Ohara & Sanzen-in

I like to visit Ohara as regularly as I can. It’s just north of Kyoto city – about an hour in the bus from Kyoto station but feels so much further away. I love the local farming atmosphere but the main reason I come here is to visit Sanzen in (temple) or one of the other smaller temples in the area.

It is a really charming day trip – I usually head up in the morning around 8am and have a wander around one or more temples –  then I stop in somewhere for lunch, do a little shopping and then bus it back to town.  Here’s a post on another of my favourite temples in the area JAKKO-IN and if you are interested Ohara also has an early morning farmers’ market on Sundays.

Take the number 17 Bus from Kyoto station – if you take it from here you are more likely to get a seat! If you get on further up town you may well have to stand for an hour. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The bus stops at a little depot which has a small stall selling locally grown fruit vegetables, pickles and rice. If you are staying in an apartment it is worth picking up some of these wonderful items and cooking them when you get home – you might like to wait until you are leaving though as carrying a pumpkin up and down the hill can take its toll.

Umeboshi pickled plums on the left, figs, baby eggplants and cucumbers  – all typical of end summer/beginning of autumn bounty. Below are green togarashi peppers on the right, some okra at the back and Myoga – ginger buds on the left.

Hikari rice and pumpkin below

When you walk by the stalls toward the road you will see a set of traffic lights and a crossing – you will  need to cross over here to the eastern side of the road to get to Sanzen-in (if you were going to Jakkoin you would head down to your left (west). Do wait for the lights to turn as cars and trucks tend to whizz around the corner from your left – you can’t see them so take extra care. In just a moment you will see this restaurant ahead

It is actually worth checking out for lunch when it gets to be that time -they do pretty decent tempura and various other comforting dishes.  Here is a faded old pic of the menu which shows  yudofu (simmered tofu and accompaniments), various soba noodle dishes – hot and cold, dengaku tofu (tofu grilled on sticks with various miso pastes)  – the set courses including rice, soup etc are very reasonable  – around $15 AUD except for the yudofu which is about $25. There is plenty of food.

To get to the temple you need to follow the road that runs past the restaurant and up behind it – so you need to turn left just after the restaurant. As you walk a few metres you may note that on the second floor of the building is a rustic looking cafe  – their coffee and homemade simple cake is not bad and they also have a little ceramics/souvenir shop attached.

This is the sign that reads SAN ZEN IN  – so you know you are heading in the correct direction!

You will walk to the right side of this field which in season is filled with bright yellow canola flowers. The rows look too perfect!

Directly opposite the field is a set of shops selling a variety of souvenirs, clothes, handbags, hats, brollies, Japanese paper, glassware, ceramics etc and a few food items.

Keep walking up the hill as the path veers around and you will see quite a few more restaurants , shops and stalls – probably a good idea to resist the urge to shop until the walk down so you don’t have to lug it around all day.

Although if it’s hot you might be tempted to stop for one of these refreshing, shiso flavoured ice creams.

Once out of the shops you will look for this sign which points towards the forest behind sanzen in.

Shortly afterwards you will see this temple sign – yep still heading in the right direction

Another small group of stalls greets you before you make it to the main entrance

The local ladies ‘Ohara me’ wear this traditional farming garb (or similar) when they are working in the fields – there is also a festival in May which celebrates their strength and hard work and you can see all the local women dressed in this ‘uniform’.

You’ll appreciate the water features and moss covered walls on a hot day  – a ‘sense’ of cool, shade etc

Keep walking – not much further now.

OK – so finally you will head up some stone steps to your left and about 50 meters in front of you – on the right hand side is the entrance to beautiful Sanzen-in.  Take a look inside…

It is common for me to take quite some time to sit on the smooth deck of Sanzen-in and soak up the energy there – particularly when it is quiet – it is as if there is no one else in the world at that moment and you can really open your heart and mind – so blissful. On this particular day it was still quite hot – the end of summer hanging on for dear life – so I was grateful for the rest.

Just look at that face. Such a serene Jizo  

Happy little cherubs

There is a large garden area to wander at the back of the temple  -you could spend hours here but in the summer months just getting up to this point may have you parched and looking for sustenance…

The slow stroll towards the exit… just so peaceful

And we’re out….  this is looking back through the exit into the serene grounds – the gates framing the scene.

A brief stroll back in the direction you originally come from takes you past souvenir shops and sweet shops before you get to the same set of stairs you walked up

Otabe sweets below – glutinous rice wrappers (nama yatsuhashi) wrapped around fillings such as red bean, green tea and white beans, and in one of these seasonal boxes they’ve included ingredients such as pumpkin , chestnut and sweet potato. There’s matcha and houjicha tea wrappers. There’s also an eclair otabe with chocolate wrappers around fake cream and custard…hmmm.

These young ladies are taking a break with some mitarashi dango –  rice dumplings grilled and served with a sweet soy glaze – these don’t look or sound particularly appetising but a good mitarashi dango is a beautiful thing

There are also several restaurants in the area and it’s not a bad idea to have some lunch before heading back down the hill to wait for your bus for the leg homewards. The restaurant below is right on the corner as you are about to turn down the stairs – it looks quite fancy…

and it has a lovely atmosphere and outlook – however there is better and less expensive food in the surrounding, less glamourous eateries, famous for their tofu or noodle dishes.

Lunch done. Down the hill you go

The wares in the little group of shops along the road can be pretty eclectic

It is definitely worth stopping to check out some of the pickle action. On a summers day these cucumbers are definitely refreshing

I haven’t quite managed to do a whole eggplant pickle on a stick yet

I love a good persimmon tree – not quite sure what it is about it.  But the orange against the blue is so stunning.

More jizo below -dressed in their bibs. I thanked them and made my leave this day.

Back across to the bus stop and you will note there are fairly regular departures  (about every 20 minutes or so). Stop off in town for the remainder of the afternoon and evening if you aren’t too laden down with parcels. The bus stops in several key places in the main grid.

I highly recommend checking the area out if you spend more than several days in Kyoto town.

Of course you could also join one of my Zenbu Tours if it all sounds a bit hard to do on your own, Japan can be a little challenging getting to know your way around!


  1. alexistsoi says:

    Absolutely itching to go to Japan! Great photos!

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