off Keihan railway at Toba-kaido station and walked toward north this time. It was off-season and few people were there. The weather was fine and temperature was three degrees Celsius. The ground was dry with scattered thin snow patches in the shades.
I went through the South Gate. I took pictures of buildings including the Sanmon gate. After taking pictures, I went to Hojo, which was built in the year 1890. I took off the shoes and paid 400 yen of admission fee. I noticed slippers on a shelf. As the floor seemed to be cold, I put on the slippers and went on in the building. The view from back of this building was very good. You could see Tsuten-kyo Bridge and the valley with many maple trees. I should have come here late November and seen autumn leaves.
On the backside of the building was a modern moss garden. It was covered with thin snow and looked somewhat like a checkerboard. There also was a modern rock garden on the front side, which looked good also.
Then I went to the Tsuten-kyo Bridge. I paid an admission fee of 400 yen and got in the corridor that led to Tsuten-kyo and Kaisan-do. The pond in front of Kaisan-do was covered with ice and moss was covered with slight snow.
I strolled through valley with bare trees and left the temple.
I walked about 15 minutes from Tofuku-ji to Sen'nyu-ji (Sennyu-ji). I went through a rather small gate and saw the main hall in front, a box office on the right and Yokihi-Kan'non-do on the left. I paid an admission fee of 300 yen at the box office.
Yokihi, or Yang Guife was the consort of Emperor Xuan Zong of China's Tang dynasty. I wondered why Yokihi could be Kan'non (Avalokitesvara) and asked the reason to a person in the building.
He told me that, when she died, the Emperor missed her very much and had her image sculptured as Avalokitesvara. The image was brought to the temple by Priest Tankai in 1255.
The main hall of Sen'nyu-ji was on the bottom of the sloped approach. The building was simple in structure and there were three statues in it.
I got out the building from the rear exit. On the back of the main building was Shariden building that was not open to public. Then I strolled toward Honbo, an administration building. I paid an admission fee of 300 yen and got in the building after taking off the shoes. I walked toward Gozasho building. There were several rooms including an emperor's room. The best of this building was its garden. The color of the foliage was beautiful. I took many pictures here before leaving.
I got out from Sen'nyu-ji and walked down a narrow path and found a small temple named Raigo-in. The maple trees were in full colors and white blossom of sasanqua was in full bloom.
It was mid January. Temperature was 3 degrees Celsius.
I paid an admission fee of 600 yen and entered the premises of Sanjusangen-do.
The building was of long rectangular shape and the structure was quite unique. The building was constructed on a "soft" bed and the structure was loose fit so that it would not be destroyed by earthquakes.
I took off the shoes and went in the entrance hall attached to the building. I noticed a small crowd gathering but I did not know what they were doing. I was not interested in them either. Later, I learned what they were doing.
In the building were many statues. One thousand golden life-sized Buddha and a big main Buddha as well as twenty-eight guardians. In front of the main statue, a Buddhist monk was chanting a sutra. As it was a weekday in winter, visitors were not many. Some of visitors donated money and took incense and lighted it then stuck it on the ash bed in a box and pray by joining their palms together.
The cent of incense, monk's chant and the big Buddha made me take off the gloves and to join my palms together, though I am not really a Buddhist. Three visitors sat on the floor folding their legs under them and prayed. After a while they stood and walked beside me talking in Chinese language and left.
After looking those statues, I walked to displays showing history and structure of this temple. About half an hour had passed since I entered the building that was not heated. The floor was covered with thin carpets and I did not wear shoes. My feet were cold. When I reached the entrance hall I noticed a crowd of people again. In the center of them was a heater. They raised their feet and warmed them at the heater. Girls were giggling and said that this was vulgar but couldn't help doing this. I did and left the temple.