The Kyoto Gozan are important temples of the Rinzai sect in Kyoto. They include, from highest rank, Tenryuji Temple, Shokokuji Temple, Kenninji Temple, Tofukuji Temple, and Manjuji Temple, with Nanzenji Temple as the specially ranked temple. Among these temples, only Tenryuji Temple is the World Heritage Site. Manjuji Temple is currently one of the sub-temples of Tofukuji Temple and is not open to the public.
The selection of the Kyoto Gozan was finalized by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in the Muromachi period (1336-1573), but Myoshinji Temple, Daitokuji Temple, and other large temples of the same Rinzai sect opposed the temple ranking and were said to be at odds with the shogunate.
This means that Kyoto Gozan does not necessarily represent the importance of Rinzai sect temples, but shows the historical relationship between politics and religion in the past.
Bonfires on five mountains in Kyoto is also called “Gozan”. But it is nothing to do with the Kyoto Gozen of Rinzai Sect temples.
Kyoto Gozan tour
A good way to tour the Kyoto Gozan is to start at Tofukuji Temple in the southeast of Kyoto and head northwest to Tenryuji Temple. The best time for this tour is during the fall foliage season, but please consult with your guide as each temple offers special opening days depending on the season.
Tofukuji Temple is famous for its garden especially in autumn.
Nanzanji Temple is also famous for autumn leaves.
Shokokuji Temple has a famous ceiling painting of dragon. It’s open for public during special opening days only.
The Kenninji Temple is famous for its garden. It is open all year round. There are some good sub-temples. Sub-temples are usually open to the public during the limited times of the year.
Tenryuji Temple is located in Arashiyama area. Spring and autumn are good seasons to visit there.