Sprawling from Kyoto’s southeastern Yamashina Ward through Fushimi Ward and Minami Ward into Yawata City, the southern area of Kyoto may be more spread out than the city center, but it still has several interesting shrines and temples to offer. Including UNESCO World Heritage temples, the famous ten thousand torii gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha, and other shrines, temples, and gardens, don’t neglect heading south during your trip to Kyoto!
A UNESCO World Heritage Site located in southeastern Kyoto, Daigo-ji is a Shingon Buddhist temple with over 1,100 years of history. The sprawling complex starts at the top of a mountain and spreads downward, composed of Lower (Shimo-Daigo) and Upper (Kami-Daigo) sections. Multiple buildings and treasures of the temple are designated as National Treasures and Cultural Assets, including the wooden statue of the temple’s main object of worship, Yakushi Nyorai (the Medicine Buddha). The path leading from the entrance gate up through the temple’s two-storied Niōmon Gate is lined with cherry blossoms and then maple trees, making the area famous in spring and fall. Once inside the Lower Daigo area, don’t miss the famous five-storied pagoda, the oldest wooden structure that has written proof of age in Kyoto. A combined ticket for the temple grants entry to three areas, including the main precincts, the treasure hall, and the Sanbō-in sub-temple.
A shrine located in southern Kyoto, Fujinomori Shrine is said to have been founded by Emperor Jingu even before Kyoto became the capital in the 700s. The origin of Children’s Day was born at Fujinomori Shrine, and today it is known for answering prays in relation to victory, studies, and horse racing. This shrine has a history of connections to the imperial family, and on the grounds there is a sprawling hydrangea garden lovely in June.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
With a history tracing back to the 8th century, Fushimi Inari Taisha is the headquarters of the some 30,000 Inari shrines around the country. Located on and around Mt. Inari, the shrine complex is comprised of easily accessible worship halls at the base of the mountain connected via vermilion torii gate-lined paths winding up the heavily wooded heights to more remote inner shrines and surprises that require some hiking to reach. Some ten thousand torii gates line the walkways of Fushimi Inari Taisha and serve as its most charming and outstanding feature. Another popular point of this shrine is the numerous statues of kitsune, foxes who are thought to serve as the messengers of the god of agriculture and business, Inari. It’s quite fun to take a stroll throughout the shrine grounds seeing how many sorts of fox statues you can locate. At the base of the mountain visitors can enjoy the large first torii gate right outside the local train station as well as the towering shrine gate before reaching the prayer hall, the main hall, and the shrine offices, with several souvenir shops nearby selling all manner of fox-related memorabilia. A short hike up a slight incline takes one to the mid-way shrine where you can write a wish on a fox-shaped votive tablet. Those with more time and energy can continue hiking up the mountain to the shrine at the very top and discover some of the more hidden gems of the shrine the deeper you go in to the forest, as well as enjoy the panoramic view of the city below.
Located in Fushimi Ward, Gokōnomiya Shrine is famous for its pure spring water and prayers for safe childbirth. If you’re in Fushimi to check out the local sake breweries you won’t want to miss this shrine, where brewers have been praying for centuries to improve their product. Containing a stone garden, Gokōnomiya Shrine also stands out for its colorful and vibrant Momoyama-style architecture, with gorgeously renewed woodcarvings in a water motif.
Located in the neighboring city of Yawata, Iwashimizu Hachimangū is a large shrine complex on top of Mt. Otokoyama that allows visitors to experience nature and Shinto removed from the crowds that can be encountered in Kyoto proper. With a history over a thousand years old, Iwashimizu Hachimangū is one of only four remaining examples of the Hachiman-zukuri architecture style that involves the skillful combination of different structures and their roofs that look from the outside to be wholly separate but are actually a single interior. Featuring colorful wood carvings of flora and fauna, hundreds of stone lanterns and a surprise connection to Thomas Edison, Iwashimizu Hachimangū makes for a delightful trip out of the city.
A lovely shrine located in southern Kyoto, Jōnangū is a pleasant getaway from the more crowded shrines and temples in the city center. With five separate gardens surrounding the main shrine area, visitors are able to enjoy a variety of natural offerings and take a relaxing stroll through the precincts enjoying whatever flowers are in season – though Jōnangū is particularly famous for its weeping plum blossoms in late winter and early spring. The gods of the shrine are said to have control over direction-based luck, so those about to move or take a trip might want to stop by and offer a prayer.
Located in Yamashina Ward, Kajū-ji offers a serene getaway for visitors to enjoy outside the more crowded bustle of the city proper. The Hyōchi-en garden on the temple grounds is famous for its pond, the Himuro no Ike, which is home to a variety of water birds, koi, and gorgeous flowers such as iris, water lilies, and lotus. A thousand years ago, the winter ice from this pond was used to divine the coming year’s harvests at the imperial palace, and it was classified as a monzeki temple, with head priests being selected from the imperial lineage. Those looking for a quiet retreat and nature’s beauty would be well served with Yamashina’s Kajū-ji.
A temple belonging to the Zentsu-ji branch of the Shingon sect, Zuishin-in is a quiet temple slightly removed from the city center. Located in Yamashina, the temple is also called the Mandala Temple after a legend in which the founding priest’s mother had been reincarnated as a cow whose hide the priest made a mandala (a spiritual symbol representing the universe) from once it passed away. The famous beauty and poet Ono no Komachi is connected to this temple, and items related to her are scattered about the temple halls and the gardens. Zuishin-in’s appeal is in its seclusion, as a visit to this temple is likely to allow you to really relax and just enjoy the atmosphere without worrying about big crowds, with the potential exception of the famous flowering plum season.
A Tendai sect temple located a short trip away from the city center in Yamashina Ward, Bishamon-dō is famous for its 150-year old cherry tree and lovely autumn maple leaves. Worshipping Bishamonten (Vaisravana), one of the Four Heavenly Kings of Buddhism, the temple is home to an interesting collection of fusuma-e screen paintings and a charming pond garden. A monzeki temple with a history of imperial princes serving as head priests, Bishamon-dō is also known as a temple with a connection to the story of the famous 47 rōnin, and one location visited by a parade of reenactors who participate in the 47 Rōnin Festival (Yamashina Gishi Matsuri).