20 Best Places to Visit in the Traditional Higashiyama Area of Kyoto
When it comes to the Higashiyama area in Kyoto, the first thing that comes to mind is likely the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple. However, there are a number of other amazing places in Higashiyama that will not play second fiddle to this renowned temple. After a difficult round of careful curation, this article introduces the 20 best sites on offer in this district. You're sure to find a new personal favorite among the picks in this list!
Sep 04 2019 (Apr 08 2020)
10 Classic Must-See Spots in Higashiyama
1. Kiyomizu-dera Temple
One spot that simply must be on anyone's Higashiyama itinerary is Kiyomizu-dera Temple. It is such a famous site that it hardly requires introduction. Kiyomizu-dera is popular with both Japanese and overseas visitors and is packed year-round, but it's a must-visit if you've never been before. You're sure to be blown away!
The phrase the "stage of Kiyomizu" is known throughout Japan. You may be surprised to learn that the stage in question was assembled without using any nails. If you spend a minute examining its splendor you're sure to understand its charm.
In the autumn, the sight of the illuminated fall foliage also creates an other-worldly feeling that charms visitors, and is a sight that really must be experienced at least once in your life.
2. Jishu-Jinja Shrine
Jishu-Jinja Shrine is recommended for couples on dates owing to the fact that it is said to provide luck in marriage. The Love Fortune Stones found on site are thought particularly auspicious for marriage. According to a recently conducted study, these stones were discovered to be precious relics of the Jomon period (14000-300 BCE), so you may feel extra special tidings for love emanating from them.
It is said that visitors who can make it from one stone to the other with their eyes closed will have their love-related wishes granted. These stones are very famous and the area is packed with challengers from morning to night, but make sure to give it a try when you get a chance. The traditional paper fortunes and charms on sale here are also said to bring luck in love.
3. Rokuharamitsu-ji Temple
Rokuharamitsu-ji Temple is the 17th stop on the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage, and is said to have been founded by the proselytizing monk Kuya, the second son of Emperor Daigo. This site contains many precious wooden sculptures created between the Heian (794-1185) and Kamakura periods (1185-1333). They have since been registered as Important Cultural Properties of Japan.
There are a number of Important Cultural Properties that you can only see at the temple, including the statue of the eleven-faced Kannon that is registered as a national treasure. Statues of Kujo and a seated statue of Taira no Kiyomori are also both registered as Important Cultural Properties. The hall of treasures has been recently renovated and is open to the general public, so be sure to visit to see these valuable works in person.
4. Yasui Konpiragu Shrine
This shrine is the most famous in all of Kyoto for ridding worshipers of bad luck, and it's also known for granting luck in relationships as well. It is believed that this temple originated from the Fuji-ji Temple founded by statesman Fujiwara no Kamatari in the Asuka period (550-710 CE).
The temple grounds are home to a large stone monument with a round hole through its center. This stone is shaped like a wooden ema plaque, and is said to rid worshippers of bad luck or assist in finding love. Here the faithful write their wishes on a piece of paper and crawl through the hole of the stone. Passing through from front to back is said to rid you of bad luck, while passing the opposite way is said to bring luck in love. Once this is completed, you tie the prayer to the stone. The area around the stone is full of worshippers from morning to night, and the sheer amount of prayer sheets attached to the stone speaks to the popularity of this shrine.
5. Kodaiji Temple
Kodaiji Temple is said to be the temple of the feudal lord Hideyoshi and his wife Nene. It was built by Nene in honor of her husband after his death. This temple is recommended for overseas visitors looking to get in touch with Japanese culture, as it offers Zen meditation and tea ceremony experiences. It is also very famous for enjoying cherry blossoms and fall foliage, so why not enjoy getting in touch with nature?
It's very famous for the beautiful colors of the natural scenery in both spring and fall. During this time, lights illuminate the leaves to bathe the expansive grounds in light, creating an other-worldly feel. While this is a great spot for dates, even if you're on your own, you're sure to have fun finding your own personal favorite spot in the grounds. There is a parking lot available, however it often fills up completely, so it's typically best to come on foot.
6. Chion-in Temple
Chion-in Temple was established by Honen, the founder of the Pure Land Sect of Buddhism. The temple is famous as the head temple of this sect. The three temple gates that lead to the temple are designated as national treasures. Visitors are sure to be mesmerized by their immense scale, which places them among the largest in Japan. This temple houses the artworks Raigo of Amida and Twenty-Five Attendants and The Illustrated Biography of Priest Honen, which are both registered as national treasures, so make sure to pay a visit while they are on display.
The Kaisando (Founder's Hall) here is a registered national treasure dedicated to Honen. In honor of the 800 year anniversary of the death of Honen, a large restoration project was carried out at the temple. While these works were completed in March of 2019, the ongoing process of reinstalling various Buddhist relics means that the hall will be closed for visitors for approximately one more year. Be sure to look for its full re-opening!
7. Sanjusangen-do Temple
Sanjusangen-do Temple is registered as a national treasure. Its official name is the Rengeo-in Temple, as the Sanjusangen-do name actually refers to the main temple building.
"Sanjusan" means 33 in Japanese, and the main temple was given this name because of the 33 pillars that support the building. Visitors are sure to be charmed by this splendid temple that stretches for 120 meters from north to south.
The seated Senju Kannon statue installed at the heart of the temple and the thousand statues of Kannon lining the ten-tiered altar surrounding it are all registered as national treasures, and make for a truly overwhelming sight. Visitors also have the opportunity to see other precious national treasures including statues of Fujin and Raijin, the gods of wind and lightning.
8. Nishiri Gion Branch
The local pickled vegetables from Nishiri make for a great souvenir from a trip to Kyoto. Famous for their senmai-tsuke (pickled sliced radishes), the delicious pickles here are all made from perfectly seasoned local vegetables. These are great to pick up as a souvenir for yourself, and are sure to please anyone you gift them to as well.
Nishiri is known for maintaining the traditional flavors of Kyoto-style pickles while also innovating by creating new recipes and healthier options. The Gion store has an attached restaurant where you can enjoy a wide range of dishes including chazuke (rice in a tea-based broth) and kaiseki meals with Kyoto pickles.
Yojiya, a cosmetics store known for its oil-blotting paper, is the perfect place to find a Kyoto souvenir for anyone who likes beauty products. The logo of the store, featuring a woman's face reflected in a handheld mirror, is well known to many in Japan. In the past, the most famous products from this store were their toothbrushes, which were known as "yoji" at the time. This is how Yojiya, which translates to "toothbrush store", got its name.
10. Sanneizaka (Sannenzaka)
Sanneizaka is famous for being the road leading up to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Traditional Kyoto buildings line the streets, with souvenir stores and restaurants filling the quaint neighborhood.
As this road leads to Kiyomizu-dera, it's full of sightseers who create a lively and busy atmosphere, so be sure to enjoy all Sannenzaka has to offer on your way to this famous temple.
The buildings in Sanneizaka are protected as a historical site, and offer the beautiful traditional Japanese scenery you would expect from such an area. A traditional kimono would be perfect for a walk around its streets, so why not pop into one of the many kimono rental stores in the area and experience something a little out of the ordinary?
The 5 Top Picks of Places to Visit around Higashiyama Station
Zuikuo is a great place to visit for anyone looking to experience something out of the ordinary during their trip. Zuikou has operated for 250 years, and offers genuine ceramic-making experiences focusing on the Kyoto and Kiyomizu school of ceramics. This store also caters for school or company groups, and is perfect for anyone looking to create a special memory of their time in Kyoto.
There are a range of workships available to choose from here, including a short, 20-minute workshop where you can make a cup on a potter's wheel, and a standard 40-minute class that involves making items like teacups, vases, bowls, or plates. Why not make a one of a kind piece of tableware as a souvenir from Kyoto?
2. Yatuhasian Syanari
A must-visit for all children with a love of candy is Yatuhasian Syanari. You're definitely in for a treat with some delicious yatsuhashi, a famous Kyoto sweet made with rice flower, sugar, and cinnamon. However, you'd be missing out if you didn't also try your hand at making some of your own at the baking workshop offered here.
As this experience is geared towards children, the process has been simplified, so feel free to bring your kids along so that you can create some memories cooking together!
Yatuhasian Syanari offers a complete range of products including fresh donuts, creative Japanese and Western desserts, home-made yatsuhashi, and traditional Kyoto souvenirs. There are chairs and tables available inside, so why not stop by for a rest after a long day of walking?
Shiki offers the chance to be transformed into a maiko (apprentice geisha), and is a great place to visit with a group of friends. There are a number of different plans available to customers here, from those that allow you to take pictures dressed as a maiko in the studio, to others that offer the chance to stroll around town in costume.
If you have the time, then why not choose a plan that allows you to stroll the streets in your costume? Shiki is located in the Nineizaka area of Kyoto, so you'll be greeted by Kyoto's beautiful streetscape as soon as you step out from the studio. Walking this wonderful area dressed as a maiko is an experience you could only have in Kyoto and is highly recommended.
4. Kyo Yamashiro-ya
Kyo Yamashiro-ya has been in business for over 100 years, and offers patrons the chance to create their own shichimi (seven-spice blend). The ingredients used in the making of these spices are expertly curated, with only the finest in Japanese ingredients making the cut. Customers can then adjust the level of spice to their liking. A great point is that it only costs 1,000 yen to make your own shichimi here!
After you have mixed the ingredients for your shichimi, it's flavored with dashi (fish stock) and then the level of spice is adjusted to your tastes. In total, it takes approximately 20 minutes to make your own original shichimi spice. Your own personal spice mix is sure to become a great souvenir of your time in Kyoto, so why not give it a try at Kyo Yamashiro-ya?
5. NINJA VR KYOTO
NINJA VR KYOTO is an attraction that leverages the latest in VR technology to allow visitors to experience ninja training. Located in a townhouse in the middle of a busy shopping street, this spot brims with the traditional feel of Kyoto. Since this attraction is based around ninjas, it's particularly popular with children and international visitors.
There are two types of programs available in this training experience: the Practical Training Program and the VR Training Program. The Practical Training program teaches you some basic ninja moves including how to use shuriken (throwing stars) and blowpipes. The VR Training program is an exciting experience where you can throw shuriken and attempt to take down ninja enemies in virtual reality. This attraction is a must-visit for children and international visitors.
The Top 5 Hidden Spots in Higashiyama
1. The Ryozen Museum of History
The Ryozen Museum of History is a highly recommended spot for history buffs. This museum engages in historical research on the period from the end of the Edo period (1603-1868) to the Meiji Restoration. At the end of the Edo period, the heart of political power was centered on Kyoto, and this museum displays a range of artifacts including possessions of some of the major political figures of that time. For those looking to better understand this important period of change in Japan's history, this museum is a must-visit.
This museum displays artifacts of some well-known figures in the anti-shogunate movement such as Sakamoto Ryoka, Shinsaku Takasugi, and Saigo Takamori. It also exhibits documents from the pro-shogunate side such as Tokugawa Yoshinabu and the shinsengumi, a police and military force formed to suppress anti-shogunate sentiment.
The chance to experience this history with viewpoints from both sides is a unique feature of this museum. As it is off the beaten track, there are few visitors, so you can take your time as you learn about this part of Japan's history.
2. Ajiki Roji
Ajiki Roji is the type of classic narrow street you'll see all over Kyoto, but this alley is particularly known for the young creatives who live and work here. On the weekends, these young artists and craftspeople open stores to sell their works, which has made Ajiki Roji a popular sightseeing spot.
There is a great variety of goods on offer, with all genres and tastes catered for. Candy stores, custom-made hats, instruments, leather goods, and stationery vendors all line the streets. The goods on sale are lovingly created by hand, giving each piece a unique handmade charm. Make sure to pop by these boutiques and take in the rustic atmosphere of this old back street.
3. Unryu-in Temple
Unryu-in Temple is recommended for anyone looking to take in some exquisite scenery. Located close to Kyoto Station, this temple is known as the inner sanctum of Higashiyama. The beauty of the traditional Japanese garden as seen through the sliding doors will leave you speechless. This temple is quite simply a must-visit.
Unryu-in shows a different side of its beauty depending on the season. Whether its cherry blossoms in the spring, green foliage in the summer, autumn leaves in the fall, or a blanket of snow in the winter, the garden gives a completely different impression in each season. The illuminated garden at night also makes for a magical sight year-round. It's also very easy to get to as it's located close to Kyoto Station!
5. Yasaka Koshin-do Temple
The Yasaka Koshin-do Temple is well known in Kyoto for being a great Instagrammable spot. Temples and shrines generally have a solemn image in the minds of the public, but this temple bucks the trend. Its grounds are filled with the kind of colorful scenery that's sure to stop you in your tracks.
Colorful charms (called kukuri-saru, or monkey with bound feet and hands) can be found decorating this temple. Visitors write their prayers on these colorful cloth charms and display them at temples to create the super Instagram-worthy views you can see in these pictures. Why not upload a photo of your own here?
Enjoy Kyoto's Higashiyama, an Area Full of Highlights
Kyoto's Higashiyama is full of amazing spots that are famous all over Japan, such as Kiyomizu-dera. While it's true that this area is very busy with visitors from all over the world, the sight of the charming streetscapes and historical buildings are sure to make you forget your surroundings. Kyoto is such a special place, you'll soon understand why it is visited in such numbers. Be sure to take a trip over to see the wonderful sights for yourself!
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Translated and republished with permission from: SPIRA (formerly known as Relux Magazine)
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.