Solo in Kyoto – Gio-Ji Temple; a temple dedicated to lost love

Solo in Kyoto – Gio-Ji Temple; a temple dedicated to lost love

 Gio-Ji Temple

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.

Gio-Ji Temple, Kyoto temples, kyoto, japan, moss garden, sun rays in forest, autumn moss

The Story of Gio-Ji

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.


Gio-Ji Temple, Kyoto temples, kyoto, japan, moss garden, sun rays in forest, autumn moss

Gio-Ji Temple, Kyoto temples, kyoto, japan, moss garden, sun rays in forest, autumn moss , thatched roof , japanese maple


Gio-Ji Temple, Kyoto temples, kyoto, japan, moss garden, sun rays in forest, autumn moss


Gio-Ji Temple, Kyoto temples, kyoto, japan, moss garden, sun rays in forest, autumn moss

Useful Info :

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

Cost: ¥300.

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.

  • Indrani says:

    She lost it Britney style… 😀 love your sense of humor.
    Amazing garden! Seeing Kyoto posts for the first time. I am in love with the place.

  • Soraya says:

    This looks beautiful and so darling. The story behind the temple is interesting too… I must say I had a little chuckle when you said “Brittany style” hehe. It’s sad that the temple is for those who have suffered a broken heart… but at least there is somewhere for them to go that will let them mourn in peace and surrounded by beauty.

    • Forever Fernweh says:

      Exactly. I wish I had a place with this much beauty and serenity when I was dealing with a broken heart. I think it would have really helped in healing.

  • What a wonderful hidden gem! Definitely adding this to our list of places to visit in Kyoto. As always, your photos are breathtaking, the texture of the moss really shines through!

  • Kristina says:

    So few people know about this temple, I’m so glad you went and checked it out! I love how beautiful haunting it is, mother nature reclaiming it. So gorgeous!

    • Forever Fernweh says:

      It is becoming more popular for sure, the entrance was built up from the first time I visited, still it has such a beautiful aurora.

  • This looks so beautiful. Just been to Kyoto myself, an incredibly fascinating city! X
    Nadine Cathleen |

  • Amy says:

    What a beautiful place to visit. And with such a tale attached (loved the Britney reference, golden!) But it seems like a peaceful place to say a prayer about lost love, among the moss and the quiet. Have never been, but would love to see it for myself someday!

  • Anastasia says:

    What a beautiful story and a special place. I love your pictures, the places seems so tranquil, almost haunted (in a good way), and the grass feels soft as velvet.

  • neha says:

    This is one of the most beautiful gardens that I have read about…loved the pics too…I have heard about kyoto for the first time, already in love with it

  • Luca says:

    I have to admit that when I went to Kyoto, I didn’t like it very much. I saw mainly temples, but I have just less than a day before going back to Tokyo so probably I didn’t catch the magnificence of the city. Or simply I prefer another mood. But this Gio-Ji is really something!

    • Forever Fernweh says:

      Hey Luca! You’ll have to go back to Kyoto when you have more time. There is so so much to see! That being said it is temple heavy so researching the places first will help you weed out the temples that don’t excite you. If ever you go again let me know, maybe I can help you out.

  • I really liked all the words you used to describe this lovely place; “Once you enter you feel protected”, a friend of mine that went over there told me the same thing! thanks for sharing your experience and your precious tips.

  • Lara Dunning says:

    What a sad story, but what a beautiful temple. The moss covered ground reminds me of the Pacific Northwest. Thanks so much for sharing as gardens and temples are something I like to experience when I travel.

  • Emma says:

    It looks like a very spiritual beautiful place. I love the garden as it’s not too manicured and a bit more natural than most. A truly beautiful place indeed!

  • Christina says:

    Wow what a beautiful and simple post. Yes the story is sad, but the outcome and the temple is quite beautiful. This temple looks so peaceful – like it belongs in a Disney movie.

  • What a special temple. It’s sad that she had a broken heart, but how great for this beautiful temple to be made her for lost love. Very beautiful photos too, captures the feel of the story nicely.

  • I have read so many stories from Japan and strangely none of them mentioned this place. Japan has always intrigued me as a nation and I have made a mental note to include this place when I visit Japan.

  • Adam says:

    Omg! It looks like a paradise! I would love to go there once 🙂 So mystical and peaceful 🙂 Great shots!

  • This is an amazing find! I love these jungles that look straght out of the fairy tales. The play of shadow and light in some of the images are mindblowng!

  • “Britney Style” lol love it. I remember briefly reading about this story in my East Asia Studies class, why didn’t I have your pictures then? Man, I would have scored some serious brownie points in that class discussion! “Well, I was reading this travel blog and ASHLEY SAYS it went down like this…”

  • Mansi K. says:

    The temple looks so peaceful, serene and gloriously green. I loved the story…though I kept visualising Britney as a nun! Besides the garden and graves, is there a shrine as well? As in, once you enter, is there a prayer room or such?

    • Forever Fernweh says:

      Ha! Brittney as a nun, too funny. There is a small shrine that has statues of Gio and her sister though you are not allowed to photograph inside.

  • Gina says:

    Have you ever seen the anime Hiiro no Kakera? There’s a lot of gardens and temples that remind me of this temple. It’s so beautiful and I always loved Japanese folklore. Why was the lover buried there too? He seems like a douche.

    • Forever Fernweh says:

      I have not seen that movie, but it sounds like some cinematography that I would appreciate! But I agree, he does seem like an ass; memorial would probably have been a better choice in words since I don’t believe the Japanese bury their dead.

  • Nuraini says:

    What an incredible spirit to come up from the ashes of a broken heart… taking in the next (presumably also jilted) mistress too. I wonder if the chieftain guy came crawling back after half a lifetime. Perhaps they reconciled. So much left unsaid… sigh. :/ I’m such a romantic.

  • Therie says:

    Gio-ji Temple is giving me so much Ghibli vibes. It looks so unreal and magical. I’ll definitely check it out when I travel to Kyoto. I am genuinely enjoying your Japan travel posts (and photos, of course!). Looking forward to more recommendations like this! Thanks Ashley!

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