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Gakuenji is the best of the best of Japan - it is what people who come here are looking for, the real deal. Although the current temple building itself is only a few hundred years old, the temple is among the very oldest in Japan, dating from 594 AD. Noting that the oldest temple, Horyuji in Nara, claims to date from 588 AD, Gakuenji has few rivals. It was once a grand and sprawling complex with many temples and many hundreds of monks and nuns, and was the controlling center for Izumo Taisha up though the middle ages, making it the center of wealth and religion from a huge area of Japan, and indeed, the Emperor Godaigo lived there briefly after his escape from exile on the Oki Island. Gakuenji has a rich history, but one that is little appreciated. Until 1990 or so there were still several aged nuns living in a thatched dwelling, and the priests house was also thatched, and there were shops and restaruants open much of the year. Visitors came in good numbers year around, but especially in times for the cherry blossoms of spring and the maple leaves of fall; the ancient gardens and forests are justly famous, and have enormous trees literally a thousand years old everywhere. However, with a drop in population, and modern Japanese lack of interest in nature and history, Gakuenji sees very few visitors these days. But it is as beautiful and serene as ever, and one can walk back into the dawn of Japanese civilization in the lovely forested mountains on the Sea of Japan.