While the landmark temples in Kyoto may be magnificent, they are always flooded with fellow tourists and it’s often difficult to appreciate their true serene beauty. As authentic as the ones in Kyoto, many temples in the Central Japan area* are noticeably less crowded, offering visitors a better chance to observe the details in their own time. Here are some fine examples that are well worth going off the beaten path.

Eiheiji

One of the twin headquarters of the Soto Zen School of Buddhism, Eiheiji, in Eiheiji Town, Fukui Prefecture, is one huge temple complex situated deep in the mountain, surrounded by ancient trees. Founded in the mid-13th century by a monk who studied Zen Buddhism in China, this stately temple still functions as a monastery dedicated to training young monks, offering visitors a rare chance to glimpse the daily lives of these apprentices. The main seven buildings (Shichido-garan) on its vast campus connected with covered walkways, awe worshippers and visitors of other faiths alike. The beautifully decorated coffered ceiling of the reception hall, Sanshokaku, is also a must-see.

Coffered ceiling of the Sanshokaku reception hall of Eiheiji

Kongorinji

Founded in the mid-8th century by edict of the Emperor, Kongorinji, located in Aisho Town, Shiga Prefecture, is a venerable temple that fascinates visitors with its elegant Kamakura Era (1192-1333) main hall and three-storied pagoda. One of the three great temples of Lake Biwa eastern shore, the temple boasts a beautiful garden built over three different periods, the first work having been begun in the 16th century. With its scenic gardens, the temple is also known to offer visitors a chance to enjoy flowers from Spring to early Summer, and burning red maple leaves in Autumn, nicknamed “Bloodbath Maple” by the locals.

The Main Garden of the Kongorinji Temple

Zuiryuji

This mid-17th century temple, located in Takaoka City, Toyama Prefecture, is known for its grandiose buildings, which took twenty years to complete. Built by the third lord of Kaga to commemorate his predecessor brother, the temple has its main gate, temple gate, main hall and a ceremony hall, all aligned in a straight line. After the austere main gate, the buildings visitors encounter will get larger and larger. The quadrangle with the main hall at its centre is surrounded by a covered gallery with neat paper screens.

Main hall of Zuiryuji and gallery

Kokeizan Eihoji

Founded by Muso Soseki, a high priest of Zen Buddhism and pioneer of Japanese garden designs, this temple, in Tajimi City, Gifu Prefecture, has a truly stunning landscape garden, as well as a pair of small but enchanting rustic buildings, both designated as national treasure. Built in the early 14th century, utilizing natural bedrock, the temple and the garden expresses the philosophy of Zen and is one of Muso’s earliest works. The temple buildings may be relatively small compared to Eiheiji or Zuiryuji, but no less authentic.

Stunning landscape garden at Kokeizan Eihoji