Higashiyama District and Gion District Walking Tour of Temples and Shrines – Kyoto, Japan

Higashiyama District and Gion District Walking Tour of Temples and Shrines – Kyoto, Japan

June 2023

Higashiyama District and Gion District Walking Tour of Temples and Shrines – Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto is not only the cultural capital of Japan, it used to be the actual capital of Japan for over 1000 years. With over 3,000 temples and shrines, Kyoto is one of the best preserved cities in Japan making a visit here like a step back in time. We had a few hours before our dinner reservation tonight and wanted to take advantage of the beautiful weather by exploring one of the most famous areas in Kyoto – the Gion District – the most famous Geisha District in Japan. The number of temples and shrines in and around this area alone make it difficult to walk a block without spotting a new one. We decided to take a bus to the farther destination then work our way back while visiting a number of attractions.

We arrived to a very crowded Matsubara Street which is full of shops for souvenirs, kimonos, and snacks. The street was bumper to bumper with people so there was very little temptation at shopping at this point – we just wanted to break through the crowds to get to the temple. There were many people dressed up in kimonos taking social media worthy photos as well – it was very hot in the sun so I do not know how they were not over heated. Matsubara is a bit of a climb to the top where our first temple is located.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto. Dating back to its founding in 778, this now world heritage site is more than just a single temple location but an entire complex. It is 400 yen per person cash to enter through the main gate. It is known as the Pure Water Temple due to its established location by the Otowa Waterfall at the base of the main hall which is said to have heeling powers when consumed. And the line of tourists to drink from one of the waterfall streams is bonkers.

The unique feature of the Kiyomizu-dera Temple is the giant wooden platform that is made without the use of nails but rather the Japanese craftsmanship of locking wooden joints. The platform offers a goregous view of Kyoto as well as the perfect spot to watch the sunset. In the distance, you can spot Kiyomizu-dera which is a three story pagoda – one of the tallest in Japan at 31 meters high. There are also multiple spots to pay respect, purchase lucky charms, get a fortune, and more. We spent over an hour exploring Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka Streets

Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka Streets are picture perfect sloped streets that not only connect the temples and shrines but capture the essences of Kyoto. While these pedestrian only alleys are extremely popular, they preserve the historic nature with traditional and restored buildings that transports you. Along the way you will find shops, cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, and more but they all maintain that beautiful ambiance. You will even find the most unique Starbucks in the world if you look hard enough – can you spot it in the photos below? Kimono dressed people are practically a staple in this area since the spots for photographs are endless. It is a scenic walk to make your way to the net landmark in this area.

Hōkan-ji Temple / Yasaka Pagoda

Hōkan-ji Temple is also known as Yasaka Pagoda. Why the two names? Of the Hōkan-ji Temple complex, the only building left is the Yasaka Pagoda. The temple has sustained multiple catastrophic fires and rebuilt multiple times throughout its history. The pagoda is an impressive 5-story tall dating back to 589 and has definitely seen better days but the structure is so impressive for the 6th century and how they accomplished this without modern day tools.

Kōdai-ji Temple

Kōdai-ji Temple is a newer building in the area by comparison with its building in 1606. Additionally, unlike the other structures in the area that are religious based, Kōdai-ji Temple was built in memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi by his wife. Hideyoshi is credited as the second “great unifier” of Japan. The grounds here are very serene with two gardens surrounding the Temple and home to a mausoleum, two teahouses, and a bamboo grove.

Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto – so famous that it is also known as the Gion Shrine – with its origins dating back to 656. The area that encompasses the shrine is quite large and is adjacent to Maruyama Park, which is home to numerous cherry blossom trees. Yasaka Shrine is home to the most famous festival in Japan – Gion Matsuri – celebrated each summer in July with the tradition dating back over 1000 years. There are many buildings and components to the Yasaka Shrine complex to explore and experience.

What a wonderful way to see all the locations in this area by simply strolling and discovering them. It really felt like we were transported into a painting as we explored these districts. It is amazing that despite how popular this area is, it has been able to preserve its historic and beautiful nature while being able to share it with the world.

Continue reading all the details of our trip – here!

To see our full itinerary – here!

Read what to expect in Japan – here!

My complete packing list for Japan – here!

See all blog posts for Japan – here!

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