In Kyoto

Shinsenen temple | A Must-Visit Winter Garden Destination in 2024


Although Japanese gardens in Kyoto is perhaps more famous for its stunning cherry blossoms in spring and colorful foliage in autumn, it still offers floral beauty in the winter season. Shinsenen, located in the heart of Kyoto city, to the south of Nijo-jo castle, has a historic garden, renown for winter flowers; camellias and sasanqua camellias. In addition, Shinsenen has its own charm and attract visitors who are looking for a more tranquil, intimate garden experience in Kyoto. Here is information about Shinsenen to help you understand and enjoy it more deeply.


Shinsenen was created in 794 as a private garden for the Emperor Kanmu, located southeast of the Imperial palace ”Daidairi” then. The name of Shinsenen originates from “Garden of the Divine Spring,” and successive emperors enjoyed the garden’s scenery from boats floated on the pond of Shinsenen. In 824, during a period of severe drought across Japan, Kukai, who is the founder of the Shingon school of Buddhism, prayed by the pond in Shinsenen. He summoned a young female dragon “Zenyo Ryuo” ,worshiped as a rain deity. Zenyo Ryuo invoked rain throughout Japan. Since this event, it has been believed that the Zenyo Ryuo resides in the pond of Shinsenen, and a shrine, dedicated to her, was established there. In 1603, when Tokugawa Ieyasu constructed Nijo Castle, the north side of Shinsenen was reconstructed to serve as part of the castle’s moat. In 1607, Shinsenen was rebuilt and later became a Buddhist temple of the Shingon sect, which was founded by Kukai.


Shinsenen, which was largely absorbed as part of the land for Nijo Castle in 1603, is only about 4000 ㎡, but it has many attractive features. Although Shinsenen is a temple, within its precincts, there are torii gates and shrines, which originate from Shinto. These structures represent a unique Japanese form of faith that blends Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.


A main pond in Shinsenen is called “Hojouju-ike”. It is believed that the deity of lady dragon “Zenyo Ryuo” resides in this pond. The vermilion bridge, Houjou-bashi, serves as a bridge to the shrine of Zenyo ryuo. This arched bridge ”Taikobashi”, shaped like a half-circle, symbolizes the passage from the human world to the realm of the gods.There is another pond as well, called Shinkyo-ike. It is said that when the person looks at ones reflection in the water of this pond, it reveals ones inner emotions of joy, anger, sorrow, and pleasure. The ponds in Shinsenen originate from a large ancient pond, and currently, some of the water from these ponds is used to fill the moat of Nijo-jo Castle.

Zenyo Ryuo sub-shrine

Zenyo Ryuo sub-shrine in Shinsenen

A Zenyo Ryuo shrine is enshrined on the central island of Shinsenen. The Zenyo Ryuo is the deity that Kukai summoned from North India to pray for rain. This shrine was destroyed in the fire of 1788 and was rebuilt in 1813.

Ehou sub-shrine

A Ehou sub-Shrine is dedicated to worshipping the deity of fortune, Toshitoku-jin, that resides in the auspicious direction of the year. In Japan, there is a custom called “Ehou-maki” where people eat sushi rolls facing this direction on Setsubun, February 3rd. The direction, which changes every year, is determined based on Onmyodo (the religion of Yin and Yang).

Best season

Winter (late Dec to Mid-Jan )

sasanqua camelia in Shinsenen temple

While many gardens are known for their beautiful spring and autumn scenery, Shinsen is best place to visit in winter. From late December to mid-January, it is adorned with numerous Sasanqua camellias in bloom. Sasanquas are easily trimmed, allowing for a variety of shapes from natural tree shape to square hedges, and they bloom in a range of colors including pink and white. The highlight is the view of the Sasanqua hedges with the vermilion bridge, reflected in the pond, creating a fantastical scene.

Tips to get to shinsenen

Shinsenen is a hidden gem and not crowded, but since it’s near Nijo Castle, during Kyoto’s high seasons in spring and autumn, the roads can get congested. Therefore, it’s recommended to avoid using buses or taxis, and instead, travel by train, bicycle, or on foot.

  • It’s a 3-minute walk from Nijojo-mae Station
  • It’s also a 3-minute walk from the nearest bus stop, Horikawa Oike.
  • The cycling is also good for some reasons: the roads to Shinsenen are well maintained, there are many rental bicycle stores.


Open hours
7:00 – 20:00

Temple office (for Omikuji, Goshuin)
9:00 – 17:00

Entrance fee

Regular holiday

166 Monzencho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8306


Official site(Japanese only)