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1. Kiyomizu-dera [Higashiyama]

Among all the shrines and temples in Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera clocks in the highest number of visitors. Did you know that this temple is set and built without using a single nail? Amazing isn’t it. Well, you would also be amazed at the beautiful view of Kyoto city that you will get to see from the deck. Besides the views and its architecture, this temple is known for bringing luck in love. Hence, you will notice many young visitors coming to pay their respect here. There is also a shopping street on the slopes heading up to the temple for you to get really interesting souvenirs.

2. Chion-in [Higashiyama]


Chion-in was founded by Honen, a founder of the Jodo-shu sect. Its two-story gate, Sanmon is a registered national treasure as it is the largest one left in Japan. It also has a copper bell that weighs 70 tons and on 31st December every year, 17 priests will ring the bell together and if you are ever in town to usher in the new year, you should come and witness this scene. Chion-in is also famous for its Raigos, which are hanging scrolls that depicts the appearance of Amitabha Buddha.

3. Kodai-ji [Higashiyama]

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The widow of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, Nene built this temple in memory of her late husband, Hideyoshi. The road leading up to the temple is also fondly called as [Nene’s Street]. Apart from the main building, there are 4 tea rooms like Kasa-tei and Shigure-tei. In autumn, when the leaves are changing colors, you will get to see the vibrant red leaves of the trees reflected onto the Garyochi Pond. In recent years, with the special light-up events at night, the number of visitors to this temple has steadily increased.

4. Yasaka Shrine [Higashiyama]

At the end of one of the main streets in Kyoto; Shijo-dori, there lies a shrine, which is locally known as Gion Shrine. The architecture of the hall of worship is of the unique Gion-zukuri style. Yasaka Shrine hosts one of Japan’s biggest festivals, Gion Matsuri that attracts a large number of tourists. Another famous yearly event at this shrine is its traditional Japanese card game event during New Year.

5. Shoren-in [Higashiyama]

Shoren-in, which is also called Awata Palace, is one of the remaining imperial abbot of the Tendai headquarter. At the entrance, there are century-old big camphor trees. This temple and its teachings strongly believes in the Aofudo, which is a blue version of Acala. At the top of Higashiyama, where Shogunzuka is, there is an observatory deck at the Blue Dragon Temple, where you will get to view all of Kyoto’s famous landmarks.

6.Heian Shrine [Sakyo]


In 1859, which happened to be the 1100th year since the Heian Capital was established, Heian Shrine was built as a memorial hall for Emperor Kanmu, who was responsible for setting up the Heian Capital. Years later, the temple was also dedicated to the late Emperor Komei. Heian Shrine hosts one of Kyoto’s top 3 biggest festivals, which is the Jidai Matsuri. Thanks to Jihei Ogawa the 7th, the gardens are beautifully decorated with sakura trees and and in autumn the gardens turn a splendid red as the leaves change colors.

7. Nanzen-ji [Sakyo]

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As part of Kyoto’s Five Mountains, Nanzen-ji prospered greatly during Muromachi period. The Sanmon gate was rebuilt by Takatora Todo that was a setting for the famous Kabuki play, [The Temple Gate and the Paulownia Crest], which naturally involved the character, Ishikawa Goemon that spoke the famous line [What a marvelous view! What a grand sight!]. The aqueduct bridges that have Western-style arches here, used to carry water from the Biwa Lake and is popular among visitors.

8. Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Pavillion) [Sakyo]


The 8th Shogun during Muromachi period, Yoshimasa Ashikaga built the pavilion for the intention of making it as a retreat at Higashiyama and the official name is actually Jisho-ji. This two-story pavilion is a national treasure and is a popular tourist attraction because of its grandiose presence. At Togudo (the Hall of the Eastern Quest), there is a unique library called Dojinsai. As you roam the compounds, you can also enjoy the views at Ginsandan (Sea of Silver Sand), Kogetsudai (Moon Viewing Platform) and Kinkyochi (Brocade Mirror Pond).

9. Honen-in [Sakyo]

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This temple is located along the Philosopher’s Path, which is a nice pedestrian path to talk a stroll on. As you enter into the grounds, you will see big sand mounds with maple trees and sakura trees. With streams flowing, it will feel as if you have stepped into a painting. The camellias here are exceptionally pretty and hence it is not surprising that many people come to visit in winter but this historical temple is still a well-kept secret. The famous literary scholar, Junichiro Tanizaki is also buried here.

10. Eikando [Sakyo]


At the foot of Higashiyama, there is a temple that is famous for its autumn leaves that attract a great number of visitors. There is a famous tale of a monk named Yokan that came to this temple to be trained. One day, while he was walking in the compound, the great Amida Buddha statue turned and said to him [Yokan, you are slow] and the interesting part is, the head of the statue remained in its turned position (unlike other Buddha statues that look straight ahead). Hence, the statue is fondly called as the [Mikaeri Amida Buddha] (or in other words the Amida Buddha that looks back). The temple is an important cultural property and it contains many significant treasures like the painting of [Amida (Amitabha) Coming over the Mountain].

11. Kurama-dera [Sakyo]


This temple was built during the Heain period as a guardian over the north part of Kyoto. There is a cable car for visitors to take to head up to the hill, where the temple is located. The mountain trail at the inner sanctuary that leads to Kibune is said to be where Ushiwakamaru was trained. Legend also says that the Tengu that is responsible for teaching Ushiwakamaru the art of war, resides there.

12. Sanzen-in [Sakyo]


The founder of the Tendai school, Saicho built a tea house at the east side of Mount Hiei and that was how Sanzen-in began. To the south of the main hall, you’ll have the Ruriko garden and to the east of the Yusei garden, a vast moss forest stands before your eyes. At the Ojo-Gokurakuin Hall, you will see three Buddhist deities, which are Japan’s national treasures. You’ll notice that at both sides of the Amida Buddha statue, sits the Kannon and Fudo Myoo statue in the most unique position.

13. Kifune Shrine [Sakyo]

At the area that serves as the source of Kamo River that runs through the center of Kyoto, resides a water deity that is worshipped and loved by the people. It is also known as a rainmaker and a god of marriage. The shrine offers a unique type of fortune telling. Visitors are required to wet their fortune paper in order for the words to appear. As the shrine is located up on a hill, it is cooler than the city during summer. Hence, as summer approaches, crowds would come to the shrine to escape from the summer heat.

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14. Enryakuji on Mt. Hiei [Otsu]


Although the main buildings of Enryaku-ji is in Otsu City, the whole Mount Hiei in the north-east area of Kyoto actually makes up the grounds of Enryaku-ji. It is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site [Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto] and it is a very popular tourist spot in Kyoto. When you enter the compounds, you’ll find yourself in the wide Todo area where there Konponchudo hall is and with many guardian statues around. This temple was known once to provide strict ancient ascetic training.

15. Jingo-ji [Ukyo]

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After climbing a steep mountain trail, you’ll find Jingo-ji, a Shingon Buddhist temple that is located at Ukyo Ward’s Mount Takao. This Buddhist temple was built in the Enryaku period (782 – 806) and it has a rich long history. The temple safe keeps many national treasures like the oldest existing Mandala of the Two Realms, [Takao Mandala]. The temple also holds a [Kawarakenage] event, where visitors will throw unglazed plates from the hill to ward off evil.

16. Kosan-ji [Ukyo]

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Kosan-ji was built as a training ground for the Huayan school by the monk, Myoe at Kyoto’s Togano. The artistic Sekisui-in building is a national treasure that existed from the Kamakura period. Togano is well-known for the nation’s oldest tea garden. Kosan-ji also houses Japan’s oldest work of manga, Chogu-jinbutsu-giga.

17. Shinsen-do [Sakyo]

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Shinsen-do was built by Ishikawa Jozan, who served Tokugawa Ieyasu, as a mountain retreat during his retirement. It is believed that Jozan spent his time reading, writing poetry and gardening in this sanctuary. You’ll find shishi-odoshis (traditional Japanese garden devices to scare away birds) in the garden and all year round, you will get to enjoy different garden landscapes like azaleas in the beginning of summer and red maple leaves in autumn.

18. Kinkaku-ji [Kita]


This Buddhist temple was built by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the 3rd Muromachi Shogun, on Mount Kita. The official name is actually Rokuon-ji. The pavilion is called [Kinkaku] because it is truly covered in pure gold leaves and due to the brilliance, many tourists flock to see this majestic building. On a clear day, the pavilion’s reflection on the Kyoko Pond is simply breathtaking. There is also a tea house called Sekkai-tei located on a small hill.

19. Ninna-ji [Ukyo]


Ninna-ji was completed under the reign of Emperor Uda and in the beginning it served as a monastery. The national treasure, Kondo, which serves as the ceremonial hall was relocated from the palace to the grounds here. You will also find an important cultural treasure, the 5-story pagoda. There is also a hiking route that replicates the Shikoku Pilgrimage route. The compounds also house a unique type of sakura trees called Oomurozakura that are smaller in size but known for blooming the latest in Kyoto.

20. Ryoan-ji [Ukyo]

Hosokawa Katsumoto, a well known Shogun for the Onin War invited the monk, Giten Gensho to build this temple. The famous rock garden, Karensansui has 15 rocks and no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to see all 15 rocks at once from whichever angle. This feature makes it a unique Zen garden that attracts crowds of visitors each year. There is a water basin in front of the tearoom, Zorokuan that is inscribed with words that teach us that [one already has all one needs].

Next: No.21-40 Further temples and shrines you must visit in Kyoto


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