The Eikando Temple’s main object of worship is a wooden statue of the Amida Buddha, whose head is facing over his shoulder, rather than straight ahead. According to legend, the statue once came to life one day, stepped down from its dais and joined in with the head priest, Eikan, as he was praying. The story goes that when Eikan stopped in surprise the statue turned its head, to tell him he was slow, and stayed that way.
You will find the statue, said to have been carved in the 12th century, in the Amida Hall which was built somewhat later, at the beginning of the 17th century.
The temple is formally known as Zenrinji Temple; zenrinji means “temple in a calm grove.” Nestled amongst many trees and surrounded by ponds and moss gardens, Eikando is one of the quieter temple areas in Kyoto.
Although the temple was founded in 863, the buildings were completed at different stages between the 1600s and the 1900s. If you climb further up the hill, you’ll get to the Tahoto pagoda, a two-storey building with a round second level, built in 1928. From here you can look back down over the grounds and out over the city.
The Hojo Pond is a garden created for quiet meditation and reflection, and is the meeting point of all the streams that run through the temple grounds. The pond is criss-crossed by stone bridges and is a spectacular place to enjoy the fall show of red and orange maple leaves the temple is famous for. Throughout fall the temple is open late to the public, and the gardens are lit up, creating a magical scene.
Bus trips from Kyōto Station, the city’s main transportation hub, take a little over half an hour. The temple has an admission fee and is open daily.