Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Former Chikurin-in Temple and the Stunning Garden Reflection

Amongst all the Satobō (residence of retired monks) in Sakamoto, the Former Chikurin-in (旧竹林院) is probably the most famous. Not only is it known to be one of the highest-rank temples in Enryakuji, but its garden was also designated the National Place of Scenery Beauty in 1998. Nowadays, this garden is known as a spot for capturing this amazing reflection of the garden on the low table set up in Japanese-style rooms.

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About the Former Chikurin-in

The Former Chikurin-in boasts the scenery and the size of its garden. With a size of around 3,300 square meters, it is the biggest garden among all Satobō in Japan.

The temple was established as a retirement residence for the monks of Enryakuji Temple in Mt. Hiei in 1592. Although it was once owned as a private property in the Meiji period (1868 – 19212), it is now owned by the Ōtsu City.

The stream that flows in the garden is water sourced from the Ōmiya River (大宮川). The view formed by the artificial hills that are rich in undulation, the pagodas, and other stone garden decorations nicely imitates the stunning landscape of Mt.Hachiōji (八王子山).

Tip: Although the level of the crowd won’t be as many as the Rurikō-in (瑠璃光院) in Kyoto, we would still recommend that you arrive within the first 30 minutes after the temple is open.

Why It Is Called the “Former” Chikurin-in

When you visit an old residence built centuries ago in Japan, the spot is usually called the former xxx’s residence. But in the context of temples, why is the word ‘former’ used?

In the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), when the decree to separate Buddhism from Shintoism was issued, the power and the influence of Enryakuji and, thus, the Satobō in Sakamoto were largely impacted. Chikurin-in then became somebody’s private villa.

As it is now under the administration of Ōtsu City and not classified as a temple anymore, it is now referred to as the “Former” Chikurin-in.

How to Get a Photo of the Former Chikuri-in’s Garden Reflections

Chikurin-in’s astonishing reflection of the garden on the low lacquerware table can be seen in the main house. Tables are set up on both the first and second floors. As the reflections will differ from each floor, don’t forget to climb up the stairs when you finish your photography session on the first floor.

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To take a reflection photo is really simple. All you need to do is place your camera on the table and press the shutter. You can, of course, change your lens orientation and focal distance to form the kind of picture you like.

In addition to the bright color in November, from early May to early June, the view of the green maple leaves reflecting on the table is also recommended.

Important: Please refrain from moving the table.

☛ The garden view isn’t the only thing you can reflect on the table. If you sit on the veranda in front of the table, you will be reflected too!
☛ If you visit the temple on a sunny day, please note that there will be a big difference in brightness indoors and outdoors. You will have to adjust the camera angle to have enough brightness between photo taking.

Strolling Around the Garden that Was Designated as a National Place of Scenery Beauty

In addition to taking photos inside the main house, take a walk in the Former Chikurin-in’s garden. The well-maintained garden has streams flowing through the planted trees. Various types of mosses and garden decorations also make the entire scene look like Mt.Hachiōji.

The garden has two traditional teahouses and an Azumaya (pavilion). The pavilion atop the hill is the perfect space for a brief rest after climbing a small hill (refer to the 2nd photo in the IG post).

The larger tea house is almost like an annex (refer to the 5th to the 7th photo in the IG post). It has a spacious waiting area where meals can be served during a former tea ceremony session.

What is unique about the smaller teahouse is that there are two entrances in different sizes instead of one. Apart from the usual square entrance, next to it, there is another entrance that one can enter without needing to bend down.

Usually, you would have the host make tea for the guest on one side of the room while the guests are seated on the other side. However, in the tea rooms here, the host would be sitting in the middle whilst the guests are seated at both sides of the host.

The 4th photo in the Instagram post above is a photo of the smaller tea house’s interior.

This type of setting is called Amanogawa no Seki (天の川席). The only other place that you will find this kind of tearoom in Japan is the Mushakouji Senke Kankyuan Tokyo Training Room (武者小路千家 官休庵東京稽古場) in Tokyo.

In the past, many tea masters, including the heads of various Japanese tea ceremony schools, have held tea ceremonies at the Former Chikirin-in to enjoy the view of this stunning garden!

Our Visit to the Former Chikurin-in

Besides Hiyoshi Taisha, the Former Chikurin-in was the most popular attraction when we visited Sakamoto. With that said, the residence wasn’t cramped. It just means waiting is required for a photo of the garden reflection. And as the garden is accessible by tourists, it was sometimes hard to get a photo without strangers in the background.

A pleasant surprise that we got was the paper-cut lamps in the hallway. They were made by various artists. Each piece of papercutting was intricately made so that they all seemed like paintings drawn with brushes!

The topic of each lamp differed too; there were geishas, Buddhas, animals and flowers, and even Marilyn Monroe!

The reception of the Former Chikurin-in is at the main house. After paying the admission fee, head straight to the tatami mat-covered room. If the lacquerware table is occupied or there are many people in the garden in front of the large tatami mat-covered room, explore the garden first. Visitors don’t tend to stay at the residence, so by the time you are back at the main residence, it might be better timing for scenic photos!

The Fall Foliage Season at the Former Chikurin-in

The autumn color usually peaks from mid to late November.

Light-up Event in Autumn

The temples will also hold light-up events from early November to early December. This is where you can get some photos of the fantastic nighttime garden views reflected on the table.

The light-up events last about 30 minutes for each session. During the first 15 minutes, the garden starts glowing in one color before it becomes a colorful light show during the remaining 15 minutes.

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  • HERE is the information page for 2023’s event. It took place from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm on the weekends and public holidays from the 3rd of November to the 3rd of December.
  • The cost is 1,000 yen.
  • Making a reservation was recommended. But guests were allowed to join if it was not fully booked.

Explore Former Chikurin-in/Sakamoto With a Guided Tour

If you prefer to be guided when you visit Former Chikurin-in/Sakamoto, how about joining the tour below?

Former Chikurin-in Temple’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information

  • The temple is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily except Mondays and the next day of a public holiday.
    • The last admission is at 4:30 pm.
    • If Monday is a public holiday, it will open on the next business day.
  • The admission fee is
    • 330 yen for adults
    • 160 yen for elementary school students
  • From JR Hieizan-Sakamoto Station (比叡山坂本駅), it is around a 20-minute walk.
  • From Keihan’s Sakamoto-hieizanguchi Station (坂本比叡山口駅), it is around a 10-minute walk.
  • It is located right next to Hiyoshi Taisha.

Discover Sakamoto, The Town that Thrived at the Foot of Mt. Hiei

Click the photo to find out where you can get this awesome photo yourself!

Wondering where else to go in Sakamoto? The Former Chikurin-in isn’t the only temple in town that is worth your time. There are a couple more shrines and temples that have unique and interesting histories and architectures awaiting you to check them out!

For more information, please refer to our article on Sakamoto (=゚ω゚)ノ.

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