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The Best Spots of Kyoto that You May Not Have Heard of

Kyoto, Japan’s popular historical national treasure.
First time and repeat visitors will probably know the popular sights such as Kiyomizu temple, Arashiyama, and Nijo-jo castle.

The most popular is probably Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion. Certainly the shining and splendid Golden building is a sight to behold, but a common complaint is that it is not possible to get up close and personal with it, always remaining at a distance. It’s also quite a distance from Kyoto station and other hotels, making access not the most convenient.

Because of this, many people will take the bus or taxi there, visit the temple, and then return to the town centre. However, we’re here to tell you that you’re missing out!

In fact there are many amazing areas to visit near Kinkakuji, in the north of Tokyo. As someone who grew up in the North of Tokyo and cycled past Kinkakuji every day on the way to high school, I’d like to introduce to you the best recommended spots in Kyoto which may not have initially been on your radar! 

1) Toujiin temple, 15 minutes away from Kinkakuji 

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This temple is situated just 2km away from Kinkakuji(Golden Pavilion) and easily accessible by bus or foot, and boasts a beautiful garden. It was built by Japan’s most famous Shogun, Ashikawa Takauji. It’s most attractive aspect is the traditional garden that reflects the beauty of each season and combines two gardens that have styles from the east and west. 

There is also a great photo opportunity spot with the “Daruma-e”, a picture of a Daruma, which originates from a Buddhist sect founder “Taishi Daruma”. Darumas are commonplace ornaments in Japan, thought to bring good fortune, and they are ubiquitous around Japan. 

Toujiin Temple

Address: 63 Toujiin kita-machi, Kita-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 603-8346
Access: 10min walk from TŌjiin Station, Keifuku(Randen) Kitano-Line 8min walk from TŌjiin Minamimachi Bus Stop, Kyoto City Bus 26 from Kyoto Station/10min walk from Ritsumeikan Daigaku-mae(Ritsumeikan Univ.) Bus stop, Kyoto City Bus 12,15,51,59 from Kyoto Station
Opening Hours: Open from 9:00am to 4:00pm
Entrance fee: Adult: 300Yen / Child:200Yen

2) Kitano Tenmangu - A must visit for students, the God of learning 

Also situated 2km from Kinkakuji is Kitano Tenmangu, which houses the God of learning and where the famous figure Sugawara Michizane was enshrined. 

Many students with their families come here to pray for success during the entrance exam season in January and February. When entering the temple, you are likely to see many people touching the cow statue. The cow is said to have been owned by Sugawara Michizane, and it is believed that stroking the head of the cow will increase intelligence. 

The temple is also known for its plum flowers which were treasured by Michizane. There are around 1500 trees of 50 varieties and is the most famous plum tree viewing spot in Kyoto when they are in season. 

One can cure the blossoms around February to March, where you can see the sight of plum blossoms that have been treasured in japan throughout the ages. It’s certainly a place to visit if you come during the winter months. 

Although the official name of the temple is Kitano Tenmangu, it is affectionately known by the locals as “Tenjin san” so it may be easier to use this name if you need to ask for directions to get there. 

Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine

Address: Bakuro-cho,Kamigyo-ku,Kyoto City,Kyoto Prefecture 602-8386
Access: In front of Kitano Tenmangu-mae Bus Stop, Kyoto City Bus 5O or 101 from Kyoto Station/Kyoto City Bus 203 from Demachiyanagi Station
Opening Hours:
- Open from 5:00am to 6:00pm (April – September)
- Open from 5:30am to 5:30pm (October – March)
- Hours of operation for Shrine office/Conferment site : 9:00am to 5:00pm
Entrance fee: Free

3) Kamigamo shrine, a highly recommended spot with many hidden treasures

This shrine is a little far from Kinkakuji, but it is a highly recommended spot if you are in the Northern Kyoto area. The official name is the “Kamowake ikazuchijinja”.

The shrine is around 30 minutes from Kinkakuji, by foot and then taking a bus. You can catch the number 46 bus from the “Senbon Kitaoji” bus stop, which is about 12 minutes by foot from Kinkakuji, and then get off at the “Kamigamo Shrine” bus stop which will be announced on the bus.

It is known as one of Kyoto’s oldest shrines, with the main hall being designated as a national treasure, as well as a total of 41 items designated as items of cultural importance, allowing visitors to see a number of important historical objects.

While the temple is a famous historical site, as it is a fair distance from the main town area, it is comparatively quiet without the madding crowds that you are likely to see at the more famous temples and shrines. With the small river, grassy areas and natural surroundings, one can enjoy a tranquil shrine experience with an atmosphere just as it was during times past.

Kamigamo Jinja Shrine (Kamo-wake-ikazuchi Jinja Shrine)

Address: 339 Motoyama, Kamigamo, Kita-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 603-8047
Access: In front of Kamigamo Jinja Bus Stop, Kyoto City Bus 4 from Kyoto Station
Opening Hours: Open from 5:30am to 5:00pm
Entrance fee: Free

4) For luck and beauty – Shimogamo shrine

This is a sister shrine to the above mentioned “Kamigamo shrine”, with this shrine known as “Shimogamo Jinja”, with its official name being Kamomioya Jinja.

From Kamigamo shrine, this shrine takes about 20 minutes to access by bus. (One can take the number 4 bus from in front of Kamigamo shrine, and once arrived, is a 5 minute walk).

Similarly to Kamigamo shrine, this shrine also has a long history with a spacious main hall, and various structures where Gods are enshrined.

The most popular are the “Aioi no Yashiro” and “Kawaii Shrine”. In the “Aioiyashiro” there is an enshrined tree where two trunks intersect and merge into one, and is believed to be a shrine to bring fortune in love and safe child birth.

In the “Kawaii Shrine” a Goddess of beauty enshrined. In most temples, you will see “Ema” which are wooden plaques with various prayers written on them and hung up in the temple quarters. The “Ema” in this shrine are particularly unique, with a face drawn on a board shaped like a hand mirror. By applying makeup to this “Ema” board with the face, it is said to bring inner and outer beauty.

Shimogamo Jinja Shrine (Kamo-mioya Jinja Shrine)

Address: 59 Izumigawa-cho, Shimogamo, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture 606-0807
- 12min walk from Demachiyanagi Station, Keihan line
- 2min walk from Shimogamo Jinja-mae Bus Stop, Kyoto City Bus 4 or 205 from Kyoto Station
Opening Hours: Open from 6:30am to 5:00pm
Entrance fee: Free

5) “Ichijoji” for Ramen Lovers!

If you are partial to Ramen, we highly recommend visiting Ichijoji temple after the above places. It can be accessed by getting off at the "Ichi-ji Temple" station about 3 minutes from the Eizan Electric Railway "Demachiyanagi Station", which is 12 minutes on foot from Shimogamo Shrine.

This area is famous for many competing Ramen shops with many establishments known to Ramen connoisseurs in Japan, so we hope you can find your favourite one!