During our time in Kyoto we had one objective, and that was to visit as many shrines and temples as possible, including all the really grand and magnificent ones. We discovered while searching out the shrines and temples we wanted to visit, that there are hundreds of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. In fact, Kyoto is home to over 1600 shrines and temples. Originally, we had planned to take the trains from point to point, but then we realized how much we would miss along the way in doing so. Instead we made a route on google maps with specific stops we wanted to take. This proved to be a colossal endeavor, because for every stop we planned we found 5 more shrines close by. Our one day shrine walking tour, ended up extending over 4 full individual days comprised of 15-20 stops each.
Once we embarked on our journey we came across even more shrines that weren’t marked on any maps. We made an effort to stop at every single one and that is how we happened upon the Kyoto Ryozen Gokoku Shrine.
► Ranking: #cleandiaper
At the top of a very steep and lonely hill we found a large staircase that was covered in dense foliage. It looked abandoned, but it had a marker sign at the entrance indicating this was the Ryozen Gokoku Shrine, so the twins and I ventured forward to check it out.
Up this grand staircase, we found a second grand staircase. In all, there had to have been close to 100 steps, or more. We finally reached the top and found ourselves in front of an enormous wooden gate that would not budge. As luck would have it, just to the right there was another entrance covered by a large wooden plank. The plank had been moved to the side, so we took this as an invitation to enter.
Still no shrine, but we did find a winding path that led farther up the edge of this small mountain. Along the way we discovered fruit trees, several headstone markers and eventually ended at the foot of two familiar vermillion colored pagoda’s. We were the only ones there, and we didn’t get the impression that this place was open for visitors. We saw a few monks inside the buildings and heard some chanting, but quickly decided to leave before we were caught.
It was a beautiful hidden site protected by the forest. It was unique and shrouded in mystery, and we felt quite adventurous having located it.
We continued down the other half of the hill and discovered the actual Ryozen Gokoku Shrine and Graveyard. We had been exploring the exit to this shrine! The entrance point offers a tour among the graveyard that winds up the mountain ending at the original starting point where the twins and I had found our hidden treasure.
Here lies the 1,356 heroes of Japan who fought during the Meiji Restoration in an effort to unify Japan towards peace, including many royalists. Along with the shrines, statues, and monuments is the Ryozen Museum of History. We arrived just at closing time so we weren’t able to take the dedicated path, but we enjoyed our version of the adventure just as well.
► For Kids: This shrine exemplifies a part of Japanese history that is typically bypassed in the story books – the piece that begins a peaceful revolution. It offers a great historical perspective with physical remnants to grab your attention.
The Ryozen Gokoku Shrine is just a few minutes walk to Kodaiji, a zen garden featuring a huge buddha perched above the sand temple. We weren’t able to come back another day to walk through the garden here, however, we did have the opportunity to see the Heian Shrine, famous for it’s beautiful gardens. We absolutely recommend it!
► Nap-Time Version: A shrine and graveyard dedicated to the heroes who fought for peace in the late 1800’s.