A temple shining in gold, a row of 10,000 red gates, 100 life size wooden statues of Kannon, bright red autumn leaves reflecting in a stunning pond, and one of the best temples in Japan. All of this and more can be seen on your trip to Kyoto. Here are the top five Kyoto sights from TripAdvisor:
1. Fushimi Inari Shrine
(image by flickr.com)
For more than 1,300 years, people have come to Fushimi Inari Shrine to worship the Inari God that assures bountiful crops. The shrine is the headquarters of the more than 30,000 inari shrines across Japan. The red torii gates and white foxes are the symbols of Fushimi Inari Shrine. It is said that the red color of the torii gates and the shrine building has power against supernatural powers and that the color also indicates the bountifulness of the Inari God. Foxes are believed to be the servants of the Inari God; it is said that foxes were chosen as the God’s servants because they prey on crop damaging mice and also because the color of the fox and the shape of their tails resemble ripe rice plants. Replacing the usual guardian dogs, a pair of foxes is placed at the Roumon gate as protectors against evil.
The row of torii gates called Senbon Torii is the highlight of this shrine. Senbon Torii came about due to the custom that has spread since the Edo period (1603 – 1868) to dedicate a torii gate to the shrine to express gratitude regarding the worshiper’s wish that “will come true” or “did come true.” At present, nearly 10,000 torii gates line the main path and the tradition of donating a gate is still practiced today. Based on the idea that assuring bountiful crops for farmers is relevant to assuring prosperous business for merchants, since the Edo period and onward, the Inari God has been worshiped also as a god that assures prosperous business. The grounds of the shrine stretch to Mount Inari; it takes more than two hours to cover the approx. 87 square meter shrine premises. The Senbon Torii is a short walk away from the main sanctuary. From there, as you walk toward the mountain peak, you will reach the crossroad (yotsutsuji) where you can view the entire city of Kyoto. You can also rest at a tea house while enjoying this magnificent view. Though the shrine is opened to the public 24 hours a day, we recommend visiting the shrine during the day because it has many stone steps and the lighting during the night is limited.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Tours of Fushimi Inari Shrine
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Kinkaku is a three-story building made of wood. The first story is in the style of a Heian palace, the second story is in samurai-house style, and the third story is in the style of a Zen Buddhist temple. The second and third stories are covered in gold leaf, as is the inside of the third story, except for the floor. The Kinkakuji seen today was rebuilt in 1955 after the building was destroyed by fire in 1950. Major repairs were carried out in 1986, when the gold leaf was reapplied so as to achieve the appearance seen today. Kinkakuji is one of Kyoto’s foremost sightseeing spots, and it is popular with tourists throughout the year due to the beautiful glittering appearance that contrasts with nature in all four seasons.
Kinkaku, which glitters with gold, is not the only highlight of Kinkakuji. As the name implies, Kyokochi Pond (mirror pond), which is in the garden with a path in front of Kinkakuji, reflects the beautiful view of Kinkaku like a mirror. It is a designated national Place of Scenic Beauty and a National Historical Site. There is also a famous teahouse built in the Edo period called Sekkatei. Sekkatei was given its name due to the beautiful evening view of Kinkakuji from the slightly elevated location of the teahouse.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 400 / Child: ¥ 300
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Kinkakuji
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kinkakuji
- Tours in Kinkakuji
(image by flickr.com)
Kiyomizu-dera was constructed on Mt. Kiyomizu (Mt. Otowa). The main temple at Kiyomizu-dera, which is also referred to as the “Kiyomizu-dera stage,” was rebuilt by Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1633. The main temple building, constructed early in the Edo period, is a National Treasure. It is supported by more than 100 keyaki (Japanese Zelkova) trees and not a single nail is used. Jojuin, in the northern area of the temple grounds, features the Moon Garden, which is a borrowed-scenery garden that has been designated a National Place of Scenic Beauty. The garden lanterns, eboshi stones, and the contrast with the pond in this pleasure garden are beautiful. Illumination events are sometimes held at night.
Spring water gushes out from Mt. Kiyomizu (Mt. Otowa) along the side past the main temple. This is known as the Otowa Waterfall, and it is the origin of the name Kiyomizu-dera (which means “clear water temple”). This water is said to bring good luck, so tourists can always be seen lining up to take a drink. The spring water, which is available for purchase, is also said to bestow a long life. Tourists are often seen putting their hands together in prayer for safe childbirth at Koyasu Pagoda, which is an Important Cultural Property, and at the statue of Daikokuten on the west side of the main temple, which is said to bring good luck. Jishu-jinja, a shrine to finding love that adjoins Kiyomizu-dera, is a popular tourist attraction with two guardian stones. It is said that if you can walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, you will find love. Jishu-jinja is a very popular tourist attraction with young people and couples.
Kiyomizu-dera has many highlights, such as the main temple building, which is a National Treasure, and other buildings that are Important Cultural Properties. Events are also held throughout the year. Kiyomizu-dera is open at night from spring through fall. The famous Seiryu-e event is also held, which is based on a story about a dragon (an incarnation of the goddess Kannon) that comes to drink the waters at Otowa. Many tourists come to this event, where the dragon can be seen parading around the temple grounds.
Approximately 30 stores line the Kiyomisu-zaka road that leads up to Kiyomizu-dera. They sell souvenirs from Kyoto, such as Japanese sweets that are unique to Kyoto, Japanese tea, and folding fans. After visiting Kiyomizu-dera, it’s fun to take a stroll through Kiyomizu-zaka.
Admission: Adult ¥ 300 / Child ¥ 200
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Kiyomizu-dera
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kiyomizu-dera
- Tours of Kiyomizu-dera
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Higashiyama-ku is one of Kyoto’s most popular tourist destinations. It is a hub of historical buildings, including Kiyomizudera, Ginkakuji, and Yasakajinja. Even among them, Sanjusangen-do is a popular destination for tourists that was given three stars in the Michelin guide. The sitting statue of Senju Kannon, which is the principal object of worship in Sanjusangen-do, is enshrined in the Buddhist temple. The statue, which is made of wood, is a designated National Treasure. On both sides of the sitting statue of Senju Kannon are Buddhist altars shaped like stairs, which are adorned with 1000 life-size wooden statues of the 1000-armed Senju Kannon. One more statue is located behind the enshrined sitting statue of Senju Kannon, making a total of 1001 life-sized statues of Senju Kannon, all of which are designated as Important Cultural Properties.
Although Sanjusangen-do is known for the sitting statue of Senju Kannon and the 1001 life-sized statues of the 1000-armed Kannon, there are other National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties that are not be missed. Statues of the God of Wind and the God of Lightning are featured on the left and the right as you enter the temple. These statues are unique, as the God of Wind holds a bag that contains the wind, and the God of Lightning holds a drum that releases lightning. In front of the statue of Senju Kannon are 28 wooden sculptures known as Nijuhachi-bushu, which are the guardian deities that protect those who believe in Senju Kannon. The 28 statues each have different facial expressions and gestures, and their roles as deities differ too. The main temple building, the sitting statue of Senju Kannon, the statues of the Gods of Wind and Lightning, and the 28 wooden statues are all designated National Treasures. The powerful wooden statues, which look like they could come alive at any minute, are the real highlight. Sanjusangen-do is like a museum of Buddhist statues where you can take a leisurely tour of the historical Kamakura period building and the Buddhist statues.
Admission: Adult ¥ 600 / Child ¥ 300
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Sanjusangen-do
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Sanjusangen-do
- Tours of Sanjusangen-do
(image by flickr.com)
In 853, Shinjo, the student of the monk Kukai, established the temple. The official name is Zenrin-ji, but due to the deeds of helping out the disadvantaged by the 7th head monk Yokan, it started to be called Eikan-do. Since long ago, fall foliage that strives to become the best in Kyoto can be seen here to the extent that people say “Autumn means the maples in Eikan-do”. Passing through the main gate, the path lined with autumn trees continues on, and there is a breathtaking beauty to the leaves that can be seen over the tiled roofs. The scenery of the bright red autumn leaves reflected in the large Hojo Pond and Kin’un Bridge within the grounds is splendid. In November, you can appreciate the beautiful autumn leaves when they are illuminated for night viewing. At night, the pond becomes like a mirror, and the leaves reflected in the pond at a 360-degree angle is marvelous. During the fall season, the crowds are very heavy so it is necessary to allow for time. But Eikan-do also has plenty of things to see even outside of fall. There are ceremonial piles of sand in front of the Karamon gate used by the Emperor which are stepped on before entering Shaka-do Hall to cleanse the body. Vivid images are painted on the fusuma sliding doors among the 6 rooms that make up Shaka-do. Midway, there is the “Trident Pine”, an unusual tree which splits into 3 main branches. It is said that holding the needles will grant you “wisdom”, “compassion” and “sincerity”, and they can be obtained for free at the souvenir shop on the grounds. The wooden stairway, Garyorou, is along a mountain slope and it feels like walking through the inside of a dragon. Brilliantly painted pillars are present in the wonderful Amida Hall which is famous for the “Mikaeri Amida”, a statue of the Amida Buddha looking over its shoulder. At the hall one early morning, Yokan had been training in the hall when the Amida Buddha appeared in front of him, looked back over its shoulder and said “Yokan, you are slow” with a calm smile.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 600 / Child: ¥ 400