Saturday, February 18, 2017

[Japan 2016] Gion, Kyoto: Yasaka Shrine + Maruyama Park

Photo By: Elin Chow

After lunch, we left Kiyomizudera Temple and continued down the stone paved Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka in Higashiyama District. The sloping stone alleyways that are crammed with traditional wooden shophouses, restaurants and cafes selling pottery, sweets, pickles, crafts and souvenirs.

Most of the shops open around nine or ten in the morning and close around five or six in the evening. Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka is a prime destination for tourists who wish to see the old Kyoto. Thus, the stone paved streets can be touristy and packed with tourists at any time of the day.

The historic stone-paved lanes eventually lead to the Gion District, which is the main Geisha district in Kyoto. Lined with modern entertainment establishments such as restaurants, shops, bars and clubs, the Gion District is not only a major tourist hub, but also a popular nightlife spot in Kyoto.

With the help of Google Maps, we arrived at Yasaka Shrine (previously known as Gion Shrine), a famous Shinto Shrine located along the bustling crossroad in the Gion District, Kyoto. The shrine is located about 30 minutes walk away from Kiyomizudera Temple.

Alternatively, you can take bus 100 or 206 from Kyoto Station and alight at Gion Bus Stop. Other than bus, Yasaka Shrine can also be reached by train. The nearest train stations are Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Line and Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line, both of which are located about 10 minutes walk away from the shrine.

However, I would recommend walking from Kiyomizudera Temple to Yasaka Shrine through the narrow lanes of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka. These two lanes are the best preserved historic areas in Kyoto. Walking through the stone-paved lanes will allow you to see and experience the beauty of the traditional old Kyoto.

Walking up the cobbled stone steps, through the two storey vermillion entrance gate, we left the noisy and bustling streets behind.  Yasaka Shrine is open all day and admission is free.

The approach to the shrine is lined with food stalls selling a variety of local specialities.

Yasaka Shrine is dedicated to Susano-o-no-Mikoto, Kushiinadahime--no-Mikoto, Yahashira-no-Mikogami. Susano-o-no-Mikoto is the god of good health and prosperity, who was known for his defeat of Yamata-no-orochi (a large serpent with eight heads).

Yasaka Shrine is famous for Gion Matsuri, one of the biggest festivals in Japan. It is a month long festival that takes place over the entire month of July, attracting thousands or even million of tourists every year.

In the center is a roofed wooden stage that is used for religious ceremonies. The stage is decorated with hundred of hanging lanterns bearing the names of companies that have donated, which gets lit up at night.

On the left, you will find the Honden (Spirit Hall), a single storey building with several large bells draping over its entrance. The Honden is one of the most important building in the shrine. Ringing the bell is said to wake up the god and repel evil.

Just like any other temples and shrines in Japan, there is also a roofed water basin (known as Temizuya) with wooden water laden for purification. Worshippers are required to wash their hands, mouth and handle of the water laden to purify themselves before entering the main hall.

Yasaka Shrine is especially crowded during New Year where locals flock here to pray for good fortune. Being located in one of the main shopping district in Kyoto, the shrine also attracts a reasonable number of locals and tourists at any time of the year.

Located just behind Yasaka Shrine, you will find Maruyama Park, a popular cherry blossom viewing spots in Kyoto. The park is extremely crowded at that time of the year when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. An enormous Torii gate stand at the main entrance of the park at the back of Yasaka Shrine. Passing through the gate, we found ourselves at the foot of a mountain, surrounded by nature on all sides.

Standing at the base of Higashiyama mountain, Maruyama Park is the oldest park in Kyoto. Covering a total area of 86,000 square metres, the park is open throughout the year. Just like Yasaka Shrine, admission to Maruyama Park is also free.

Although a popular spot for cherry blossoms viewing, Maruyama Park is a lovely place to enjoy the fall colors in Autumn too. During autumn, the leaves on the trees change colors from green to yellow, bright orange or red. The trees have shed their leaves and become bare and sparse as winter approaches.

The trees seem lonely and barren, but equally stunning. Furthermore, they were quite photogenic too. Around the park, you will find lots of little spots where you can sit and enjoy the cool autumn breeze while listening to the sound of birds chirping.

Sitting in the center of the park is the famous weeping cherry tree which will lit up during night time. The tree is a star attraction of the park and is over seventy years old. It is said that the tree have grown from a cherry blossom tree that is over 300 years old.

There are protective fencing placed around the tree to protect it from any damage. During Spring, the tree is overflow with cherry blossoms. But it was bare when we were there in Autumn. Nevertheless, it was still an impressive sight.

Next to the tree, there is an enchanting pond surrounded by beautiful landscaping. In the pond, you will find many fish, a couple of Mandarin ducks and turtles. There is a stoned footbridge spanning across the pond.

We strolled through the picturesque park at a leisurely pace under the shades of red and yellow leaves. It was a lovely day and the atmosphere is very calm and peaceful.

All around the park, there are benches where you can take a rest and enjoy the quietude of the park. You can easily spend an hour in the park doing nothing. It is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

The area of the park is quite small and easy to navigate. For those who wish to get close to the nature, this is a good place to enjoy some tranquility. It is a surprisingly a good place to enjoy the autumn leaves in Kyoto too.

All around the park, there are also a number of teahouses in the park selling snacks and drinks. You can enjoy matcha tea and local cuisines under the shade of colorful maple trees while enjoying the cool autumn weather.

If you are interested to know more about our trip, you may want to check out our 7D6N Osaka - Kyoto - Nara - Kobe Trip Itinerary + Overview for the list of attractions that we had visited during our 7 days in Japan. For anyone planning your first trip to Japan but have no idea where to start, you should read my "How To Plan A Trip To Japan" post.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates on my 7 days adventures in Japan! You might also want to check My Wanderlust page for some of my other travel adventures.


  1. I have been reading your Japan posts, your blog is very informative and helpful! I stumbled on it when I was trying to look for details on taking the Haruka train, your step by step guide with photos is such a great help!

  2. Hi! After walking from Kiyomizudera Temple to Yasaka Shrine through the narrow lanes of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka, skipping yasaka shrine & marumaya park, how do I return back to kyoto station? Thank you!

    1. Hi Jing,

      You can read my post:

  3. Thank you so much Elin!