Kita-ku Temples and Shrines Tour (Self Guided), Kyoto

Kita-ku is one of Kyoto's wards, located in the northern part of the city. Kita Ward contains some spectacular religious sites, such as the famous Golden Pavilion and the ancient Daitoku-ji Temple, as well as a museum dedicated to world peace. Find them all selected and described in the next self-guided tour.
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Kita-ku Temples and Shrines Tour Map

Guide Name: Kita-ku Temples and Shrines Tour
Guide Location: Japan » Kyoto (See other walking tours in Kyoto)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 7.5 Km or 4.7 Miles
Author: emma
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Koetsu-ji Temple
  • Genkou-an Temple
  • Imamiya Shrine
  • Daitoku-ji Temple
  • Ryogen-in Temple
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple
  • Hirano-Jinja Shrine
  • Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
  • Toji-in Temple
Koetsu-ji Temple

1) Koetsu-ji Temple

The Koetsu-ji Temple evolved from a small thatched hut that belonged to artist Koetsu Honami. The tea houses in the temple complex are surrounded by unique bamboo fences.

The Koetsu-ji Temple is the location where Koetsu Honami, his family and other artists settled on land given to them by the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. The area at the time was an artist’s quarter and the Rimpa School of art was founded here by Koetsu Honami. The Rimpa school combines the Haien traditions of Yamato-e art with Morumachi ink paintings. The temple was at first a mortuary of the Honami family. After the death of Koetsu Honami it became a Buddhist temple dedicated to the Nichiren sect of Buddhism.

The temple complex has many quaint tea houses. One of the bamboo fences called the Daikyo-an- was designed by Koetsu Honami. There are many graves within the temple complex of the Honami family including the grave of the artist. Many objects belonging to Koetsu Honami including his favorite tea bowl are preserved at the temple. Other notable features are a thatched roof structure housing the temple bell and a quaint and traditional tea house called the Taiko-an. One can also get a beautiful view of Mount Takagamine from the temple.
Genkou-an Temple

2) Genkou-an Temple

The Genkou-an Temple is a Buddhist temple in Kyoto managed by the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism. Its location is Rakuhoku in the North East of the city and also goes by the name Yoho Zan.

The Genkou-an Temple was built by Tetsuou-Kokushi. It was opened for worship in 1346. Tetsuou-Kokushi was the main priest of the Daitoku ji Temple at the time and intended that the building be used as a hermitage.

Well known features of the Genkou-an Temple are the two windows called the Mayoi no Mado and the Satori no Mado. The square window or the Mayoi no Mado is the window of illusion that depicts the life of human beings as irregular and clouded by illusions. The Satori no Mado is a round window called the window of enlightenment which depicts Nirvana or enlightenment attained by the Buddha. The ceiling of the Main Hall was made using floor boards from the dismantled Fushimi Castle where troops loyal to the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu killed themselves in the face of defeat in the battle against Ishida Mitsunari in 1600. The bloodstains are still visible. Other notable treasures at the temple are the statues of the Buddha and the Kannon Bodhisattva.
Imamiya Shrine

3) Imamiya Shrine

The Imamiya Shrine was first established to help remove disease and epidemics from the city of Kyoto. The shrine is a complex consisting of a main hall or Honden and many smaller shrines.

The Imamiya Shrine was established in 994 during the Haien period. It was relocated to its present site in the year 1001. The relocation was in response to an epidemic that ravaged Kyoto in the year 1000. Many of the structures within the complex were completely rebuilt in the year 1902.

The Imamiya Shrine is famous for the two Mochi or rice cake shops located near its eastern gate. One shop has served customers with these traditional sweet rice cakes from the year 1002 and the other dates back to 1656. Rubbing a rock with magical properties called the Ahokashisan in the shrine is believed to help relieve maladies. One can also buy the Tama no Koshi amulets which will help those who wear them get a rich spouse. A famous festival celebrated at the shrine is the Yasurai Matsuri on every 2nd Sunday in April. The festival aims to prevent the spread of disease in Kyoto. The shrine is surrounded by a forest with bamboo groves and old and large trees.
Daitoku-ji Temple

4) Daitoku-ji Temple (must see)

The Daitoku-ji Temple is one of the fourteen temples managed by branches of the Rinzai School of Zen Buddhism. It consists of a main temple and several sub-temples and covers an area of more than 56 acres.

The Daitoku-ji Temple was founded by a Buddhist monk, Shuho Myocho, in 1326. It was the favorite temple of Emperor Go Daigo of Japan and was regarded at the time as one of Kyoto's five most sacred temples. During the reign of the Ashikaga Shogunate, the temple ceased to receive royal patronage. After the Shogunate fell, merchants from Osaka restored the temple to its former glory.

The main Daitoku-ji Temple is surrounded by 24 small sub-temples. Significant among the sub-temples are the Koto-in, which is surrounded by deciduous trees that become particularly spectacular in autumn when the leaves change color. It also contains the grave of the Meiko, Izumo no Okuni, the founder of kabuki. The Daisen-in sub-temple has the smallest Zen garden in Japan and the Zuiho-in sub-temple is known for its elegant simplicity. There are two well-known Zen Buddhist vegetarian restaurants within the complex and some of the sub-temples offer Zen Buddhist meditation lessons to interested visitors.

Why You Should Visit:
Absolutely one of the great places in Japan where you can see a large variety of Zen gardens and experience Zen culture & architecture.
Not to be compared to the large sights, but definitely worth visiting for a more quiet/relaxing atmosphere.

Admission into the grounds is free, though some sub-temples have nominal fees.
Take your time to learn about the symbology of the placement of the rocks, sand, moss, pine trees, etc.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5pm (Mar-Nov); 9am-4:30pm (Dec-Feb)
Ryogen-in Temple

5) Ryogen-in Temple

The Ryogen-in Temple is a sub temple of the Daitoku ji temple complex in Kyoto. It is famous for the five Zen Buddhist style gardens in front of the house of the Abbot.

The Ryogen-in Temple was established in 1450. It was destroyed during the Onin civil war and rebuilt in 1502 by Hatakeyama Yoshimoto a local nobleman. The temple was handed over to the priest Tokei Soboku of the Daitoku ji temple. It was at this time that the gardens surrounding the temple were laid. All the gardens were designed to promote deep concentration and facilitate Zen meditation.

One garden of the Ryogen-in Temple is a traditional sand and stone landscape called the Kare-san-sui or dry garden. The Ryogintei is a rectangular garden that can be viewed from the patio of the Abbott’s house. It is a traditional garden consisting of moss and stones. The stones garden is considered the finest example of Karesansui landscaping. There is no pond, plant or tree here and it is located at the southern part of the Abbott’s residence. There are two smaller gardens with stone sculptures designed by professional landscape designers called Kawaramono in consultation with the Zen Buddhist monks. Two other notable features are the Main Gate and the image of the Buddha in the main hall. Both are designated Important Cultural Properties of the city of Kyoto.
Kinkaku-ji Temple

6) Kinkaku-ji Temple (must see)

The Kinkaku-ji Temple, or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is one of the most popular among Kyoto's temples, having been included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1994.

The Kinkaku-ji Temple was a house belonging to a powerful politician called Saionji Kintsune. The Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu purchased it as his retirement home in 1397 and under his will asked that the temple be converted into a Zen Buddhist temple dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Mercy, Kannon in 1408. The temple was burned during the Onin civil war and later by a novice monk called Hayashi Yoken. The present building was constructed and decorated in 1955. The upper floors of the temple were completely covered in pure gold leaf.

The Kinkaku-ji temple has three floors with different architectural styles. The first floor called the house of the Dharma waters is designed in the 11th-century Shinden style of Haien buildings. The second floor called the Tower of the Sound Waves contains the idol of Kannon and has the design of traditional Samurai houses. The third floor has the design of a traditional Zen temple with the image of the Amida Buddha and 25 Bodhisattvas. The temple is crowned by a Chinese phoenix. It is surrounded by a pond with traditional Japanese islets and dense green shrubs.

Why You Should Visit:
Super famous, super beautiful, with grounds that include a 600-year-old bonsai tree.
Much larger pond and lovely photogenic corners here, more so than across town at Ginkaku-ji.

Come late in the afternoon or during sunset when the golden pavilion reflects the sunlight.
Be prepared for hordes of people and food/merchandise stalls – one of the most commercial temples in Kyoto.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5pm
Hirano-Jinja Shrine

7) Hirano-Jinja Shrine (must see)

The Hirano Shrine is located to the south of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. It is a Shinto shrine well known for its gardens and trees and is particularly popular during Hanami or the Cherry Blossom viewing season.

The Hirano Shrine was established in 794 by Emperor Kammu. The shrine received patronage from the imperial family and was often visited by them. It was also a popular place of worship among the Genji nobles and the Heike Samurai lords. In 1871, it was declared a Kanpei-taisha or a temple that was among those of the first rank of government supported shrines.

The Hirano Shrine is the venue of many festivals. The most important one is the Cherry Blossom festival held since 985. The celebrations began during the reign of Emperor Kazan. It is the oldest continuing celebration in the city. The celebrations begin every April with a ceremony in front of the mausoleum of Emperor Kazan and continue for a whole week. At this time a number of stalls are erected selling snacks and beer. Traditional games in honor of the Hirano no Yazakura are held here. The present buildings of the Hirano shrine date back to the 17th century and are all designated Important Cultural Properties.

Why You Should Visit:
To enjoy amazing views of Sakura (there are 60 kinds of cherry blossoms in this shrine!) together with diverse choices of food.
While you need to pay a fee for most places in Kyoto for the night illumination of the cherry blossoms, this place is free.
Many local people are having their Hanami parties here, so it's a good opportunity to experience the local culture.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 6am-5pm
Illumination 2018: Mar 25-Apr 20, until 9pm
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

8) Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

The Kitano Tenmangu Shrine was built to appease the wrath of Sugawara Michizane a scholar and politician who was wrongfully exiled from Kyoto to Kyushu. It is dedicated to Tenjin the Shinto God of learning and is the place of worship for those who pray for success in exams.

The Kitano Tenmangu Shrine was built in 947 and enlarged in 959. It is one of the popular shrines among the emperors, shoguns and the common people through the ages. The main Honden or Main Hall was built in 1607 by Toyotomi Hideyori. The central gate is called the Sankomon or the gate of the Three Luminaries. This is because it is covered with sculptures of the sun, moon and stars. All the buildings have been designated as Important Cultural properties and are regarded as the finest examples of Momoyama architecture.

The grounds of the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine have over 2000 plum trees that were particular favorites of Sugawara Michizane. They bloom between February and March and a festival called Baikasai is celebrated and attended by Geikos and Maikos who perform tea ceremonies for visitors to the shrine. It is also popular for a flea market held on the 25th of every month. The market sells affordable arts and crafts, ceramics, calligraphy tools and souvenirs for visitors to take back as mementoes of their visit to Japan.
Toji-in Temple

9) Toji-in Temple (must see)

Dating back to 1341, the Toji-in Temple is a rather small religious site, unlike the neighboring Kinkaku-ji. The Hojo (main hall) and adjoining Reikoden (Hall of Sacred Light) are wonderful and worth exploring for the treasures they contain; however, the main attraction is the garden. The first one you will see is centered on Shinji-ike Pond, which is shaped like the kanji (Chinese character) for heart or mind. The western section of the garden is built around a pond shaped like a lotus flower.

Overlooking the Shinji-ike is the Seirentei teahouse, which dates back to 1457. The teahouse is a classic example of the wabi-sabi ideal of rustic simplicity that defines tea ceremony aesthetics.

This Ashikaga Shogun family temple should not be confused with the famous Toji Temple located in central Kyoto.

Why You Should Visit:
Not a dry Zen garden, but the compositions are pretty much perfect.
Balance, layers, scale, colors: somebody got everything just right here.
Almost completely ignored by tourists, you can enjoy the quiet atmosphere.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5pm

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