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Autumn Colors in Kyoto
Where to see the best colors and autumn scenes in the Old Capital
November is peak autumn color time in Kyoto. From mid-November onwards, the maple leaves reach their finest shades of red. Kyoto is home to many famous and lesser known autumn leaf viewing locations. Here are recommended areas and destinations for seeing the autumn colors of Kyoto at their finest...
Northern Kyoto Autumn Walking Routes
Scenic Beauty Sites in the Shisen-do Temple Area One part of Kyoto that offers both a rustic rural atmosphere and serene natural beauty is the area northeast of Kita Shirakawa and Kitaoji. Here in a few short hours visitors can see terraced, open fields, old farm villas, quiet country lanes and wonderful views of north and west Kyoto. The highlights of this special area are Shisen-do Temple, Enko-ji Temple, and Manshu-in Temple. During the peak autumn season this area is particularly beautiful.
Shisen-do Temple was the residence of the Edo-period samurai Jozan Ishikawa (1583-1672). Ishikawa was a prominent samurai who served Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first Tokugawa shogun. At age 59, Ishikawa decided to retire and follow his long-standing interest in literature. In 1641 he built his residence on the northeastern edge of the city and devoted himself to Chinese poetry and philosophy. He designed the famous garden that surrounds the residence. After Ishikawa's death, the house was turned into a Buddhist temple.
Shisen-do Temple; © kazu
The official name of this temple is Jozan-ji Temple but most people know it as Shisen-do Temple as one of the rooms in the main building is called the Shisen no Ma or the Room of China's 36 Great Poets. Along the upper walls of the room hang portraits of China's 36 legendary poets painted by Tanyu Kano (1602-1674). To each portrait Ishikawa added a poem by that poet.
In addition to his literary talents, Ishikawa is also well known as a garden designer. He designed several gardens in Kyoto including the one surrounding his residence. From the study at Shisen-do Temple visitors can enjoy splendid views of the garden including its sculpted azalea bushes (which bloom in May) and a backdrop of beautiful maple trees. After seeing the main building visitors can enter the garden, which has a lovely mountain stream running through it, and see a wide range of seasonal flowers and plants and a small bamboo grove.
The garden is famous for its shishi odoshi, a device used to scare away deer and wild boar. It consists of a bamboo pipe set up like a teeter totter. One end of the pipe is filled by a small waterfall. When the pipe end is full it falls on a rock and makes a loud knock!
Open: 9:00-17:00; 500 yen; Tel: 075-781-2954; http://www.kyoto-shisendo.com/
Enko-ji Temple is a short walk north of Shisen-do Temple. The temple was founded in 1601 by Ieyasu Tokugawa in Fushimi, in the southern part of Kyoto, as a place to study and promote Confucianism. Both monks and laymen were allowed to study at the temple. It was moved to its current location in 1667.
Enko-ji Temple; © kazu
On your right as you enter the temple stands a small hall with exhibits related to the temple's history. The hall has a stunning six-panel folding screen painted by Okyo Maruyama (1733-1795). The sliding door paintings in the main hall, with its impressive altar, are also exquisite. The temple garden is famous for its maple leaves. At the north end of the garden, look for a small statue of a boy watched by two mice.
Open: 9:00-16:30; 400 yen; Tel: 075-781-8025.
Manshu-in Temple is about a 15-min. walk north of Enko-ji Temple. It was founded in the 8th century by the Buddhist monk Saicho on the slopes of nearby Mount Hiei. Originally the temple was known as Tobi-bo. It was renamed some time in the 12th century. In 1656, it was moved to its present location.
Manshu-in Temple; © kazu
The temple is also known as Manshuin Monzeki. The head priests of monzeki temples were either members of the Imperial family or from one of the regency families that advised the Emperor.
The main rooms of the temple are decorated with impressive sliding door and folding screen paintings. The Tiger Room features masterpiece works by Eitoku Kano (1543-1590) of the important Kano school of artists. The Waterfall Room features the work of Tanyu Kano (1602-1674). The main garden at Manshu-in, a karesansui dry landscape garden, is home to a stately 400-year-old pine tree.
Open: 9:00-17:00; 600 yen; Tel: 075-781-5010; http://www.manshuinmonzeki.jp/
The Country Charms of Ohara
Ohara is one of the most beautiful areas of Kyoto at any time of year. In autumn it is an especially popular destination. An exploration of the area will yield numerous surprises including thatch-roofed farm houses, ancient temple and garden settings, and interesting shops.
Sanzen-in Temple is Ohara's main attraction. The temple, dating from the 12th century, is famous for its lush moss-covered garden set in a grove of tall cedar trees. A small hall in the garden is home to an important statue of the Amida Buddha flanked by two kneeling attendants. There are many maples leading up to the temple gate and in its upper garden areas. Open: 8:30-17:00; 700 yen; Tel: 075-744-2531; http://www.sanzenin.or.jp/
Nearby Shorin-in Temple was founded in 1013 as a training hall for Tendai Buddhist chanting. The impressive main hall of the temple was last rebuilt in 1777. Open: 9:00-17:00; 300 yen; Tel: 075-744-2537.
On the west side of the Ohara stands legendary Jakko-in Temple. The temple was built as a nunnery in 1186 and plays an important part in the tragic Tale of the Heike. In 1999, the temple, home to one of Japan's finest jizo statues (patron saint of children) and a precious 700-year-old pine tree, was destroyed in a fire. The temple has been rebuilt but its ancient atmosphere has largely been lost. Open: 9:00-17:00; 600 yen; Tel: 075-744-3341; http://www.jakkoin.jp/
The Wonders of Kibune & Kurama
One of Kyoto's best hiking destinations is the Kibune/Kurama area, a 30-minute train ride north of Keihan Railway's Demachiyanagi Stn.. The recommended way to do this route is to get off the train at Kibune-guchi (one stop before the end of the line), walk up through Kibune village, and then hike over the mountain to Kurama.
Eizan Railway train to Kibune; © kazu
Kibune village is home to many old ryokan and Kifune Shrine. The approach to Kifune Shrine is up a well-worn stone staircase lined on either side by distinctive red wooden lanterns. The shrine, more than 1600 years old, enshrines the god of water and rain. It has long been an important pilgrimage destination for farmers and sake brewers. The path to the upper part of the shrine (at the north end of the village) leads past a number of ancient cedar trees. Open: 6:00-20:00; Tel: 075-741-2016; http://kibune.jp/jinja/
Kifune Shrine; © kazu
About half-way through Kibune village you will see an orange bridge. This is the beginning of the mountain walk that leads to Kurama Temple (at the top) and then from there down to Kurama Village. The steep path up the mountain, covered with tree roots, is easy to follow. At the top stands Kurama Temple said to be home to a powerful cosmic spiritual energy. The views from open area in front of the main temple building are impressive and, on a clear day, you can see Kyoto City far to the south. Open: 9:00-16:30; 200 yen; Tel: 075-741-2003. For a great way to end the day, relax in the outdoor baths at Kurama Onsen. The onsen is at the north end of the village (entry: 1,000 yen).
Kurama Temple; © kazu
Recommended Autumn Leaf Viewing Locations
Kyoto Imperial Park
This vast green area has many maple trees in different settings. Free of charge; Karasuma subway line, get off at Imadegawa or Marutamachi Stn..
Heian Shrine was built in 1895 and modelled on Kyoto's original imperial palace. The shrine's Shin-en Garden, four linked garden areas, flow around the west, north and east side of the main hall and are perfect for autumn color viewing. Open: 8:30-16:30; free of charge (600 yen for the Shin-en Garden); Kyoto City Bus #5, get off at Kyoto Kaikan Bijutsukan-mae.
This shrine, set in a vast forested precinct, is especially popular in autumn. Free of charge; a 10-min. walk from Keihan Demachiyanagi Stn. or take Kyoto City Bus #205, get off at Shimogamo-jinja-mae.
Kitano Tenmangu Shrine
There are about 250 maple trees in the precinct of this important shrine. Open: 5:30-17:00; free of charge (300 yen for the Homotsu-den Treasure House); Kyoto City Bus #50, get off at Kitano Tenmangu-mae.
The grounds of this temple, home to two of Kyoto's finest karesansui dry landscape gardens, is famous for its maple trees. Open: 8:40-17:00; entry: Hojo building: 500 yen, Sanmon Gate: 500 yen; Tozai subway line, get off at Keage Stn.
Saga and Arashiyama Area
One of most loved maple viewing areas in Japan. Since ancient times, people have come from far and wide to see the bright reds of the maples that cover the slopes along the south side of the river. The Togetsu-kyo Bridge is a favorite viewing point and walks along both sides of the river are full of picturesque locations. Access via JR Saga Arashiyama Stn. or Keifuku Arashiyama Stn.
This temple site used to be a part of an imperial villa and its impressive pond stroll garden incorporates views of the bright red Arashiyama mountains in the background. Open: 8:30-17:00; 500 yen; a 10-min. walk from JR Saga Arashiyama Stn..
This temple, founded in 888, has strong connections with the imperial family and is home to many maple trees. Open: 9:00-16:30; 500 yen; Kyoto City Bus #26, get off at Omuro Ninnaji.
Special Night Time Light-up Locations
This temple was built by the wife of legendary warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1606. The temple's stunning garden, full of maple trees, will be lit up in the evenings until Dec. 4. Open: 9:00-17:00, sunset-21:30; 600 yen; Kyoto City Bus #100, 206, get off at Higashiyama Yasui.
Kodai-ji Temple; © kazu
Nene, Toyotomi Hideyoshi's wife, became a nun after his death, and retired to this temple in 1606. The temple's Zen garden is elegantly lit up (until Dec. 4). Open: 9:00-17:00, sunset-21:30; 500 yen; Kyoto City Bus #100, 206, get off at Higashiyama Yasui.
Entoku-in Temple; © kazu
The serene gardens of Shoren-in Temple are a delightful place to enjoy the autumn colors by day and by night (Oct. 29-Dec. 4). Open: 18:00-21:30; 800 yen; Kyoto City Bus #5, get off at Jingu-michi.
The temple's stunning Miei-do Hall, San-mon Gate, Hojo Garden and Yuzen-en Garden will be lit up (Nov. 5-27). Open: 17:30-21:00; 800 yen; Kyoto City Bus #206, get off at Chionin-mae.
Eikan-do Temple was built in 853 as a Shingon sect monastery. It became a temple of the Jodo sect of Buddhism under Eikan, the temple's 7th head abbot. The temple precinct, home to many maple trees, will be lit up (Nov. 5-30). Open: 17:30-20:30; 600 yen; Kyoto City Bus #5, get off at Nanzenji Eikando-mae.
The views of the city from this temple's famous wooden veranda, overlooking a valley of maple leaves, are magnificent. The temple and much of the grounds will be illuminated (Nov. 11-Dec. 4). Open: 18:30-21:30; 400 yen; Kyoto City Bus #206, get off at Kiyomizu-michi.
Kiyomizu Temple; © kazu