Ohara is a northern suburb of Kyoto. The area has a placid atmosphere of good old Japan. There are several temples and Sanzen-in is probably the best of them. I like Ojo-Gokuraku-in in Sanzen-in complex best. Though it is just a small building, I feel that it is very Japanese. I also have to mention that there are three impressive statues in it.
Though Ohara may have fewer visitors than famous places closer to central Kyoto, Sanzen-in always has a good number of visitors, especially in weekends or colorful seasons such as late fall. If you would like to feel Japan by yourself without being bothered by other visitors, this might not be the place. I will show you a place later where you could sit down by yourself calmly. That is Raigo-in temple. Anyway, let's start a tour by looking at Sanzen-in.
I got off a bus at the last stop named "Sanzen-in" after one hour of ride from central Kyoto. It is probably hard for you to tell which way you should go so that you would better follow other visitors. I went along the narrow upgrade path for about 10 minutes. There were souvenir shops, Ohara's traditional pickle shops and restaurants along the path. All of them looked somewhat traditional Japanese. You might smell pickles while walking.
Now I stood in front of the main entrance gate of Sanzen-in. A party of visitors was taking a commemorative picture in front of the gate. After they finished the session, I went up the stairs toward the gate and walked through it. I paid an entrance fee of 600 yen at the entrance and went in the building. They would provide a plastic bag for your shoes. I took off my shoes and carry them in the bag.
There were a patio-like tiny garden and regular Japanese garden that did not attract me much.
At the exit of the building, I saw a smaller building that is called "Ojo-Gokuraku-in." I put the shoes on again, and returned the plastic bag into a wooden box and strolled in the garden toward Ojo-Gokuraku-in.
There were three statues sitting in the building. I looked up them and decided to step up on to the high floor of the building. I sat on my heels and looked up at the statues. The doors and windows of the building were open. Summer breeze blew lightly through the building and made me feel cool. The breeze and cent of incense as well as those golden colored statues made me feel being calm.
I wanted to stay long but I felt I had better to leave because other visitors were around and seemed waiting for me to give them a place to sit. This place seemed to be too famous to allow you to stay long. I stepped down the wooden stairs to the ground and put the shoes again and left there. Then I walked a few minutes to "Raigo-in" temple.
This is not a big or beautiful temple. This is not a famous temple either so that much fewer people visit here than Sanzen-in. It is good, you see? This is a place where you can stay long and have a relaxed time.
I took off my shoes at the entrance stairs of the main Hall and left them. I stepped up on to the wooden passageway along the edge of the building. I walked along the right corner and entered into the building.
There were three main statues and some others in the hall. I sat in front of the statues. I had to strain my eyes to see them clearly in the dim light of candles. I gave up. I gave up not only seeing them clearly but also being myself... No, I did not give up being myself. I just thought that I might have if I were a Buddhist priest. In any way, I felt that my mind was calm.
After a while I left the hall.
During recent visit I found that they changed the illumination from candles to electric bulbs. The bulbs were bright enough for you to see the statues easily. I guess that this was because they were afraid of fire. My opinion is that they should make the incandescent light dimmer like candles.
Then I took a brief visit to Shorin-in temple before leaving Ohara.
The building was much bigger than the main hall of Raigo-in. The sole statue was much bigger than those in Raigo-in, too. There was nobody when I climbed the stairs and got in the main hall. Several minutes later, a couple of visitors came in.
You can listen to Shomyo, or Buddhist song by pressing a small button on a table. It will activate a tape recorder and Shomyo will be played for a couple of minutes.
There is another temple that I would very much like to introduce to you. But I am sad to say that the main hall of the temple was set fire and burned down in spring of year 2000. The temple is Jakko-in. They are soliciting donations to aid reconstruction of the building.
Update: The main hall was set fire on May 9, 2000 and rebuilt in June 2005. The principal Buddhist image is also newly built and modeled the original image faithfully as well.