Most temples are dedicated to religious devotees, monks, fierce leaders. This is what makes Gio-Ji temple so unique. Gio-ji was rededicated to a strong young woman who suffered a broken heart and was tossed aside by her powerful lover for another. A temple of tragic love.
A young dancer, Gio, meets a chieftain. They fall in love. She dances and sings for him for three years. After meeting another, younger dancer, he cast Gio out of their home. She loses it, Brittney style. Shaves her head, and runs from the world to live as a nun. Dedicating her life to simplicity with her mother and sister, they lived together in a 3 roomed home. Eventually, the young mistress (her replacement) appears at her door asking to join her family and carry out a life together in quiet dedication.
Well Gio, you did all right because centuries later that garden is one of the most beautiful temples in Kyoto! Though small, I have visited this temple each time I travel to Kyoto.
The “walls” surrounding Gio-ji are made of tall bamboo, densely packed and deep. The trees growing in the center provide protection from the sun’s rays, except for the few that reach through to illuminate the moss covered ground. Once you enter, you feel protected; a garden hideaway from the rest of the world. Gio-ji is quietly sweet and uncomplicated; exactly the way Gio lived her remaining years.
Gio-Ji temple originally belonged to Daikaku-ji complex. In honor of Gio, the temple was rebuilt in 1895. You will find a small grave site for Gio, her sister and of course her ex-chieftain lover, Taira no Kiyomori. There is also a small building with carved statues of Gio and her sister to stop and say a prayer or reflect.
Early to Mid-November seems to be the best time to visit; when the leaves are changing colors but the moss is still soft, lush and green.
Located in Arashiyama, you could easily pass by this little treasure if you aren’t paying attention. Gio-ji is tucked in the middle of two equally small Buddhists temples.
Hours: 9am -5pm
If you’d like, you can buy a combined ticket for Daikaku-ji Temple, a temple located 10 minute walk north of Gio-ji,for ¥800 at either site.