Some of the most picturesque parts of Kyoto are located in Higashiyama (東山, lit. eastern mountains), the eastern region of the city, across the Kamo River (鴨川 Kamogawa). Visiting the main tourist attractions of eastern Kyoto will fill a full day – a suggested itinerary is to work north from Kiyomizu-dera to Ginkakuji, passing through Gion, and visiting Yasaka Shrine and Nanzenji before following the Philosopher’s Walk to Ginkakuji.
Keihan Railway serves the entire area of Eastern Kyoto, offering easy access to every part of the area. It also connects the Eastern region to Northern Kyoto at Demachiyanagi Station, from which Shimogamo Shrine is in walking distance, or cross the street to Eizan Railway Demachiyanagi Station to go as far as Kurama. Keihan Railway travels south to Southern Kyoto, extending as far away as Hirakata and Osaka, and offering easy connections to Uji at Chushojima Station.
Travellers staying in Central Kyoto can easily reach the Higashiyama area using the municipal subway system’s Tōzai Line. For tourists, the most convenient stops on this line are probably Higashiyama Station (north of Gion) and Keage Station (near Nanzen-ji). The subway is also convenient for those travelling onward to Otsu and Lake Biwa.
Numerous Kyoto City Bus routes traverse the neighborhood, particularly along the major north-south thoroughfare, Higashioji-dori. Route 100 is the most convenient for tourists: it runs from Kyoto Station to Ginkakuji, stopping only at major attractions. Useful local routes include #5, Kyoto Station – Shijo-Karasuma – Gion – Ginkakuji, and #206, Kyoto Station – Sanjusangendo – Gion – Chionji – Kitaoji (in northern Kyoto).
1 Kiyomizu Temple (清水寺), 1-chome, Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku (Nearest bus stop: Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka, routes 100, 202, 206, 207), ☎+81 75-551-123. Daily: 6 AM–6 PM (varies, check website). This temple complex, with its spectacular location overlooking the city, is a deservedly popular attraction, approached by either of two tourist-filled souvenir-shop-lined streets, Kiyomizu-zaka or Chawan-zaka. ¥300 (¥400 for special night openings).
- The main hall’s wooden veranda, supported by hundreds of pillars and offering incredible views over the city.
- The love-themed Jishu Shrine sells countless charms to help you snag the one you love, and features two “love stones” positioned around 18m apart. The lovelorn must walk between them with their eyes closed to confirm their loved one’s affection.
- Otowa-no-taki the temple’s waterfall, which gives it its name (Kiyomizu literally means ‘pure water’). Visitors stand beneath the waterfall and collect water to drink by holding out little tin cups.
- Mountain hike. If you’re up for a mountain walk, steer to the right-hand pathway instead of taking the left toward the Jishu-jinja. The path leads through a gate and winds up onto the mountain. You can walk up for a good hour and not reach the end of the path. Has lovely forest and great scenery, and makes for a nice short excursion out of the city traffic.
- 1 Rokuharamitsu-ji (六波羅蜜寺), 81-1 Rokuro-cho 2-chome, Matsubara-dori, Higashiyama-ku, ☎+81 75-561-6980. Daily 8–17. While the temple itself may not seem so special, the trip is made worthwhile by the amazing Kamakura Period artwork housed in its museum. In particular, the statue of Kuya is quite a unique piece of artwork depicting Kuya Shonin reciting the nenbutsu. To depict the words, the artist Taira Kiyomori, sculpted six miniature figures of Kuya Shonin walking out of his open mouth. Each figure represents one syllable in the nenbutsu. This temple is also the 17th temple of the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage. Grounds: free, Museum: ¥500.
- 1 Sanjusangen-do (三十三間堂), 657 Sanjūsangendō Mawari Machi, Higashiyama-ku, ☎+81 75-561-0467. Open from 8 AM to 5 PM. Definitely worth a visit. It was founded in 1164 and became famous for its 1001 beautiful wooden and gold-leaf covered statues of Kannon, goddess of mercy, housed in thirty-three bays (sanjusan = thirty-three, gendo = bays) in the main hall. Entrance fee: ¥600.
- 1 Kyoto National Museum (京都国立博物館 Kyoto Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan), 527 Chayamachi, Higashiyama-ku, ☎+81 75-541-1151. 9:30AM – 6PM, closed Mondays. Is near Sanjusangen-do, and has a large collection of ancient Japanese sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, painting, and other artifacts. (It’s quite similar to the Tokyo National Museum in Tokyo/Ueno.) The Museum building is fairly grand, but the statue of Rodin’s The Thinker out front is a bit out of place, as there’s no Western art inside. It’s seven minutes east of Shichijo Keihan. Admission ¥500 (¥1500 during a special exhibition period).
- 1 Yogen-in (養源院). The original temple was built by one of Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s concubines in honor of her father, but the temple was destroyed by a fire. When rebuilding the temple, the floorboards of Fushimi Castle in Southern Kyoto were used to construct the ceiling. Since Fushimi Castle was the site of quite a bloody battle, when you look at the ceiling, you can still see blood stains and body outlines from soldiers who committed seppuku. The artwork in the temple is also very famous, particularly the elephant paintings. Non-Japanese visitors have mixed success trying to enter the temple. You may be shown an English write-up that states that only those who understand Japanese are able to enter (because everyone who enters will be greeted by a guide who will walk you through the temple). It ends with something like, “This is why you are not allowed to enter the temple.” Alternatively, the staff may refuse you entry and ask you to leave. Try not to let this deter you if you really want to enter but don’t know Japanese. Simply agree to the tour, pay the fee, maybe lie about your Japanese ability, and then politely pay attention to your guide as they walk you through the temple. ¥500.