This small temple of the Tendai sect was founded by the renowned priest Dengyo-Daishi (767–822). The temple is a monzeki, meaning the abbot has traditionally been of royal blood. The Hon-do (Main Hall) was built by Priest Eshin (942–1017), who probably carved the temple's Amida Buddha. The Buddha is flanked by two seated attendants: the goddess of wisdom, Daiseishi, to the right; and the goddess of compassion, Kannon, to the left. Unusual for a Buddhist temple, Sanzen-in faces east, not south. Note its ceiling, on which a painting depicts the descent of Amida, accompanied by 25 bodhisattvas, to welcome the believer.
Full of maple trees and moss, the gardens are serene in any season. In autumn the colors are magnificent, and the approach to the temple up a gentle slope—with the river on one side and small shops on the other—enhances the anticipation for the burned-gold trees guarding the old, weathered temple. Snow cover in winter is also magical. Take Kyoto Line Bus 17 or 18 north for 90 minutes from Kyoto Station to Ohara. From the Ohara bus station walk northeast uphill for about seven minutes along the signposted road. Remember that the Ohara bus is not covered on the Kyoto bus day pass.