The MIT-trained architect Geoffrey Moussas (design1st.net) has spent the past 16 years in Kyoto, where his projects include restorations of machiya townhouses, tearooms, and other traditional Japanese structures. Here he shares five of his favorite temples and shrines around town.
“The most overlooked temple in probably all of Japan. It’s a real Zen temple for studying, not really a tourist attraction, and has more of a residential quality, where you can see the interaction between the gardens and buildings. It’s much more dynamic.”
“From the same Zen sect as Daitoku-ji, but more accessible. You can see quite a bit more of the main area and halls. It’s in the center of town, so go in the evening before dinner in Gion.”
Konchi-in at Nanzen-ji
“One of the first gardens where Kobori Enshu—likely the most well-known Japanese garden designer—started to use forced perspective. He also did the gardens at the main temple, but Konchi-in is a sub-temple and not many people go.”
“It’s a must-see, and it gets very crowded, but it opens at 6 am. If you get there before 8—no matter what time of the year you go—you’re never going to have crowds.”
“This is the main shrine, and during cherry-blossom season it’s actually nice because of the crowds. In the evenings it’s like a festival atmosphere, where everyone’s drinking and getting food from stalls. But it’s good to go any other time, too.”