Walking around Kyoto in December 2018, it felt like the tourist infrastructure was bursting at the seams.
The tourism boom came crashing down in early 2020, and after a lengthy, COVID-induced hiatus, Japan reopened its borders to independent foreign travelers in October 2022. In January 2023, the number of foreign visitors for both business and leisure had risen to 1,497,300 from 1,370,000 in December, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.
Arrivals are still down 44% from January 2019, before the pandemic hit, but the resurgence is welcome news for Japanophiles worldwide.
Kyotophiles would know that most major sites in the city are a stone’s throw from a bus stop or train station. And then there are lesser-known destinations, beautiful in their own right and perhaps needing a little more effort to reach; destinations that will put a smile on the face of even the most world-weary traveler, especially if there’s tea.
Enter Hosen-in, a Buddhist temple that feels more like the Kyoto of old. It is part of a group of temples on a hillside in the village of Ohara, an hour away from central Kyoto by local bus.
Visitors are invited to sit in the tatami room overlooking the main garden. From within, the garden is framed by expansive open windows. Straightaway you’ll notice the garden’s centerpiece, a pine tree considered 700 years old. During my visit, arborists were busy strengthening the boughs in anticipation of winter snow.
Hosen-in is not just a gorgeous place to enjoy some tea. As a temple founded 800 years ago, it’s stood the test of time and witnessed at least one noteworthy episode of Japanese history. Plus, the gardens are a marvel of meticulous care and attention to detail.
Once you’re settled in, an attendant brings out an expertly prepared bowl of fresh matcha and a snack to go with it. Spending the next few hours sitting back, resting your weary bones, and admiring your surroundings is easy. And why wouldn’t you, especially when the tea is this good?