Top 5 Sightseeing Spots in Kyoto's Sakyo Ward

by GoWithGuide travel specialist

Sakyo is an area in the northeastern part of Kyoto, and has a great mix of temples, gardens, shrines, and waterfalls. It is also the area of Japan that is home to Mt. Hiei, a beautiful mountain standing 848 meters tall, and a great place for a hike. At the top of the mountain is a World Heritage temple, Enryaku-ji, and scenic views of Kyoto and Lake Biwa. So, if you are traveling in and around Kyoto, be sure to head to Sakyo Ward. Here are the top five attractions:

Sanzen-in Temple 

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This temple is so beloved that whenever Ohara is mentioned, people always think of Sanzen-in. In the beautiful mossy garden, smiling child jizo statues show their faces charming the hearts of visitors.

When the monk Saicho built Enryaku-ji Temple in 788, the construction of a thatched hut underneath a huge pear tree in Minamidani at the East Pagoda is said to have been the beginnings of Sanzen-in Temple. Afterwards, it became a temple administered by the family of an Imperial prince which was repeatedly moved from Mt. Hiei to Omi-Sakamoto to Kyoto. In 1871, following the Meiji Restoration, the Ohara Government House was made into the main hall and the temple was given the name of Sanzen-in.

Within the stonewall-surrounded Gotenmon gate, a silent world spreads out and time flows slowly. You can enjoy the elegance of the four seasons with the spring cherry blossoms, the early summer hydrangeas, the fall leaves and the winter snow. The two different gardens provide soothing views. Joheki-en Garden, which resembles a picture scroll in front of the guest hall, was a place whose natural scenery so impressed Edo Era tea master Sowa Kanemori when he saw it from the guest hall that he added the garden. The scenery has a feeling of solidity, and you can view it at your own leisure from the guest hall. At the elegant Yusei-en Garden in front of the Shinden hall, there is green moss, cedar and cypress around the pond, and throughout the garden, child jizo statues warmly look over the visitors. It is said that the statues rescue people in an evil world. There is the Golden Water in the garden which trickles into Benten Pond and if you put your hand into the water, it’s good for granting long life and prosperity. The god of wealth and entertainment, Benzaiten, is also enshrined there. Inside Ojo-Gokuraku-in Hall, gold-colored statues of the three Amida divinities are enshrined, atypically kneeling in the Japanese style. There, you can sense the godliness of heaven.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 700 / Child: ¥ 150

Guidebook from Planetyze about Sanzen-in Temple 
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Sanzen-in Temple 
Tours of Sanzen-in Temple 


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Kurama is in the middle of a thickly-forested mountain. While hiking there in the crisp air, visit Yugi Shrine, famous for its Fire Festival and Kurama-dera Temple which is known as a power spot.

A large tengu is displayed in front of Eizan Railway’s Kurama Station. It’s said that a tengu resides on Mt. Kurama, and that it’s known that he taught the art of Japanese swordsmanship to Ushiwakamaru (General Minamoto-no Yoshitsune). A Buddhist temple gate (Nioumon) close to the station is the entrance to Mt. Kurama. A one-way 2-min. cable car ride will take you to Tahoto Station. It’s a fairly steep climb if walking, but if stopping off at Yugi Shrine, famous for the Kurama Fire Festival, it is necessary from Nioumon. You can see photos of the Fire Festival at Yugi Shrine and buy charms and hand towels with the festival motif. Passing the shrine, the winding path continues on, but the clean air, refreshed by nature, feels very good.

The Main Golden Hall of Kurama-dera Temple is known to be where Ushiwakamaru spent his childhood. The “Rokubousei” or Hexagram in front of the main building of Kurama-dera Temple is popular as a power spot where it’s said that the energy of Heaven descends, and if you stand in the center, you can feel that energy. Going to Kibune Temple, take the Ki-no-Nemichi path from Reihouden Hall. It is a winding road that will take about 1 hour to traverse and it’s known as the place where Ushiwakamaru practiced. Take the same path to return to Kurama Station, and you can take a short break at a café specializing in Japanese sweets right by Nioumon. If you have the chance, please experience up close the “Kurama Fire Festival” which occurs every October 22nd. A traditional rite that began from a wish for peace during the Heian Era, men wearing the straw sandals of samurai run throughout the town carrying flaming torches 4 meters in length and 100 kg in weight, yelling “Sairei, sairyo”, which makes for a thrilling sight as the mikoshi (portable shrines) are passing by in a shower of sparks. The appearance of torches lighting up the darkness packs a real punch.

Admission: ¥ 300

Guidebook from Planetyze about Kurama
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kurama
Tours of Kurama


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Located in northeast Kyoto, Ohara is a quiet area with plenty of beautiful nature in a mountain valley. Since the temples and tourist spots are grouped close together, one of its good points is that once you reach the area, you can tour around on foot. Along with the famous Sanzen-in Temple in Ohara, there are a number of other spots that we recommend.

There are many places to see at Hosen-in, with the appearance of 700-year-old Japanese white pine trees taking on the shape of Mt. Omi-Fuji, designated as Natural Monuments, being overwhelming. The ceiling of the open corridor is called the “Ceiling of Blood” because it consists of planks that used to be the floor boards on which warriors had committed ritual suicide before the Battle of Sekigahara. They were made to be part of the ceiling as a memorial tribute. The bamboo garden that looks like a painting within the frame of pillars is wonderful. There are also sukinkutsu earthen jars from which you can enjoy the sound of water drops falling from bamboo pipes. Matcha tea and Japanese confections are provided so you can also enjoy a leisurely time there.

There is a beautiful waterfall 3 to 4 meters in height further beyond Raigo-in Temple on a mountain road. When Ryonin, who had rebuilt Raigo-in, was practicing chanting while praying to Buddha, the chanting synchronized with the sound of the water and canceled that sound out, thereby leading to the naming of the waterfall as “Otonashi-no-Taki” (silent waterfall).

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Ohara
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Ohara
Tours of Ohara

Mount Hiei

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An 848m mountain on the border of Kyoto and Shiga Prefectures, it’s a place of picturesque scenery where Lake Biwa can be seen below to the east and all of Kyoto to the west.

There is a 9-minute scenic route by Eizan Cable which is the pride of Japan that traverses 561m in altitude starting from Kyoto’s Yase-Hieizanguchi Station. The cherry blossoms of spring, the fresh green leaves of summer and the fall colors are beautiful. You can get a panoramic view of Kyotofrom the plaza at Hieizan Station and also experience the olden custom of writing wishes on unglazed dishes and throwing them into the valley below. While looking down onto Kyoto, the ropeway will take you up to the top of the mountain in 3 minutes. At the Garden Museum Hiei at the top, there are works by French Impressionists re-created on porcelain panels. Along with the scenic view of Kyoto and Lake Biwa, you can enjoy the flora of the four seasons and the paintings as well as the Hana-no-Ashiyu foot bath. From the Tsutsujigaoka Observation Platform, you can see the mountain range of Kyoto-Ohara, and early in the summer, the azaleas are out in full bloom in the plaza. You can reach the World Heritage site of Enryaku-ji Temple by taking a bus from the mountain top in 5 minutes or 30 minutes on foot. After touring the temple, we recommend taking the Sakamoto cable car, the longest one of its type in Japan and head for Sakamoto Station in Shiga Prefecture.

Founded on the top of Mt. Hiei in 788 by the monk Saichou, Enryaku-ji Temple consists of 3 areas: the East Pagoda, the West Pagoda and Yokokawa. There is a main hall in each area and the temple grounds at 500 hectares are known to be a large sacred site of Buddhism which led it to be registered as a World Heritage site. Don’t miss Konponchu-do Hall (a National Treasure), the East Pagoda with the Amida Hall, and the West Pagoda with the Shaka-do Hall which is the oldest building on the mountain.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Mount Hiei
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Mount Hiei
Tours of Mount Hiei

Kibune Shrine

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Kibune Shrine, which has a history of 1500 years and is surrounded by woods along the banks of the Kibune River, the source of the Kamo River, is a shrine that deifies the God of Water. It’s separated into 3 rear shrines: the main shrine devoted to the God of Water, an associated shrine devoted to the God of Marriage, and the site of the original main shrine. It is also said to be one of Japan’s three major marriage shrines and known as the place where Izumi Shikibu, one of the poets for the Hyakunin Isshu anthology, visited to pray for reconciliation with her husband. A 30-minute walk from Kibune-guchi Station, the shrine has 2 torii (shrine archways). Beyond those archways, there are scarlet lanterns along the stone steps which are popular as photography spots at the shrine.

With the spring water flowing from Mt. Kibune where the shrine is located to the stone wall in front of the main building, mizu-uranai with this holy water is very popular. Receiving fortune slips at the conferment place, they are dipped into the holy water and as characters emerge, you can find out your fortune. Moreover, wishes to be written in pieces of paper can be purchased at the main shrine, and when they are tied to places at the associated shrines, it is said that the God will determine all destinies for things such as romance, friendship, higher education and job hunting. During the summer between May and September, you can enjoy a meal on the riverbed, a special feature at Kibune. You can experience the local cuisine of Kyoto on the bed of the Kibune River where cool breezes blow by during the humid summers there. In addition, there is the famous restaurant “Hirobun” at the riverbed where you can enjoy nagashi somen (flowing noodles), a seasonal dish only available in summer. The somen flows on half-cut bamboo pipes so you can grab them with chopsticks, dip them into dashi (stock) and eat them. To get to Kibune Shrine, you can also walk from Kurama-dera Temple for 1 hour along the Ki-no-Nemichi path.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Kibune Shrine
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kibune Shrine
Tours of Kibune Shrine

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