The monks who run this temple and garden complex require visitors to perform a task upon arrival to prepare them to appreciate fully the alternative realm they are entering. After sitting quietly, you're given an inkstone, a brush, and a sheet of tracing paper covering a shakyo, or sutra, you are encouraged to trace. The exercise complete, you may enter the grounds, with a calm and perhaps awakened spirit, and stroll at your leisure.
The inspiration for the temple's name becomes apparent as you observe the gently swirling greens and blues the 120 varieties of moss create throughout the garden. Designed by the monk Suso Soseki (1275–1351), the garden was a forerunner of later contemplative Zen gardens. This garden, designed on two levels surrounding a pond shaped like the Chinese character for heart, represents Jodo, the western paradise of Buddhism. Permission is required to visit Koinzan Saiho-ji. The simplest ways to arrange a visit are to ask your hotel's concierge, contact the Kyoto Tourist Information Center, or apply directly by mail. It's best to apply at least a month ahead, however, as the limited spaces fill up quickly.