though it is unclear if kozan-ji (高山寺) was built around 774 as legend tells, we do know that this temple was built during the nara period, which lasted from 710 until 794. it was in 794 that the capital of japan moved to kyoto. there are many national treasures and important cultural properties in konzan-ji. these include the oldest chinese character dictionary in japan, the only remaining copies in the world of buddhist tales from 7th or 8th century china, and many statues from the kamakura period.
but kozan-ji is most famous for its choju-jinbutsu-giga (鳥獣人物戯画), japan’s first anime! :) photographs of the scrolls were not allowed, but there are several good images in this wikipedia link. the originals are at the kyoto and tokyo national museums.
getting to kozan-ji can take a little bit of time. you can ride the JR bus or the kyoto bus. for the JR bus, board the koyu/keihoku bus line (高雄・京北線) to bus stop tsugano (栂ノ尾). it’s about a 10 minute walk from there. if you take the kyoto city bus, then first get to shijo station (四条駅) and then ride bus number 8 to the last stop, koyu (高雄). it’s a 500 yen ride.
kozan-ji is a bit out of the way, but a great way to get away from the sweltering summer heat and a nice short hike in the woods. if you come out here, consider visiting a couple of other nearby temples, saimyo-ji (西明寺) and jingo-ji (神護寺). admission is free, but you must pay 600 yen to see the important scrolls and many other historical assets of the temple. definitely worth it!
by far the best time to visit is during fall foliage, as this temple surrounded by woods really comes to life in the bright fall colors.
photos of kozan-ji in the middle of winter. too bad there’s no snow:
some more photos of the temple grounds:
kozan-ji’s location respective to the city of kyoto:
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