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Guide to Taking a Day Trip to “Shuon-an Ikkyu-ji Temple ,” of the Classic Anime Series “Ikkyu-san” and Nearby Scenic Spots!

2021.12.22

The TV anime series “Ikkyu-san” is an inspiring cartoon classic that depicts the childhood of an enlightened Japanese monk known as Ikkyu Zenshi. The series shows Ikkyu solving problems with intelligence and smarts, which is an image that has long been ingrained in people’s hearts. This time, we will take you to “Ikkyu-ji Temple” in Kyotanabe to enjoy the beautiful scenery of autumn maple, and to get to know Ikkyu Zenshi once again. In spring, there are also beautiful sceneries of a magnificent rapeseed field and riverside cherry blossoms, which make Kyotanabe worth visiting all year round. Alongside this, you cannot miss out on Kanon-ji Temple, as well as the local agricultural specialties and Maiko Matcha.

Brief Introduction to the Charms of Kyotanabe

Kyotanabe is city located in the south of Kyoto Prefecture, and it has a well-developed public transit system that makes it very convenient to travel to Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara. The city is home to Mount Kannabi, which is believed to be the dwelling place of god, as well as the clear water Kizu River, which produces high-quality crops, along with gyokuro tea and matcha. The famous “Ikkyu-ji Temple” and the long-established “Omido Kannon-ji Temple” are also found there.

Get to Know Ikkyu Zenshi

Before we visit Ikkyu-ji Temple, let us quickly learn about the life of Ikkyu! Ikkyu Sojun was a Zen Buddhist monk in the Daitoku-ji branch of the Rinzai sect. Many Japanese and Taiwanese people who are currently around fifty years of age grew up watching “Ikkyu-san,” which was a super-popular TV anime series with a viewership rating of over 40%. The series was first broadcasted in 1975 and aired a total of 296 episodes. In the series, Ikkyu was portrayed as a young monk who practices in a monastery. In the face of problems, he would draw circles on his head with his fingers and sit in a lotus position to come up with solutions. With his quick-wit, Ikkyu would also leave the adult shoguns dumbstruck and at a loss for words. Such depictions and plot lines all made Ikkyu a lovable character.

Born in 1394, the real Ikkyu was actually a prince who lived among the people. His father was Japanese Emperor Go-Komatsu, and his mother was Lady Teruko, the daughter of Vice-Councilor of State Hino. Prior to his birth, Lady Teruko found herself to be the target of envy and was expelled from the imperial court. Consequently, she wound up settling in Rakusai Forest, and gave birth to Ikkyu in a local folk’s home nearby. When Ikkyu was a child, he was named Sengikumaru. Due to his mother’s hopes for him to become a monk in his future, Ikkyu, at the mere age of six, was sent to a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect known as Ankoku-ji Temple, where he practiced as a monk for eleven years. In the anime series, Ikkyu’s life during this period was depicted.

Ikkyu Zenshi had many talents and was proficient in Chinese studies. He also served as a monk, poet and an artist. In his later years, he behaved differently from the monks who had a secular impression, as he was spontaneous and free. He lived in Ikkyu-ji Temple in his later years until his passing.

Ikkyu-Ji Temple, a Scenic Spot for Autumn Leaves in Kyoto

Ikkyu-ji Temple is known by its official name “Shuon-an,” but it was originally called “Myosho-ji Temple” and was once the Zen training monastery of Daio Kokushi, who was a high priest of the Rinzai sect. After Myosho-ji Temple was caught up in a war and deserted, it was restored by Ikkyu Zenshi. At the same time, Ikkyu was grateful for the favor of the masters who practiced under the sect, and therefore renamed the temple Shuon-an to repay their kindness.

Compared to the famous scenic spots for autumn leaves in Kyoto, where crowds of people come to visit every fall, Ikkyu-ji Temple is much more quiet, secluded and tranquil, which allows travelers to slow down and enjoy the beautiful scenery of red maple. In late November every year, when travelers step into the main gate of Ikkyu-ji Temple, they are shocked and fascinated by the beauty of the red maple on both sides of the stone slab road, which makes them linger around without the thought of leaving. In the following, we will show you the places you must visit when you come to Ikkyu-ji Temple.

  

1. The “South Garden” of the Hojo Garden

The Hojo Garden of Ikkyu-ji Temple is declared a national site of scenic beauty, and it consists of a North Garden, a South garden, and an East Garden. The South Garden is a typical Zen garden that is largely characterized by its white sand and pruned Satsuki azaleas, which are simple yet elegant.

  

2. “Kokyu-an,” the Tea Ceremony House, will be Made Specially Open in Autumn

Kokyu-an was originally located in Higashiyama, Kyoto, but was moved to this location due to the “Onin War” that broke out in 1467. Afterwards, Kokyu-an became a thatched convent where Ikkyu Zenshi resided in his later years. Surrounding the convent, there are Karesansui gardens, which are quiet and elegant. According to legend, Kokyu-an is also said to have been built by Murata Juko, who was the founder of the Japanese tea ceremony. While it is not open to the public in regular times, Kokyu-an will be made accessible for special worship in late autumn each year.

Here, visitors and worshipers can enjoy matcha and special Japanese sweets, and feel the spirit of “indulging in tea and Zen.”

  

3. Enjoy Matcha and Zenzai Red Bean Soup

After worshiping at Kokyu-an, we recommend you to enjoy some matcha or Zenzai (Japanese-style red bean soup with roasted mochi) in the “Kuri” (monastery kitchen). Although “Zenzai” was originally a Buddhist term, legend has it that after drinking such a delicious red bean soup one day, Ikkyu Zenshi was so moved that he exclaimed, “what an excellent soup this is,” which in turn led future generations to refer to this sweet soup as Zenzai (excellent).

Also, the natto of Ikkyu-ji Temple is even more famous as it is very different from those commercially available, and is made with a special recipe that was handed down by Ikkyu Zenshi himself. When there was a famine in Kyoto during the Onin War, Ikkyu Zenshi taught everyone how to make this long-lasting natto on their own. It also serves as an important source of additional protein for monks who do not eat meat. As Ikkyu-ji Temple’s natto is only sold within the boundaries of Ikkyu-ji Temple, those who want it should not miss out.

Ikkyu-ji Temple

Ikkyu-ji Temple

Ikkyu-ji Temple was restored under the order of Ikkyu Sojun, a Japanese Zen Buddhist priest, who is widely known in Japan as having been quite witty, and thus the subject of many interesting stories. The temple has a garden, known as “Hojo Garden,” designated as a place of scenic beauty, as well as the main hall building, designated an Important Cultural Property. The Hojo Garden consists of a North Garden, East Garden, and South Garden, each of which has a different atmosphere and particular type of beauty. At the temple, visitors can enjoy traditional shojin vegetarian cuisine, as eaten by Japanese Buddhist monks, with dishes such as “Shojin Tenshin” (a light vegetarian meal), “Shojin Makunouchi” (a vegetarian box lunch), and “Shojin Honzen” (a full-course vegetarian dinner). Ikkyu-ji Temple’s original natto (fermented soybeans) are also popular as a souvenir from the temple. Traditionally, making the natto is one of the tasks for the temple’s incumbent chief priest.

Introduction to the Scenic Spots Surrounding Shuon-an Ikkyu-ji Temple

1. Purchase Local Agricultural Products at Fugenji Fureai-no-Eki.

This greengrocer sells locally produced fresh fruits and vegetables, Japanese tea, lunchboxes, bread and other light snacks. It is a good place for locals to buy vegetables and is one of the resting spots for cyclists. Those who need to buy from here should remember to go shopping early to avoid missing out on products. In particular, the fruits and vegetables that are picked and sold on the day are usually sold out by the locals very quickly!

  

2. The Historic Omido Kannon-ji Temple

Next, we arrive at Omido Kannon-ji Temple, which was established under the order of Emperor Tenmu in the seventh century. The temple enshrines a standing statue of the Eleven-faced Kannon, which is one of the representative Buddha statues of the Nara period (710-784) and is listed as a national treasure of Japan.

When Omido Kannon-ji Temple was established, its buildings were complete and magnificent in scale. Within its boundaries, there were around thirty three buildings in total, including a main hall, lecture hall, and monastery. For this reason, Omido Kannon-ji Temple was once known as “the great temple of Tsutsuki.” However, years later, the temple was hit by numerous fires, which burnt down almost all of its buildings. Today, the main hall still stands as it was rebuilt in 1953.

Omido Kannon-ji Temple

Omido Kannon-ji Temple

Omido Kannon-ji Temple is located in the “Infused with Tea” region of Kyoto in Kyotanabe City. The temple was founded over 1300 years ago at the request of Emperor Tenmu. It has been hit by numerous fires and in a fire in 1437 (Eikyo 9) 13 temples and 20 monk’s houses were lost. Only Omidou (main hall) was rebuilt and survives to this day.
The main statue is of the eleven-faced Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva, which is made by a technique which paper or cloth is lacquered to make it look like wood, and is registered as a national treasure as one of the only seven eleven-faced Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva statues in the country.
In spring, the cherry blossoms on the approach to the temple are in full bloom. Also rape blossoms cover the field in front of the temple, which is a spectacular sight to see.
In autumn, the main hall and garden are decorated with fall leaves. A light-up event is held every year and is the best way to enjoy the fall colors at the temple.

  

3. Enjoy Gyokuro Tea at the Maiko Tea Boutique

Other than its beautiful sceneries, Kyotanabe is also well known for being a producer of gyokuro tea in Japan. The hand-made gyokuro tea has a distinct aroma, gentle texture, and rich sweetness, which have garnered it many positive reviews from tea lovers in Japan and abroad. We recommend you to visit the “Maiko Tea Boutique,” which is directly operated by “Maiko no cha-Honpo” (Maiko Tea Japan). Here, you can purchase the highest-grade gyokuro and other Uji teas that have been granted an award from the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan. Also, in the attached tea room, you can slowly enjoy a wide range of desserts and teas, including matcha shiratama zenzai (matcha red bean soup with mochi), matcha sundae, matcha cappuccino, as well as gyokuro soba (gyokuro buckwheat noodles), which is hard to find in Kyoto!

Maiko Tea Boutique

Maiko Tea Boutique

Maiko Tea Boutique is directly managed by Maiko no Cha (“Apprentice Geisha’s Tea”), a popular gyokuro (high quality green tea) shop in Kyotanabe City. There is a selection of teas for different occasions, be it for gifting or everyday use, including high quality gyokuro tea hand-rolled by masters and teas marked with the Yamashita seal. At the café, if you order a set of gyokuro tea and a tea sweet, you can learn an easy way to prepare your tea, causing many to head home with a tea pot and some tea leaves to try it out for themselves. The 750 yen matcha parfait and the matcha cheesecake, made by a local French restaurant using Maiko Tea’s matcha are also popular items.

Concluding Remarks

From Kyoto Station (or Nara), you can take a JR or Kintetsu express train to Kyotanabe, which will take less than half an hour to reach. The following is an itinerary of your day trip to Kyotanabe that we helped you to plan: for the first stop, you will visit the beautiful scenic spot for red autumn leaves known as “Ikkyu-ji Temple”; next, you will drop by “Fugenji Fureai-no-Eki” to buy some local specialties; then, you will continue on to visit the “Omido Kannon-ji Temple,” where the national treasure that is the statue of Kannon is enshrined; lastly, you will stop by the “Maiko Tea Boutique” to enjoy various desserts made from the gyokuro and matcha produced in Kyotanabe; with this, your enriching and pleasant day trip to Kyotanabe will come to an end.

  

Suggested Itinerary for a Day Trip to Shuon-an Ikkyu-ji Temple and Its Surrounding Scenic Spots

Depart from Kyoto at 9:00AM
→ Take a Kintetsu express train to “Shin-Tanabe Station” (about 25 minutes)
→ Transfer by taxi (5 minutes) / by bus (10 minutes) / on foot (25 minutes)

1. Ikkyu-ji Temple (10:00-11:30AM)
→ Walk to Maiko Tea Boutique (25 minutes)

2. Maiko Tea Boutique (12:00-1:00PM)
→ At 1:00PM, take a taxi to JR “Kyotanabe Station” or Kintetsu “Shin-Tanabe Station” (15 minutes)

3. Fugenji Fureai-no-Eki (1:30-2:00PM)
→ Walk (6 minutes)

4. Omido Kannon-ji Temple (2:15-3:00PM)
→ Walk back to Fugenji Fureai-no-Eki and take a taxi back to JR “Kyo-Tanabe Station” or Kintetsu “Shin-Tanabe Station” (15 minutes)

  

  

Kyotanabe is Beautiful All Year Round and is Also a Mecca for Cycling Enthusiasts

In addition to allowing you to enjoy the quiet and beautiful red maple in autumn, Kyotanabe also provides beautiful sceneries of a vast rapeseed field and a tunnel of cherry blossoms along the riverside in spring, as well as an eyeful of lush greenery in summer, with layers upon layers of cyan maple leaves that are fresh and pleasant. If you come here in the middle of winter, you may also have a chance to encounter a landscape filled with silver and white snow.

It is worth noting that Kyotanabe has its 45-kilometer-long Yawata-Kizu Bicycle Road, which is a mecca for cycling enthusiasts throughout Japan. The road is famous for its good layout and beautiful wayside sceneries. Starting from Kyoto’s Arashiyama District, the road passes through Yawata and Kizugawa in Kyoto Prefecture, which allows you to enjoy the fresh and vast rural sceneries on both sides. Along the way, you can also visit many well-known scenic spots such as Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine, Ikkyu-ji Temple and so on.

Those who are interested can go to the bicycle rental shop next to Kintetsu Shin-Tanabe Station to rent a bicycle. There are regular light and convenient bicycles as well as power assisted bicycles to choose from. To rent a bicycle for one time, it costs 500 yen or 700 yen (power assisted bicycle). The rental shop is also open from 6:00AM to 10:30PM at night, which makes it very convenient.

*Rental Cars & Bicycles Information https://www.kyototourism.org/en/rentals/