Evil cometh from the north, they say. Maybe it was sunlight streaming from the south that gave ancient theologians such a notion. Or perhaps the Arctic is gushing malevolence (compare and contrast: Australians and Scandinavians). Regardless, it was a fear of southbound evil that prompted the construction of Kanga-an, a small but majestic temple north of the old Imperial Palace in Kyoto.

In the 17th century, retired Emperor Go Mizuno asked the chief priest of Manpuku-ji, an Obaku sect Zen temple in nearby Uji, to open Kanga-an and enshrine the Holy Spirit of Residential Protection, Chintakurefushin. Chintaku is thought to bear the impressive burden of controlling the movements of the universe, guarding the zodiac, expelling evil spirits and "protecting people from the wrong direction."

For just shy of two centuries, Chin's holy barricade safeguarded Japan's royals until, in 1869, the reigning Meiji Emperor shuffled off to Tokyo. Losing its principal raison d'etre, Kanga-an became just another freckle on the map of Kyoto's 1,600 temples. Monks from Manpuku-ji hung there when they visited Kyoto, but it's not big, central or quite historic enough to crack tourists' hit lists. It has some treasures, such as the crown of Go Mizuno, now plonked on the head of a 1,000-year-old Buddha, but it doesn't shout about them.