Chomeiji Temple

The Chomeiji Temple Complex

Chomeiji Temple in Omihachiman Shiga Prefecture

Chomeiji Temple is the 31st Temple of the Saigoku 33 Temple Pilgrimage of Western Japan. The temple is built atop Mount Ikiya in Omihachiman, Shiga Prefecture with 808 stone steps leading up to the temple grounds from the base of the mountain. The path up to the temple is very picturesque as you climb the tree lined stairs of the beautiful forested mountain. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the temple from the base of the mountain on foot, and it is also accessible via car. There are around 50 spaces available for parking. The Chomeiji Temple grounds include a main hall and a three storied pagoda. It is free to roam the temple grounds and enjoy its beautiful buildings. You can even enter the Bell Tower and soak up the amazing views of Lake Biwa and the surrounding area from the temple.

Chomeiji Temple means long life temple in Japanese and it got its name from Takenouchi no Sukune, who prayed there for a long time and legend, says went on to live to be over 300 years old.

What to See at Chomeiji Temple

808 Stone Steps to the Temple

808 stone steps lead you up to the top where the temple complex is located. It is a beautiful climb with trees lining the path. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the top from the foot of the mountain.

808 Stone Steps up to Chomeiji Temple

Temizuya

The Temizuya is a place to purify yourself before entering the temple.

Temizuya at Chomeiji Temple

Three Storied Pagoda (Sanju no To)

The three storied pagoda called Sanju no To in Japanese is very impressive and is one of the main buildings at Chomeiji Temple. The red pagoda really stands out against the vivid green of the nearby forest.

Three Storied Pagoda at Chomeiji Temple

The Hondo Main Hall

The Main Hall or Hondo in Japanese is the main building at Chomeiji Temple and is surprisingly large. You can enter the building to ring the bell and pray.

The Chomeiji Temple Hondo Main Hall

Chomeiji Temple Bell Tower (Shoro)

The Temple Bell Tower or Shoro in Japanese is located at the far end of the temple complex. It is a beautiful looking building. You are allowed to enter the tower to see the actual bell, just watch your head as you enter as the entrance is quite narrow.

Shoro Bell Tower at Chomeiji Temple

The views of Lake Biwa

The views of Lake Biwa from just outside the Bell Tower are magnificent and are worth the climb to the top alone. Simple sit and soak up these amazing views of the lake.

View of Lake Biwa from Chomeiji Temple

Opening Hours

Chomeiji Temple is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm

Entry Fee

Admission to the temple grounds is free

How to Get There

You can take a bus from JR Omihachiman Station and get off at Chomeiji bus stop. It’s a 20 minute walk up to the temple from the bus stop.

Parking is also readily available if you come by car and there are 50 parking spaces available.

Address: 157 Chomeijicho, Omihachiman, Shiga Prefecture 523-0808

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Best Time to Go

Visit in mid-March and you can also see the famous Sagicho Fire Festival at Himure Hachimangu Shrine.

Tip: There are some amazing views of Lake Biwa and you can enjoy a scenic drive along the lake if you come by car.

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Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Himure Hachimangu Shrine is the largest shrine in Omihachiman, Shiga Prefecture and is located at the foot of Mount Hachiman. The shrine is very historic and has been visited by many Japanese historical figures. It was first established by Takenouchi no Sukune in 131. Emperor Ojin visited the shrine in 275 where he had a divine vision in which he saw two sacred rings around the sun. This lead to the name of the shrine “Himure no Yashiro Hachimangu”, which means Sun Gathering Shrine.

During the reign of Empress Jito (690-697) the shrine was renamed Himure Shrine after a famous poem. Emperor Ichijo ordered the shrine be built on top of Mount Hachiman as well as at the foot of the mountain in 991. In 1590, Toyotomi Hideyori moved the shrine to its present location in order to build a castle on top of the mountain.

Himure Hachimangu Shrine houses the “Homutawake no Mikoto” The God of War, making it a place that has been visited by many powerful warlords and warriors over the years including the Ashikaga and Tokugawa clans. Tokugawa Ieyasu worshiped at this shrine after the famous battle at Sekigahara in Gifu for long life and peace. After the abandonment of Hachiman Castle, Himure Hachimangu Shrine became the guardian of the town of Omihachiman and the Omi Merchants.

In 1966 the shrine was renamed Himure Hachimangu Shrine and today houses a lot of important cultural properties in its repository.

Today, the Sagicho Fire Festival is held here every March. The festival was originally started by Oda Nobunaga when he was in Azuchi. On New Year’s Day he would dress up in a unique costume and parade himself from Azuchi Castle to the town. The modern Sagicho Fire Festival involves festival floats, which are ignited with fire one after the other.

What to See at Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Himure Hachimangu Shinto Gate

The main Shinto Gate to the shrine is very impressive and contains Komainu which are lion dogs and guardians of the shrine.

Gate to Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Shinto Gate to Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Komainu 1 at Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Komainu 2 at Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Temizu

The main purpose of the Temizu is purification and to cleanse your hands and mouth to purify yourself before praying at the shrine. This one is very interesting because it contains at the back some Hono Sakadaru which is sake devoted to the gods of the shrine.

Temizu at Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Hono Sakadaru Sake for the Gods at Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Kagura-den

The Kagura-den is a building devoted to Noh or the sacred Kagura dance.

Kagura-den at Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Haiden

The Haiden is a hall of worship and this one is very impressive and stands out from the other buildings around the shrine.

Haiden at Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Honden Main Hall

The Honden or Main Hall at Himure Hachimangu Shrine contains and houses the “Homutawake no Mikoto” The God of War.

Honden Main Hall at Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Toro Stone Lanterns

There are many decorative stone lanterns called Toro, which can be found around the shrine and they are quite beautiful.

Toro at Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Stone Lanterns at Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Opening Hours

Himure Hachimangu Shrine is always open but the amulet shop closes at 5:00 pm

Entry Fee

Admission to the Shrine is free

How to Get There

JR Tokaido line to Omihachiman, then a 10 minute bus ride from Omihachiman Station to the shrine

Parking is also readily available if you come by car

Address: 257 Miyauchi-cho, Omihachiman, Shiga Prefecture 523-0828

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Best Time to Go

The best time to visit Himure Hachimangu Shrine is mid March to catch the famous Sagicho Fire Festival

Tip: This place is very beautiful in the early evening when the lights come on. You can also visit the Shin Machi Dori and Hachiman Bori Canal, which are located close by

Chochin at Himure Hachimangu Shrine

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Omihachiman

Omihachiman

Omihachiman

Omihachiman is an Edo Period town located close to Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, and home to the famous Omi Merchants. The castle town of Omihachiman was built by Toyotomi Hidetsugu in 1585 when he built Hachiman Castle. The town became a hub of craftsman and merchants and was one of the post towns of the Nakasendo Road. Omihachiman is located about 30 minutes by train from Kyoto. Most of the main sights can be visited in a full day with Himure Hachimangu Shrine, Mount Hachiman, Shin Machi Dori, and Hachiman Bori Canal all close together and can easily be reached on foot. Chomeiji Temple and Azuchi Castle are further out from the centre of town and require access via car or bus.

Places of Interest

Himure Hachimangu Shrine

The largest shrine in Omihachiman, located at the foot of Mount Hachiman. The Emperor Ichijo ordered the shrine be built on top of Mount Hachiman as well as at the foot of the mountain in 991. Later, the shrine moved to its present location in order to build a castle on top of the mountain. Tokugawa Ieyasu also worshiped at this shrine. Today, the Sagicho Fire Festival is held here every March. The festival was originally started by Oda Nobunaga when he was in Azuchi. Entry to the shrine is free and parking is readily available.

Himure Hachimangu Shrine

Mount Hachiman

A famous mountain in Omihachiman that was once the home of Hachiman Castle. The castle was built by Toyotomi Hidetsugu, son of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1585. Today, all that remains of the castle are ruins including some of its stone walls. Although the castle had a short history the castle town that was established at the foot of the mountain flourished. The Hachiman Yama Ropeway operates services between the Himure Hachimangi Shrine and mountaintop. It takes about 4 minutes to reach the top of the mountain and it offers stunning views over Lake Biwa and the surrounding area. The ropeway costs 800 yen (return).

Mount Hachiman

Shin Machi Dori

The former merchant’s area has well preserved Edo Period houses and is open to the public. This area was famous for its Omi shonin or Omi merchants. It was also the former residence of a wealthy merchant family, the Nishikawas. This quaint street features beautiful buildings with lattice windows, pine trees protruding from gardens of private residence, and “udatsu” (unusual shaped roof). It is very magical in the evening when the natural light starts to dim and the old fashioned street lights come on.

Shin Machi Dori

Hachiman Bori Canal

Located close to Shin Machi Dori the canal area was once the hub of ship transport in the area. The canal acted as a moat around the base of Mount Hachiman and through the castle town. It is also connected to Lake Biwa and acted as transport for the merchants in the area, and the cargo boats sailing across the lake. It has some beautiful scenery with white walled storehouses and old merchant houses along the canal. The houses continue to the torii gate of Himure Hachimangu Shrine and the Hakuun Bridge. It is full of history and atmosphere.

Hachiman Bori Canal

Chomeiji Temple

Chomeiji Temple is the 31st Temple of the Saigoku 33 Temple Pilgrimage of Western Japan. The path up to the temple includes 808 stone steps and is very atmospheric as it is lined with trees. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the temple from the base of the mountain on foot, and it is also accessible via car. The temple contains a main hall and a three storied pagoda. It is free to roam the temple grounds and enjoy it’s beautiful buildings and soak up its atmosphere. You can even enter the Bell Tower and soak up the amazing views of Lake Biwa and the surrounding area from the temple.

Chomeiji Temple

Azuchi Castle

Azuchi Castle was one of the main castles of Oda Nobunaga, a samurai warlord and was built in 1576 in Omi Province. It was purposely built in this location as it was close enough to Kyoto to protect and guard the approaches to the capital. It also offered strategic control over the key Tokaida and Nakasendo roads to Kyoto. The design of Azuchi Castle was revolutionary in its day and lead to a new more grand type of castle being built in Japan. The main keep was 7 stories high and is said to have been the largest multi-storied wooden building in the world at the time. Today all that remains are the castle ruins, but they have done a great job in excavating the ruins and rebuilding the numerous stone walls. There is so much to see and the extent of the ruins is so vast that I would highly recommend this place to any Japanese castle fan.

Azuchi Castle

Horyuji Temple

The Horyuji complex in NaraHoryuji Temple in Nara is one of Japan’s most important temples. It was founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku, who is considered to be the patron saint of Japanese Buddhism. It is one of the oldest temples in Japan and home to some of the country’s rarest treasures. Horyuji was one of the Seven Great temples of Nara, which was the first permanent capital of Japan before the capital was moved to Kyoto at the end of the 8th century.

A visit here is like taking a step back in time to the Asuka Period of Japan where Nara flourished from the mid 6th century to the early 8th century.

The sprawling grounds of the temple complex (over 1km wide) include no less than 20 gates and buildings designated as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. The temple complex is divided into two parts, Sai-in Garan (West Precinct) and To-in Garan (East Precinct).

The Sai-in Garan contains the Kondo (Main Hall), Goju no To (Five Story Pagoda) and Chumon (Central Gate). These date from the 7th century and are some of the oldest surviving wooden structures in the world.

The To-in Garan contains the Yumedono (The Hall of Dreams).

What to See at Horyuji Temple

Chumon Central Gate

The Chumon, Central Gate was built in the late 7th century and marks the entry into the inner sanctum of the temple complex. It contains two nio guardian statues on either side of the gate, which are the oldest in Japan.

Chumon Central Gate at Hyryuji

Horyuji Nio Guardians - Ungyoh

Horyuji Nio Guardians - Agyoh

Kondo (Main Hall)

The Kondo, Main Hall of Horyuji was completed in 680 and was influenced by Chinese culture of the 6th century. The hall is believed to be the oldest wooden building in the world, and contains priceless statues and national treasures. The most famous is the original Medicine Buddha for which the temple was built, the Shaka Triad, a bronze image of the historical Buddha, cast in 623 by the famous sculptor Tori, and bronze Yakushi and Amida Nyorai statues.

Kondo Main Hall at Horyuji

Goju no To Pagoda

The Gujo no To Pagoda, which is next to the Kondo was built just after the main hall in the late 7th century. It is truly magnificent and is the oldest pagoda in Japan. The Pagoda stands at 31.5 meters in height and is the archetype of a Japanese pagoda.

Goju no To Pagoda at Horyuji

Daikodo Great Lecture Hall

The Daikodo was reconstructed in 990 and is one of the largest buildings at Horyuji. It was originally built for Buddhist monks to pursue their studies as well as a place in which to conduct memorial services.

Daikodo Lecture Hall at Horyuji

Kyozo

The Kyozo (Sutra Repository) was built in the early 8th century. It was originally constructed as a place to store sutras.

Horyuji Kyozo

Kudara Kannon do Hall

The Kudara Kannon do Hall houses the Kudara Kannon, a statue of Guanyin made of gilded camphor wood during the Asuka Period. It is unique in Japanese art, and is regarded as one of the most important works of ancient Japan.

Kudara Kannon do at Horyuji

The Yumedono Hall of Dreams

The main hall of To-in Garan (East Precinct) is the Yumedono, Hall of Dreams. The building is an elegant octagonal shape and was built in 739. The Yumedono was built on the ground where Prince Shotoku once had his private palace. The hall acquired its name of the Hall of Dreams from a legend, which says a Buddha arrived as Prince Shotoku meditated in a hall here.

Approach to the Yumedono (Hall of Dreams) at Horyuji

History of Horyuji Temple

Horyuji Temple was founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku. The temple started as a vow by Emperor Yomei who promised to build a temple and an image of Buddha as a form of prayer for his own recovery from a serious illness. A vow he never fulfilled as the emperor died shortly after his promise. His son, Prince Shotoku and Empress Suiko fulfilled the emperors wish by building a temple and a statue of a Buddha, to which the temple was dedicated.

Over the years the temple’s wooden buildings have withstood fires and earthquakes to become some of the oldest surviving wooden buildings in the world.

Horyuji Temple contains over 2,300 important cultural and historical structures and articles, including nearly 190 that have been designated as National Treasures or important Cultural Properties. The treasures are considered to be a time capsule of Buddhist art from the 6th and 7th century. The frescoes, statues, and pieces of art contained within the temple, as well as the building’s architecture show a strong cultural influence from China, Korea and India.

Horyuji Temple was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, the first in all of Japan.

Horyuji Lantern and Temple complex

Opening Hours

Horyuji Temple is open from
8:00 am to 5:00 pm (22 February – 3 November)
8:00 am to 4:30 pm (4 November – 21 February)

Entry Fee

Admission to the Temple is 1000 yen

How to Get There

Take the JR Kansai Line from JR Nara Station to Horyu-ji Station. It takes about 11 minutes and costs 210 yen. From Horyu-ji Station you can take bus 72 to Horyu-ji Monmae bus stop which takes 8 minutes and costs 180 yen.
Alternatively, take bus 52 or 97 from either JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station and get off at Horyu-ji Monmae bus stop. It takes about 1 hour and costs 760 yen.

Address: 1-1 Horyuji Sannai, Ikaruga-cho, Ikoma-gun, Nara 636-0115

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Best Time to Go

Horyuji Temple can be visited all year round but Nara is truly spectacular in late March to mid April with the beautiful cherry blossoms, and from October to early December with the backdrop of bright red maples leaves.

Tip: If you have two days to spend in Nara, spend one day exploring the temples of Southwest Nara such as Horyu-ji, Yakushi-ji and Toshodai-ji, and the other day in Nara koen with Todaiji Temple, Kofuku-ji and Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

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Heian Jingu Shrine

Heian Jingu Shrine Main Gate - Otenmon

Heian Jingu Shrine has a short history but is still considered a must see attraction in Kyoto. It is a rarity as a modern shrine in Kyoto, which is famous for its shrines, which are hundreds of years old. It was built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Kyoto. Heian-kyo was the former name of Kyoto and the shrine is dedicated to the first and last emperors, who reigned from Kyoto. The current buildings are replicas of the original Kyoto Imperial Palace which was destroyed in 1227, and is two-thirds the size of the Kyoto Gosho of the Heian period (794-1185). It is a fantastic example of how significant Chinese influences were during the Heian period in Japan.

A giant tori gate about 500 meters in front of the shrine marks the entrance. It is one of the largest in Japan at 24.2 meters high.

What to See at Heian Jingu Shrine

Heian Jingu Shrine Daigoku-den Great Hall of State

The first thing that strikes you about Heian Jingu Shrine is the vast amount of space. It is very spacious with a wide open courtyard at the center. The colours of the buildings also stand out in orange, green and white. The Daigoku-den, built in 1894, is the largest building and is the main hall of the shrine. Daigoku-den was the Great Hall of State at the original Kyoto Imperial Palace (Daidairi).

Heian Jingu Shrine Main Hall - Daigokuden

Heian Jingu Shrine Main Gate Oten-mon

The Oten-mon gate at Heian Jingu Shrine was built in 1894 and is two storeys high. It is a reproduction of the original gate at the Kyoto Imperial Palace (Daidairi).

Heian Jingu Shrine Main Gate - Otenmon

Heian Jingu Shrine Soryu-ro

The Soryu-ro, also known as the Blue Dragon tower is the East Tower beside Daigoku-en. It was built in 1894 and is two storeys high. It is a classic example of the Chinese style of architecture with white walls, vermillion lacquered pillars and wood trim and green tiled roof.

Heian Jingu Shrine - Soryuro

Heian Jingu Shrine Gaku-den

The Gaku-den was built in 1940. I was lucky to spot a couple of maiko here during my visit.

Heian Jingu Shrine

Heian Jingu Shrine - Maiko

Heian Jingu Shrine Garden

The garden located behind the main buildings is amazing and very spacious with a large pond and Chinese inspired bridge. The garden was built to represent the style of garden that was popular during the Heian period. The garden contains many cherry trees, which make it a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto.

The Shrine is surrounded by Japanese stroll gardens on three sides of the shrine. The Minami Shin-en (South Garden) on the west side, Nishi Shin-en (West Garden) on the north-west side, Naka Shin-en (Middle Garden) on the north east side, and Higashi Shin-en (East Garden) on the east.

Special Events

Heian Jingu Shrine holds two major events during the year

• Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) held on 22 October to celebrate the founding of Kyoto
• Takigi No Performances held from 1 to 2 June

History of Heian Jingu Shrine

Heian Jingu Shrine was built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Heian-kyo (Kyoto). The shrine is dedicated to two emperors: Kammu (737-806) who founded Kyoto in 794 and Komei (1831-1866) who was the last emperor to reign in Kyoto before the capital moved to Tokyo.

The building of the shrine helped revitalize Kyoto, which stagnated after the capital was moved to Tokyo.

Opening Hours

Heian Jingu Shrine is open from
6.00 am to 6:00 pm from 15 March to 31 August
6:00 am to 5:30 pm from September, October, early March
6:00 am to 5:00 pm from November to February

The Gardens are open from
8.30 am to 5:00 pm from 15 March to 31 August
8:30 am to 5:00 pm from September, October, early March
8:30 am to 4:30 pm from November to February

Entry Fee

Admission to the shrine precinct is free
Admission to the Garden is 600 yen for adults and 300 yen for children

How to Get There

You can reach Heian Jingu Shrine by taking bus No 5 or No 100 from JR Kyoto Station or Keihan Sanjo Station to the Kyoto Kaikan Bijutsu-kan mae bus stop. It takes about 30 minutes and costs 220 yen. You can also walk from Keihan Sanjo Station which is around 15 minutes. Alternatively, take the Tozai subway line to Higashiyama Station, where it’s a 10 minute walk to the shrine.

Address: Okazakinishi Tenno-cho, Kyoto


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Best Time to Go

Heian Jingu Shrine can be visited all year round, but the Gardens are at their most beautiful during spring and autumn. It is a popular cherry blossom spot in Kyoto during the spring with its weeping cherry trees at their best in April. Summer is a great time to see the irises and water lilies, while autumn is beautiful with the changing Japanese maple leaves in late November.

Tip: Check out Nanzen-ji, which is one of the best temples in Kyoto with expansive grounds and sub-temples. It is about a 20 minute walk from Heian Jingu Shrine.

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Things to Do in Kyoto

  • Kiyomizu-dera Temple – One of the most famous landmarks in Kyoto and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • KInkakuji Temple – Temple of the Golden Pavilion and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Nijo Castle – Built as the official Kyoto residence of the Shogun and a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle in Kyoto was built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu. It is not your typical Japanese castle, but more of a palace style castle. Nijo Castle was constructed as a demonstration of the shogun’s power and prestige and to signal the demise of the emperor. The castle has some amazing architecture and one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan. Nijo Castle was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

Features of Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle Fortifications

Nijo Castle consists of two concentric rings of fortification, both consisting of stone walls and a moat. The inner walls contain the Honmaru Palace. The Ninomaru Palace and Garden are located between the two main rings of fortification.

Nijo Castle Wall and Moat

Ninomaru Palace

The Ninomaru Palace is almost entirely built of hinoki cypress and features gold leaf decorations and elaborate wood carvings. It was built in order to impress visitors of the power and wealth of the shogun. The palace is divided into five buildings with various chambers. It served as both the residence and office of the shogun during his visits to Kyoto from his capital in Edo. Only those of the highest rank were permitted to enter the inner buildings. The palace rooms are covered in tatami mats and have elegantly decorated ceilings. The walls and sliding doors are decorated with paintings by artists from the Kano school. A feature is the fourth chamber (Ohiroma Yon-no-ma) which has some spectacular screen paintings.

Ninomaru Palace

Ninomaru Palace Garden

The Ninomaru Palace Garden is a must see and one of the most beautiful traditional landscape gardens in Japan. It was designed by the tea master and landscape architect Kobori Enshu. It features a large pond with ornamental stones and manicured pine trees.

Ninomaru Palace Garden 1

Nightingale Floors of Nijo Castle

A feature of Nijo Castle is the striking Nightingale Floors (uguisubari) in the corridors, which were devised as a safety measure against treachery and sneak attacks by assassins. The shogun, Ieyasu had the interior fitted with these special floors that squeak at every move, making it difficult for intruders to move about quietly. There are also concealed chambers in some of the rooms, where his bodyguards could hide and keep watch over proceedings.

Honmaru Palace

The Honmaru Palace, was the main circle of defence for the castle. It featured a second palace complex and the castle’s five storey keep. Unfortunately, both structures were destroyed by fires in the 18th century. Today the Honmaru Palace is only open for special viewing in the autumn.

Honmaru Palace

History of Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period. The castle’s palace buildings were completed by his grandson Iemitsu, in 1626 and the castle was further expanded to include a five storey keep.

The keep was struck by lightning in 1750 and burned to the ground. The Honmaru Palace was also destroyed by fire in 1788.

The Tokugawa Shogunate ended in 1867, and the Ninomaru Palace was used as the stage for the declaration returning the authority back to the Imperial Court. Nijo Castle was used as an imperial palace before being donated to the city of Kyoto in 1939.

Nijo Castle Grounds

Opening Hours

The Ninomaru Palace and Garden are open from 8:45 am to 5:00 pm
Last admission is at 4:00 pm
Nijo Castle is closed from 26 December to 4 January
Nijo Castle is also closed Tuesdays in January, July, August and December

Entry Fee

Admission to the Ninomaru Palace and Garden is 600 yen

How to Get There

You can reach Nijo Castle by taking bus No 9, 50 or 101 from JR Kyoto Station to the Nijo-jo-mae bus stop. It takes around 15-20 minutes and costs 220 yen. You can also use the Tozai line subway to the Nijo-jo-mae station.

Address: 541 Nijojo-cho, Horikawa-nishiiru, Nijo-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto


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Best Time to Go

Nijo Castle can be visited all year round, but the Palace Garden and Castle Grounds are at their most beautiful during spring and autumn. The castle grounds feature around 400 cherry trees, which are at their best in April, and Japanese maples and ginkgo with amazing autumn colours in late November.

Tip: Just south of Nijo Castle is the Shinsen-en Garden, which is worth a visit. It formed part of the original imperial palace of Kyoto that was abandoned in 1227.

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Things to Do in Kyoto

  • Kiyomizu-dera Temple – One of the most famous landmarks in Kyoto and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • KInkakuji Temple – Temple of the Golden Pavilion and a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Veranda

Kiyomizu-dera Temple was first built in 798 and is considered one of the most famous landmarks of Kyoto. The name Kiyomizu-dera literally means “Pure Water Temple” and it takes its name from the pure waters of nearby Otowa Waterfall. It is located in the hills east of Kyoto and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

What to see at Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Nio-mon and Sai-mon Gate

The Nio-mon Gate is the main entrance to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, and can be seen on the left. Nio-mon means the gate of the two Nio guardians.

The Sai-mon Gate, which can be seen on the right, means West Gate.

Nio-mon gate Kiyomizu-dera
Sai-mon gate Kiyomizu-dera

Chawan-zaka (Teapot Lane)

Chawan zaka, which is part of the Higashiyama District, is the steep approach to the temple. The small lane is lined with shops selling Kyoto handicrafts, snacks and souvenirs. There is an amazing atmosphere here and is part of the whole fun experience of visiting Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

The Main Hall of Kiyomizu-dera Temple

The main hall of Kiyomizu-dera Temple has a huge wooden veranda that is supported by hundreds of pillars, that jut out over the hillside. It overs impressive views of the hills and the city of Kyoto. An Edo period tradition was that if you could survive a jump from the veranda, which is a 13m jump, your wish would be granted. This practice is now prohibited!

The main hall houses a priceless statue of the Kannon Bodhisattva, the goddess of mercy.

Kiyomizu-dera Veranda

Jishu Shrine

Jishu Shrine is a shrine dedicated to Okuninushi, a god of love and matchmaking. In front of the shrine are two love stones, which are 18 meters apart. Legend says that if you can find your way from one stone to the other with your eyes closed you will find true love. If you miss the stone then your desire for love won’t be fulfilled. You can have help with someone guiding you to be successful, but this means that a go-between will also be needed for you to find love as well.

Otowa-no-taki Waterfall

Otowa no taki Waterfall sits just below the main hall of Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Here you can drink from its sacred waters, which are divided into three separate streams that fall into a pond. Each stream’s water is said to have a different wish granting property from health, longevity, to wisdom. Take care however, if you drink from all three streams it is bad luck and is considered greedy. Use the cups attached to long poles to select the water of your choice.

Otowa-no-taki Kiyomizu-dera

History of Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple was first built in 798, as an affiliate of the Hosso school of Buddhism., which originated in Nara. The current buildings are reconstructions of the original and date from 1633. An interesting fact is there is not a single nail used in the construction of the entire structure.

In 2007, Kiyomizu-dera Temple was a finalist for the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Opening Hours

Kiyomizu-dera Temple and grounds are open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm

Entry Fee

Admission is Free for the Temple and Grounds
Entry to the Main Hall is 300 yen

How to Get There

From JR Kyoto Station take bus No 100 or 206 and get off at the Kiyomizu-michi bus stop. It is about a 15 minute bus ride and costs 220 yen. It is about a 10 minute walk up the hill to reach the temple from the bus stop.

Address: 1-294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto


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Best Time to Go

Kiyomizu-dera Temple is beautiful during all the seasons in Japan, but is truly spectacular during the cherry blossom season in spring and the changing leaves of autumn.

Tip: The Higashiyama District along with Kiyomizu-dera and other temples in the area have special evening illuminations during the spring and autumn. These are spectacular and only add to the atmosphere of this amazing place.

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Todaiji Temple

Todaiji Temple Daibutsuden Hall

Todaiji Temple in Nara is an awe-inspiring sight and should be at the top of any sightseeing trip to Japan. The temple was built in 752 during the Nara period (710 – 794 AD) at the behest of Emperor Shomu, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Todaiji means Great Eastern Temple, and it was built as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples in Japan.

Nandaimon – Great Southern Gate

On the way to the temple you will pass through Nandaimon, which is an enormous gate containing two fierce looking Nio Guardians. Nio means Benevolent Kings, and these guardians are protectors against evil spirits. According to Japanese tradition, these guardians travelled with the historical Buddha to protect him.

The wooden guardians were carved by the sculptor Unkei, in the 13th century. They are considered to be some of the finest wooden statues in all of Japan. The statues along with the gate itself are designated national treasures.

You will also be greeted by the deer from nearby Nara Park on your approach to Todaiji. The deer are used to tourist and will often approach you looking for some shika senbei, which are special crackers made for the deer and sold nearby for 150 yen.

Deer in Nara Park near Todaiji

Nakamon – Central Gate

The entrance to Todaiji Temple is the Central Gate or Nakamon.

Nakamon Gate Entrance to Todaiji

Daibutsuden Hall

Todaiji’s Daibutsuden Hall (Hall of the Great Buddha) is the largest wooden building in the world. It is truly impressive, but consider this. It is only two-thirds the size of the original! The current building dates from 1709 when it was rebuilt. The Daibutsu-den Hall contains The Daibutsu (Great Buddha), which is one of the largest bronze figures in the world. It was originally cast in 746, and the present statue was recast in the Edo period. It stands at just over 16m high and contains 437 tonnes of bronze and 130kg of gold.

As you circle the statue towards the back, you’ll see a wooden column with a hole through its base. The hole is exactly the same size as one of the Great Buddha’s nostrils. Legend says that anyone who can squeeze through the hole will be ensured of enlightenment in their next life.

Todaiji Temple Daibutsuden Hall

Todaiji Temple Grounds and Gardens

The grounds at Todaiji Temple are spacious and cover most of the area north of Nara Park. The original complex also contained two 100 meter high pagodas, but these were destroyed by earthquakes.

Todaiji Temple Grounds and GardensSurrounds Near The Main Entrance

Todaiji Surrounds near the Main Entrance

History of Todaiji Temple

Todaiji was founded by Emperor Shomu during the Nara period (710 – 794 AD) when Nara was the capital of Japan. The temple complex was fully complete in 798, but the temple had grown so powerful that the Japanese capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 in order to reduce its influence on government affairs. The temple remained active over the years, but its wooden buildings have been rebuilt several times over the centuries due to fires and earthquakes. The two 100 meter high pagodas that were part of the original complex, and were probably the highest buildings at the world at the time were destroyed by earthquakes.

Opening Hours

Todaiji is open from
8:00 am to 4:30 pm – November to February
8:00 am to 5:00 pm – March
7:30 am to 5:30 pm – April to September
7:30 am to 5:00 pm – October

Entry Fee

Adults: 500 yen

How to Get There

Todaiji Temple is located in the north of Nara Park. It is around 30 mins on foot from Kintetsu Nara Station, or about a 45 minute walk from JR Nara Station. You can take a bus from either station and get off at the Todaiji Daibutsuden stop. It is around a 5-10 minute walk to the main building from the bus stop.

Address: 406-1 Zoshicho, Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8211


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Best Time to Go

Every season has something to offer, but spring and autumn in Nara are truly beautiful.

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Kinkakuji Temple

Kinkakuji Temple from the Mirror Pond

Kinkakuji Temple, also known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is one of Japan’s best known sights. Located in Northern Kyoto, the original building was constructed in 1397 as a retirement villa for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. It was later converted into a Zen Buddhist temple by his son after his death in 1408. Kinkakuji Temple later inspired Ginkakuji Temple (The Temple of the Silver Pavilion), which was built by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu grandson a few decades later.

Kinkakuji is recognised by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site, and is one of the 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites that can be found in Kyoto.

The Belfry of Kinkakuji Temple

The Belfry of Kinkakuji Temple

Design of Kinkakuji Temple

Kinkakuji is a three storey building on the grounds of Rokuon-ji (Deer Garden Temple), which is the formal name of the temple complex. Each floor of the building successfully incorporates a different architecture style.

The first floor is built in the shinden-zukuri style, which was used for palace buildings during the Heian Period. It was designed as an open space with adjacent verandas and uses natural unpainted wood and white plaster. This style helps to bring more emphasis on the beautiful surrounding landscape. The floor contains statues of the Shaka Buddha and Yoshimitsu. You cannot enter the pavilion, but can view the statues from across the pond.

The second floor is built in the buke-zukuri style, which was used in samurai residences. The floor consists of a Buddha Hall and a shrine dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy.

The third floor is built in traditional zen style also known as zenshu-butsuden-zukuri. The building is topped with golden phoenix.

The top two storeys of the pavilion are covered with pure gold leaf.

The Garden of Kinkakuji Temple

Kinkakuji is set in a magnificent Japanese strolling garden and it extends over a large pond called Kyoko-chi (Mirror Pond) that reflects the building. The pond contains many large and smaller islands. The garden complex is an excellent example of Muromachi period garden design. This period is considered to be the classical age of Japanese garden design. The grounds were built to illustrate a harmony between heaven and earth.

Kyoko-chi - The Mirror Pond

Kyoko-chi The Mirror Pond

Island in the Mirror Pond

Kinkakuji Points of Interest

A little further on from the mirror pond is another small pond, Anmintaku, which contains a stone pagoda called hakuja-no-tsuka.

Hakuja no tsuka Stone Pagoda

Hakuja-no-tsuka Stone Pagoda

Just around the corner is a classic Tea House, called sekkaitei. It was added to Kinkakuji during the Edo Period and was restored in 1997.

History of Kinkakuji Temple

The site of Kinkakuji was originally a villa called Kitayama-dai, which belonged to a powerful statesman, Saionji Kintsune in the 1220’s. In 1397 it was purchased by the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and transformed into the Kinkakuji Temple complex as a retirement villa. After his death in 1408, it was converted into a Zen Buddhist Temple. Kinkakuji has unfortunately burned down many times throughout its history. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.

Opening Hours

Kinkakaji is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Entry Fee

Adults: 400 yen

How to Get There

From JR Kyoto Station, take bus No 205 and get off at the Kinkaku-ji machi stop. The trip is around 40 minutes.

Address: 1 Kinkakuji-cho, Kita-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto


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Best Time to Go

Every season has something to offer, but winter is amazing after a snow fall when the grounds are covered in white snow.

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