The area comprising the Higashiyama (Eastern Mountains) lay outside of the official boundaries of the capital for most of Kyoto’s history. Today it is the main sightseeing district in Kyoto and is thick with impressive sights including fine temples, shrines, gardens, museums, traditional neighbourhoods and parks.
This temple’s name refers to the 33 sanjūnsan (bays) between the pillars of this long, narrow building. The building houses 1001 wooden statues of Kannon (the Buddhist goddess of mercy) that glimmer in the dark. The main, magnificent image is the 100-armed Senjū-Kannon, which was carved by the celebrated sculptor, Tankei, in 1254. It is flanked by 500 smaller Kannon images, neatly lined in rows. The visual effect is stunning and almost hallucinatory. Kannon was believed to have 33 manifestations, so the faithful would have invoked the mercy of 33,033 Kannons. Sanjunsangen-do dates from 1164 and is the longest wooden structure in the world. On the Sunday before the Coming of Age Day (second Monday in January) the temple hosts an archery contest for young women.
Kiyomizu-dera is one of Kyoto’s most popular temples. It is a buzzing hive of activity, perched on a hill overlooking the basin on Kyoto. This temple was first built in 793 but the present buildings are reconstructions dating from 1633 and represent the popular expression of faith in Japan. For over 1,000 years, pilgrims have climbed the slope to pray into the temple’s 11-headed Kannon image and drink from its sacred spring. As one of the most famous landmarks of the city, it is not the tranquil refuge that many associate with Buddhist temples and can get very crowded in Spring and Autumn. Make sure to walk the pagoda across the ravine to see why the expression ‘to walk off Kiyomizu’s stage’ is the Japanese equivalent of ‘to take the plunge’.
Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka
These stone-paved roads are a preservation district and one of Kyoto’s loveliest restored neighbourhoods. The name refers to the two main streets of the area, Ninen-zaka (Two-Year Hill) and Sannen-zaka (Three-Year Hill), which were named as such for the ancient imperial years when the roads were first laid out. The two charming streets are lined with old wooden houses, traditional shops and restaurants.
Chion-in serves as the headquarters of the Jōdo sect, the largest sect of Buddhism in Japan, and is the most popular pilgrimage temple in Kyoto. Chion-in was established in 1234 on the site where Hōnen, one of the most famous figures in Japanese Buddhism taught his brand of Buddhism (Jōdo, or Pure Land, Buddhism) and eventually fasted to death. The colossal Sanmon, a Buddhist temple gate, is the largest such gate in Japan and was built to claim the supremacy of the Jōdo sect. The temple also possesses a huge bell that is solemnly rung by the temple’s monks 108 times (one for each sin Man is prone to commit) on New Year’s Eve. The bell is located at the top of a flight of steps southeast of the main hall; it was cast in 1633 and weighs 70 tonnes.
This temple was founded in 1605 by Kita-no-Mandokoro in memory of her late husband, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The extensive grounds include gardens designed by the famed landscape architect Kobori Enshū, and teahouses designed by the renowned master of the tea ceremony, Sen no Rikyū. The temple holds three annual special night-time illuminations, when the gardens are lit by multicoloured spotlights.
Maruyama Park is Kyoto’s most famous cherry-blosson viewing site and is a favourite place of locals and visitors alike. Peaceful paths meander through the trees and carp glide through the waters of the small pond in the centre.
- Lonely Plant – Japan
- DK Eyewitness Travel – Japan
- Wanderlust Pocket Guides – Best of: Japan
- Images: Pixabay unless otherwise stated