Founded in the early Heian era (794-1185), Daigoji is an important site for Shingon Buddhism, a type of mountain asceticism and the same sect of Buddhism practiced at Mount Koya. However, during the Warring States period, which lasted nearly a century, Daigoji fell into disrepair and was nearly forgotten. It wasn’t until 1598, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi — regarded as one of the ‘great unifiers’ of Japan — held a massive hanami party in Kyoto, that Daigoji was revitalized. Hideyoshi planted over 700 cherry blossom trees and updated the Sanboin sub-temple with elegant renovations and a beautiful pond garden.
Sanboin Temple is one of the sub-temples of Daigoji and the first to greet visitors when they enter the complex. Hideyoshi took great interest in restoring the temple and did so in such an opulent fashion that Sanboin could easily be mistaken for an aristocratic villa rather than an austere Buddhist temple. He also updated the landscaping around the temple with a beautiful pond garden, adorned with bridges, tea houses, and even a Noh stage.
After Sanboin Temple, the next major area of the Daigoji complex is Shimo-Daigo, or Lower Daigo. It’s home to Kondo, a national treasure that is the central hall of the temple complex, as well as a five-story pagoda that is the oldest known building in Kyoto.
Kami-Daigo, or Upper Daigo, are the original temple grounds located at the summit of the mountain. It takes about an hour to make the climb to Upper Daigo, and the sub-temples here are much simpler in nature than the grandiose Sanboin Temple and more in line with the ascetic traditions of Shingon Buddhism. Still, the view to be had from the top of the mountain is well worth the climb, and it’s possible to see as far as Osaka on a clear day.