Saihoji, colloquially known as Koke-Dera or “Moss Temple”, was originally a villa that belonged to Prince Shotoku, but it was converted into a Buddhist temple in the Nara period. It is recognised as a world heritage site today.
To be allowed to enter this temple, you need to apply with a request beforehand, at least a couple of weeks in advance, and the temple will send you an invitation card, which you must present upon entrance.
Before you can go into the moss garden, you are introduced into the temple itself, where you participate in the chanting and transcription of sutras, where you trace over the printed characters on a thin piece of paper. In Japanese, this is called Shakyou.
The fact that moss takes so long to grow and propagate, in itself is viewed as a virtue in Japanese culture.
Saihoji boasts over 120 different species of moss in its gardens.
The garden actually looks much larger than it is, due to a technique called shakkei (借景), which literally means “borrowed scenery”. Essentially, it is the act of “borrowing” surrounding structures and nature such as hills, mountains, forests and buildings, to add to the overall look of the garden.
Visiting this temple does require some prior planning, but it is definitely worth a visit for the whole experience, from chanting to a meditative walk through the calming garden, fitted from edge to edge with thick, lush, green carpets created by the moss.
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