Here are the best temples near Gion with travel tips and more, according to LIVE JAPAN, a top-class travel website for visitors to Japan. Our ranking is based on the most popular pages viewed by foreign visitors in a given category.
For instance, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Chion-in Temple, Kenninji Temple and other related spots will be listed. Be sure to check them out during your visit to Gion, Kawaramachi, Kiyomizu-dera Temple!
Founded on the side of Mt. Otowa in eastern Kyoto about 1,200 years ago in 778, Kiyomizu-dera Temple has attracted countless visitors as a scared site for the goddess Kannon. The stage, which appears in the proverb ”Taking the plunge from the stage of Kiyomizu” (meaning to make a bold decision), is about 13 meters above the ground and offers a commanding view of Kyoto's cityscape. The grounds cover an area of 130,000 square meters and includes captivating spots such as Nio-mon gate (a Deva temple gate), Sai-mon gate (the west gate), a three-tiered pagoda, the main hall, Otowa-no-taki Waterfalls, and the Thousand Stone Buddhas. Many of the temple structures have been designated as National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties, conveying the beauty and magnificence of Japanese temple architecture. The temple is also celebrated as a prime viewing point for cherry blossoms and autumn leaves, and hosts special night-time viewing events during those seasons.
The three-tiered pagoda, a symbol of Kyoto
Towering 31 meters high and visible from much of Kyoto, the three-tiered shining vermilion pagoda has been designated as an Important Cultural Property. Vivid paintings of the eight founders of Shingon adorn the four walls, while images of Esoteric Buddhism, Hiten (a flying Buddhist angel playing music), and dragons decorate the ceiling and pillars.
The stage of Kiyomizu, synonymous with ”resolve” since long ago
Kiyomizu-dera Temple is most famous for its stage. In Japan, there is an expression used when people make up their mind to do something: ”Show your resolve as if taking the plunge from the stage of Kiyomizu.” This suggests the temple has been synonymous with high-rise buildings among the citizens since old times.
Otowa-no-taki Waterfalls, a sacred waterfall believed to grant your wishes
At the Otowa-no-taki Waterfalls, holy water called ”Ogon-sui (gold water)” or ”Enmei-sui (longevity water),” which is the merit of the goddess Kannon, flows in three lines, each of which believed to bring good luck in romance, academic performance and health (longevity).
Following the death in 1212 of Honen Shonin, founder of Jodo sect, Chion-in Temple was built at the foot of Mt. Kacho and became known as the head temple of the Jodo sect. Mt. Kacho is one of the mountains along the ”Higashiyama Sanju-Roppo (36-mountain range)” where he spent his life. Although a mausoleum for Honen was destroyed in 1227 by monks from Enryaku-ji Temple on Mt. Hiei, Honen's disciple Seikambo Genchi erected the temple structure of Chion-in Temple in 1234 and naming Honen Shonin as its founder. The temple was bestowed the name ”Kachozan Chion-kyo-in Otani-dera Temple” by Emperor Shijo, and in the Edo period the temple grounds were expanded under the protection of Ieyasu Tokugawa. The current magnificent monastery was constructed during the reign era of the third shogun, Iemitsu. Some of the temple buildings have been designated as National Treasures, including the Miei-do Hall that enshrines the statue of Honen Shonin as the principal image, Amida-do Hall that enshrines the statue of Amida Nyorai, and Japan's largest wooden gate, San-mon gate.
Japan's largest gate—San-mon towers over the entrance of grounds donated by Hidetada Tokugawa
San-mon gate, built in 1621 on orders from the second Tokugawa Shogun, Hidetada, is famous as Japan's largest wooden gate. The huge gate measures 24 m high and 50 m wide, and as many as 70,000 tiles cover its roof. The tablet with the word ”Mt. Kacho” displayed in the center of the upper level is larger than two tatami mats (176 x 176 cm), emphasizing the gate's enormous scale. Its upper level contains a Buddhist hall surrounded by walls with richly colorful paintings, where the crowned statue of Shakamuni-butsu and statues of the Sixteen Arhats are enshrined.
Seishi-do Hall—the birthplace of Nenbutsu, enveloped in silence
The Seishi-do Hall is tucked away in a remote and quiet corner of the broad grounds. This place is believed to be the first thatched hut built by Honen Shonin and thus can be considered as the original ground of the Chion-in Temple. The current Seishi-do Hall, reconstructed in 1530 during the Muromachi period, is the oldest surviving building in the temple complex.
Japan's largest bell tower—famous for Joya no kane, or the bells of New Year's Eve
Cast in 1636, the large bell measures 3.3 meters tall, 2.8 meters across, and weighs about 70 tons. The bell is rung on two occasions every year: Gyoki-daie, which is held on the anniversary of Honen Shonin's death in April; and Joya no kane, which takes place on New Year's Eve. Joya no kane is broadcast on television every year and has become a charming feature of New Year's Eve in Kyoto.
Kenninji Temple belongs to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism and was founded by the man credited with bringing Zen and tea to Japan from Song China, Yousai. It is Kyoto’s oldest Zen temple, said to be the location where tea drinking originated in Japan. The lecture hall features a painting created by Junsaku Koizumi titled “Twin Dragons”. “The Wind and Thunder Gods”, created by the famous Sotatsu Tawaraya, has been entrusted to the Kyoto National Museum, however a replica is available for viewing.
After Hideyoshi Toyotomi died in 1598, Kodai-ji Temple was founded in 1606 by his wife, Kita-no-Mandokoro (also known as Nene) to pray for his happiness in the afterlife. The temple construction was supported with his political power by Ieyasu Tokugawa, Hideyoshi's chief vassal and later Shogun of Japan and structures such as Main Building, Tea House, and Dressing Palace were relocated from Fushimi-jo Castle which Hideyoshi had lived. As such, the temple was resplendent and magnificent at the time of its construction. However, some structures, including the Main Building, were lost to fire in later years. Nevertheless, many structures remain in their original states, such as Otama-ya (Sanctuary) where Hideyoshi and Nene are enshrined, Kaisando (Founder's Hall), and the two teahouses of Kasa-tei and Shigure-tei, which were designed by Sen no Rikyu. Located across Nene-no-Michi is Kodai-ji Temple's sub temple, Entoku-in Temple, which is well-known as the place where Nene spent her last days.
・Nicknamed Maki-e Temple for the vast number of maki-e furnishings that were owned by Nene
Within Otama-ya (Sanctuary) where Nene rests, the dais and shrine are adorned with the exquisite Kodai-ji Maki-e. This technique of maki-e (lacquer decorated with gold or silver powder) features pictorial designs using maki-e techniques hiramaki-e (flat lacquering) and enashiji (design areas filled with the sprinkled pear skin pattern usually reserved for backgrounds). Maki-es using the techniques above are collectively called Kodai-ji Maki-e because such revolutionary techniques were developed for Otama-ya during the Muromachi Period (16th century).
・Teahouses designed by Sen no Rikyu (Important Cultural Properties)
Kasa-tei and Shigure-tei are both teahouses designed by Sen no Rikyu (in his preferred styles) that were transferred from Fushimi-jo Castle. Kasa-tei has a pyramidal, thatched roof and the interior ceiling is made of bamboo. Meanwhile, Shigure-tei is a two-storied structure, which is rare among teahouses. The two buildings are connected via a roofed walkway.
・Visitors can enjoy the Kangetsu-dai (Moon-viewing Pavilion) built on the pond and the beauty of the garden framed by fall colors
Engetsu-chi and Garyo-chi ponds, which are located on either side of the Kaisando (Founder's Hall), and the surrounding garden connected by two roofed corridors are popular among visitors in fall when the leaves change color. Built on Engetsu-chi Pond is the Moon-viewing Pavilion. To the north is a man-made island called Kame-jima and off the peninsula to the south is Tsuru-jima. Famous as the garden landscaped by Enshu Kobori, the tea ceremony master representing the Momoyama and Edo Periods, this garden is designated as a Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty.
・Nene-no-Michi is a popular Higashiyama destination where visitors can experience the refined charms of Kyoto (Historic Building Preservation Area)
Nene-no-Michi is a stone-paved street located at the bottom of Daidokoro-zaka, the stone steps connecting Kodai-ji Temple and Nene's home, Kesho Goten (Dressing Palace; currently Entoku-in Temple). This was originally part of the temple complex and is connected to Yasaka-jinja Shrine and Maruyama Park to the north. The area of the temple complex is said to have shrunk to a sixth or even a tenth of its original size, but it is an ideal place to pray for the former ruler of Japan. Nene-no-Michi is a popular sightseeing destination where visitors can experience the refined charms of Kyoto.
Konchi-in Temple was constructed during the Oei period (1394-1428) in Kitayama before being dismantled and reassembled by Suden Ishin, a political advisor to Ieyasu Tokugawa. It has the Japanese rock garden “Tsurukame no Niwa” (Crane and Tortoise Garden) which was built by Enshu Kobori, and the tea room, “Hasso-no-seki.”
Tenjuan Garden was built by Shiren Kokan who was the 15th head priest of Nanzen-ji Temple. The garden has many wonderful highlights including a Japanese rock garden, a pond with a circular path, and more. They’re not available to the public, but Tenjuan Garden is home to painted fusuma from Tohaku Hasegawa. The garden is beautiful throughout the seasons.
This ancient temple belongs to the Ritsu sect of Buddhism and is known for its “Mibu Kyogen”, a silent, humorous performance that explains Buddhist teachings. Mibu Kyogen has been designated as an important intangible folk culture asset. There’s Mibu-zuka, a graveyard that is located on the temple grounds that includes the grave of Kamo Serizawa, other Shinsengumi members, and a bust of Isami Kondo.
8.Zenrin-ji Temple (Eikan-do)
Zenrin-ji Temple has been known as a scenic spot for autumn leaves since the time of the Kokin Wakashu (a collection of ancient Japanese poetry). Founded by Shinjo Sozu in 853, the temple was originally a training hall for Shingon Esoteric Buddhism but gradually became a Jodo Buddhist invocation training hall after 1072 when the seventh chief priest Yokan (commonly known as Eikan) entered the temple. In fact, Eikan-do derives its name from Eikan. The multi-level temple site features structures including Kohojo, Zuishi-den, Shaka-do Hall, Miei-do Hall, Amida-do Hall, and Kaizan-do Hall, all connected by a corridor. The temple houses a host of treasures such as the statue of Amida Nyorai, known as ”Mikaeri Amida Nyorai” (an Important Cultural Property), Kondo-rengemon-kei (a gilt bronze Buddhist ritual gong with a lotus flower design) (National Treasure), and Yamagoshi Amida-zu (image of the Descent of Amida over a Mountain). Visiting in autumn will give you the chance to see an exhibition of a selection of temple treasures.
One of the best places to view autumn leaves in Kyoto, appearing in the Kokin Wakashu
The Kokin Wakashu mentions the beauty of autumn leaves around Zenrin-ji Temple in ”The Autumn Leaves of Eikan-do.” The temple's grounds feature around 3,000 maple trees, including the varieties Acer palmatum and Acer amoenum. Be sure to catch the exquisite reflection of autumn leaves on the surface of the Hojo-ike Pond.
Amida Nyorai looked back and said ”Yokan, you are slow.”
The Amida-do Hall enshrines Mikaeri Amida Nyorai (Amitabha looking back). In 1082 when Yokan was walking around the statue of Amida while praising Nenbutsu (chanting a Buddhist invocation), the Amida came down from the altar and began to lead Yokan. The surprised Yokan stopped in his tracks, and the Amida looked back over its left shoulder and said ”Yokan, you are slow.” The pose of the Mikaeri Nyorai expresses the Amida's deep mercy towards Yokan.
Walk inside the body of a dragon and feel the subtle, profound ambience
The corridor connecting the Miei-do Hall, Amida-do Hall, and Kaizan-do Hall is called ”Garyuro (Reclining Dragon Corridor).” With its steep stairs, this corridor evokes a dragon crawling across mountains. Walking the corridor makes you feel as if you were walking inside the body of a dragon.
Bukkoji Temple is the head temple of the Bukkoji sect of Shin Buddhism, where the main object of worship is Amida Nyorai. The temple was founded in 1212 during the Kenryaku period. In 1327, Emperor Go-Daigo was the one who bestowed the temple with the name “Amida Bukkoji”. Their statue of Prince Shotoku in the main hall is designated as an important cultural property.
As the Kamakura period drew to a close in 1291, the Zen monk Mukan Fumon built Nanzen-ji Temple at the base of Mt. Higashi at the request of cloistered Emperor Kameyama. The temple is Japan's first Zen chokugan-ji (Zen temple built at the order of the emperor). During the Muromachi period, the temple enjoyed special status superior to the Kyoto Gozan (Five Great Zen Temples of Kyoto) and the Kamakura Gozan (Five Great Zen Temples of Kamakura), ranking higher than all other Zen temples in Japan. Although its original buildings were burned down during the Onin War, Ishin Suden later rebuilt them. The vast grounds contain the Chokushi-mon gate, San-mon gate, Hatto, and Hojo are aligned in a straight line running from east to west and surrounded by 12 sub-temples. Spend some time exploring points of interest like the San-mon gate, which appears in Kabuki, and the Karesansui (dry landscape) garden, which has been designated as a national place of scenic beauty that attracts visitors all year round.
The San-mon gate, the location of a famous kabuki scene, commanding its splendid view of Kyoto
Otherwise known as ”Tenka Ryu-mon,” the San-mon gate is one of Japan's great three gates and classed as an Important Cultural Property. The double-story gate towers 22 meters high, and the upper level is called ”Gohoro.” The gate appears in the kabuki play (traditional drama performed by male actors) ”San-mon Gosan-no-kiri,” in which the bandit Goemon Ishikawa, standing on the upper level of the San-mon gate, utters his famous line, ”What a marvelous view, what a marvelous view” while smoking a pipe and taking in the blooming cherry trees. Since visitors are allowed to enter the upper level, you can admire the marvelous view of the temple grounds and the cityscape of Kyoto spreading beneath your eyes.
Ohojo—decorated with 124 wall paintings created by Kano-school artists
The Hojo in Nanzen-ji Temple has been designated as a National Treasure. It actually comprises two parts: the Ohojo and Kohojo; the former was once a building of the old Imperial Palace granted to the temple. The Ohojo's interior was decorated with wall paintings painted by artists of the Kano school from the early Momoyama period. Currently there are 124 paintings available for public viewing, 84 or which are reproductions. The originals of these 84 images are stored in the temple's treasure house, and the reproductions adopt the color scheme used during the early and mid Edo period. The Hojo garden in front of the Ohojo is a Karesansui garden designed by Enshu Kobori and commonly known as ”Tora-no-Ko Watashi-no-Niwa (the tiger-cub crossing garden).” This garden has been designated as a national place of scenic beauty.
The Kohojo, renowned for Tanyu Kano's Gunko-zu, and Myoshin Garden
Enter the Kohojo, which is considered to be part of the remains of Fushimi-jo Castle, and you'll encounter the ”Tora no Ma (Tiger Room)” with its 40 screens of Gunko-zu (herds of tiger). These are said to have been painted by Tanyu Kano. The Kohojo's garden is called ”Myoshin Garden” and is renowned for its design that depicts the heart. It is a tranquil Karesansui-style Zen garden where rocks are arranged to represent the Chinese character for the heart.
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