Shigetsu, Kyoto: Inside Tenryuji Temple, Zen Buddhist Cuisine Is The Best Food We Ate in Kyoto

When you come to Kyoto, you have to eat shojin ryori (Zen vegetarian cuisine) because (1) it’s very rare to come across vegetarian food in Japan and (2) shojin ryori originated from Kyoto. And one of the best exemplars of shojin ryori is displayed by Shigetsu, located in the UNESCO Tenryu-ji Temple 天龍寺 built in 1339.

You get the whole room to yourself

From their website:

Shojin ryori has its origins in Chinese Zen, and was brought to Japan together with the Zen teachings during the thirteenth century. As part of everyday life, cooking and eating have always been regarded in Zen as forms of spiritual practice. Shojin ryori manifests this outlook in a cuisine that harmonizes with Buddhist ideals.

Shigetsu only opens for lunch (11am – 2pm) and offers 3 bento sets at ¥3,300 (5 side dishes, S$40), ¥5,500 (6 side dishes, S$70), and ¥8,000 (7 side dishes, $100). In addition, you have to pay for the admission fee to the garden for ¥500.

Tempura vegetables

We made reservations for the ¥5500 set. At first we felt quite insane to pay S$70 for a bento set, and a vegetarian one at that! But it turned out to be the best meal we had during our holiday in Kyoto and Osaka and Kobe.

Appetisers: gingko nuts, lotus root, tofu, preserved orange peel, gingko nut arranged in a flower

Everything is quite exquisite and each dish takes so much effort and heart. For instance, the appetisers (photo above) has so many items and each item requires much work.

Millet porridge

Some of the interesting and delicious items include:

daikon pickled in whiskey (didn’t know Buddhism can drink alcohol)

beancurd skin with yuzu peel: soft and pure as first snow, refreshing like a nice breeze.

tofu: it has an interesting mochi texture with a hint of something like peanut butter

rice with yuzu and shimeji mushroom: the rice is so addictive! Sticky and sweet.

tempura vegetables: each is crisp and delicious

fruits: There is nothing very special about the fruits but they are not the extremely cultivated variety, no kyoho grapes. Instead, they seem like it’s from their garden. (Probably not, but it feels like that.)


However, there are two areas for improvement:

Repetition: I wish there isn’t a repetition for each dish. For example, the rice and beancurd skin both have yuzu. In the appetisers itself, there is too much gingko.

Porridge: I really don’t like the millet porridge. It’s sticky and there is all sorts of confusion of flavours, pungent, choking, sweet, savoury. But then my eating companion finds it ok. So perhaps it’s a cultural thing.

There are no taxes, so we paid ¥5500 each. There is also not much of a service. They bring you to a big empty private room, and leave you there. They leave you a pot of tea so there is little reason to ask for service anyway.

Be sure to make a reservation at the website link below. People are turned away at teh door.

Shigetsu Tenryuji
68 Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8385, Japan
11am – 2pm
t: +81 75-882-9725

Food: 9/10
Price / value: 5/10
Decor / ambience: 7/10
Service: 6/10

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Where to Stay in Osaka: Review of Hotel Gracery Osaka Namba
Where to Stay in Osaka: Review of Hotel Il Cuore Namba Osaka
10 Must-Eat Food in Hokkaido

Written by Dr. A. Nathanael Ho.

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