Kyoto Guide: Sightseeing × Vegan Food | Higashiyama Area
For everyone who wants to experience Kyoto to its fullest, apart from Gion Area I really recommend Higashiyama Area. In fact, if you search „Kyoto“ on Google pics, this is the place most pictures show. The narrow lanes winding up and down the slope lined by wooden buildings create a very traditional atmosphere and are totally worth a stroll.
The area includes Nineizaka and Sanneizaka, where you can find famous places like Kiyomizu-dera Temple but also lots and lots of small shops selling souvenirs and special items from Kyoto, including sweets, pottery and crafts. Furthermore, there are amazing cafés and restaurants where you can enjoy either a traditional atmosphere with Japanese sweets or modern, stylish cafés.
As in most such areas in Kyoto, the sightseeing spots and shops typically open between 9 and 10 am and close around 5pm. So, I recommend not going too late. In fact, since there aren't too many vegan options it is better to go in the morning and enjoy lunch at the close-by Gion Area, which has amazing sightseeing spots as well. Afterwards you could go to Shijo Area and do some shopping and eat dinner there.
How to get to Higashiyama Area
Train: Subway Tozai Line (Higashiyama Station)
Bus: Number 100, 5 (Gion Station)
Located between Gion District and Higashiyama District.
The thing that’ll immediately catch your eye is Yasaka-jinja or Yasaka Shrine. With its red color and huge size it is impossible to be missed. Yasaka-jinja also is the shrine which hosts the famous Gion-matsuri every June.
About Gion-matsuri: http://www.yasaka-jinja.or.jp/en/gion.html
After passing the gate, you can access several sub-shrines, along them ones that are famous for helping you become beautiful and finding love.
The main hall with the prayer hall in front is where many cultural performances take place, including those performed by geisha.
The gods worshiped here are Susano’o no Mikoto alongside his wife Kushiinada-hime and their eight children, the Yahashira no Mikogami.
Opening Times: 9:00 – 17:00 (grounds open to pass through 24 hours)
Address:625 Gion-cho north sides, higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City
Yearly Events: http://www.yasaka-jinja.or.jp/en/event.html
Located behind Yasaka-jinja.
This spacious park is popular especially during the cherry blossom season in spring and in autumn, where beautiful red maple leafs can be seen. It is a perfect place for when you want some tranquillity in between sightseeing. You could buy some traditional sweets in Gion and enjoy them there.
Opening Hours: 24h
Address: Maruyamacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto 605-0071, Japan
This five-story pagoda is located to the west of Nineizaka street and Sanneizaka street.
As it is the most visible landmark overlooking this district, it is impossible to miss it. In fact, if you have ever searched for „Kyoto“ in google pictures, you will find that this is the exact landscape visible most often. Yasaka Pagoda is also known as Hōkan-ji Temple which it belonged to. However, the temple unfortunately was destroyed by fires long ago.
It is said that Yasaka Pagoda was built in the year 592 by Prince Shotoku. There is no sure evidence about the historical facts, but it is safe to say that the pagoda had already existed before the transfer of the national capital from Nara to Heian (the former name of Kyoto) in 794. Just as the temple, this pagoda had been destroyed by fires, but it was rebuilt several times. The current one was rebuilt in 1440 by the shogun Ashikaga Yoshinori (1394-1441).
It is possible to enter the pagoda, however opening times are very irregular.
Opening Hours: 10:00 - 16:00, open irregularly
Admission: 400¥ (Children under elementary school are forbidden to enter)
Address: 388 Yasakakamimachi, Higashiyama-ku
This is definitely one of the most known temples in Japan and therefore a must-visit for many tourists. The best known feature is its wooden stage (butai) in front of the main hall, which is 13 meters above the hillside below and a very popular place for watching cherry blossoms or maple leaves. In 1994 the temple was even added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.
The temple was founded in the year 778 by Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, but its present buildings were constructed in 1633. It was originally associated with the Hosso buddhist sect, which ist one of the oldest buddhist schools in Japan. However, Kiyomizu-dera founded its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. „Kiyomizu-dera“ literally means „pure water temple“ and is derived from the place the temple was built: Otowa Waterfall which is said to have pure waters which when drunken help you to longevity and fulfill your wishes. It is possible to drink from it even as a tourist.
Koyasu Pagoda/Three Story Pagoda
Kubi Furi Jizō
Behind Kiyomizudera's main hall, you can find a shrine called Jishu Shrine.
Jishu Shrine is dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking (En-musubi) and the oldest shrine of its kind in Kyoto.
In front of the shrine are two stones standing 18 meters apart. If you can successfully walk from one to the other with your eyes closed it is said that you will have luck in finding love. It is also allowed to let someone guide you, but that means that in your love life a mediator will be needed as well. So, why not try it when already there?
You can read more about it on the official website: https://www.jishujinja.or.jp/english/
Opening Hours: 6:00 to 18:00 (on weekends and holidays from mid April through July and every day in August and September until 18:30)
Address: 294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862, Japan Map
Close to Kiyomizu-dera.
This one is Kyoto´s most colorful temple - perfect for cute instagram pictures!
Its full name is Daikoku-san Kongo-ji Koshin-do and its colorfulness comes from „kukurizaru“, which are talisman made of cloth. They are each shaped into round ball and represents the good faith monkeys. Worshipers write their wish on a kukurizaru that can be bought next to the temple and hang it up. It is said that if you give up one of your greeds, one of your wish may come true.
Opening Hours: 9:00 - 17:00
Address: 390−1 Kinancho, Higashiyama-ward, Kyoto
Located between Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Kodai-ji is the biggest sub-temple of Kennin-ji Temple and belongs to the Rinzai school of Zen. It was founded in 1606 by Nene (1548-1624), who was the widow of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), in order to pray for him after his death. Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Nene are enshrined in the sanctuary (Otama-ya) on the temple ground and their graves lie under her state.The temple was financed by Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616). The main buildings feature gorgeously decorated interiors and there are beautiful Zen gardens around them.
It is possible to enter Kodai-ji´s main hall (Hojo), which was rebuilt in 1912. The building is surrounded by stunning gardens, which are lit up during special illumination shows in fall and spring. I recommend checking out the gardens maple trees during autumn.
When you exit the tempe, you can follow the so-called Nene´s Path, which leads back down to the streets of Higashiyama District, where you can find some shops and cafés. The Kodaiji Sho Museum, where treasures of the temple and art pieces of lacquer artwork are exhibited, is also located there.
Opening Hours: 9:00-17:00 (last entry 17:00, gate closes at 17:30)
Admission: Adult 600¥, Student 250¥, school children free, Group (30+ people 500¥). Discount for 3 places (Kodai-ji Temple, Kodai-ji sho Museum, Entokuin Temple: 900¥)
Address: 526 Shimokawaracho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0825, Japan
Ryozen Museum of History and Sakamoto Ryoma´s grave
This is a must-visit place for all samurai fans!
Ryozen Museum opened in 1970 and is the first museum in Japan dedicated to comprehensive research of the Bakumatsu period and the Meiji Restoration. You can enjoy different exhibitions every few months. I personally saw one abut Sakamoto Ryoma and Katsu Kaishū, which was really informative and entertaining. The exhibited items include things belonging to famous people like Sakamoto Ryoma, Nakaoka Shintaro, Saigo Takamori, Kido Takayoshi, and Takasugi Shinsaku as well as materials associated the Tokugawa shogunate and its supporters.
If you happen to be a fan of Sakamoto Ryoma, you might want to visit his grave which is in the graveyard next to the museum! Many other famous samurai are resting there as well. However, you need to pay 300 yen to enter the graveyard.
Opening Hours: 9:00 - 17:30, closed on Mondays. (Please check the homepage in advance to see if the museum is opened https://www.ryozen-museum.or.jp/en/calendar/)
Address: Japan, 〒605-0861 Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Seikanji Ryozancho, 1
Located between Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
This street got its name from the many pottery shops located there. If you are interested in traditional pottery, this ist the place for you! You might want to buy some unique souvenirs there.
Address: Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862, Japan
Info about the shops etc.: http://www.chawanzaka.com/index.html
Nineizaka has cute shops for tourists as well as shops with unique items like yokai masks or cat art. You can also find a unique Kyoto-style Starbucks there which definitely is worth a visit!
Address: Japan, 〒605-0826 Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Masuyacho, 清水2丁目
About the shops and cafés there: http://www.2nenzaka.ne.jp/
A lane going down the hill from Kiyomizu-dera in the south. Here you can find many souvenir shops and restaurants or food stalls. The shops are mostly for tourists, but you might find some interesting ones like for example one with cute Gibli merch. Sanneizaka was selected as a National Important Preservation District of Historic Buildings.
Address: 2 Chome-221 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862, Japan
If you don’t mind walking, you could make it to Heian Shrine. It is also possible to take a bus.
Heian Shrine was built in 1895, which is quite recent compared to most other shrines and temples in Kyoto. The occasion was the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto, who’s former name was „Heian“. The Shrine is dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors who regained Kyoto.
What makes Heian Shrine conspicuous is its huge, 24m hight red torii gate that can be seen from far away. There is a couple of museums close by as well. The shrine has a spacious, beautiful garden which I recommend visiting. Not only is it stunning to see, but it is very tranquil and relaxing as well, perfect on a stressful sightseeing day. There are lovely flowers, magical ponds, a stunning brdige and - who had thought - even cherry trees.
The main buildings of the shrine are in part a replica of the Heian Palace from Heian Period (794-1185), just smaller.
Sometimes there are events held near the striking torii, for example markets or festivals. At the event I went to, there even were several food stalls selling vegan things like cakes, donuts or cookies. The most famous event however is the Jidai matsuri which is held every year.
Opening Hours: 6:00 - 18:00
Address: Okazaki Nishitennocho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8341, Japan
CAFÉS & RESTAURANTS
Vegan = V , Vegetarian = VG, Non-Vegan and Non-Vegetarian = NV
Special Kyoto-style Starbucks (NV, VG, V)
This unique Japanes-style Starbucks blends in with the cityscape so well that it is almost impossible to notice if you don’t know it is there. Even if you are usually not a huge fan of Starbucks, you should really check this one out just for the special atmosphere.
Even inside it doesn’t look like a usual Starbucks eighter - it looks like a traditional Japanese house with tatami (careful: you need to get off your shoes before stepping on them) and beautiful interior. If there had existed a Starbucks during Heian period, this is how it would have looked like!
Opening Hours: 8:00 - 22:00
Address: 349 Masuyacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0826, Japan
Curry Club Ryuu (NV, V)
This is a small restaurant for Japanese curry almost next to the Starbucks mentioned above.
They a few vegan currys as well as maps tofu. You can check out the menu on their website.
Attention: According to Google, Curry Club Ryuu is permanently closed, but there is no such information on their website. Just to be save please call ahead to confirm if the restaurant still exists or not.
Opening Hours: 11:30 - 20:30
Address: 349-20 Ashiyacho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Japan
Kyoto Honkuzu Pops Kiyomizu Store (VG, V)
Ice Cream Popsticles
This small shop on the side of Nineizaka sells a variety of popsicles with fruit inside which is the perfect little treat on a hot summer day! Most of them are dairy-free, but if you are not sure, ask the staff which ones contain dairy.
Attention: Might be closed due to Covid19. But most likely you will be able to find similar ice cream shops in this area.
Opening Hours: 11:30 - 17:00
Address: 4-168-3 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0862 Kyoto Prefecture
Kamogawa Bakery (NV, V)
By foot 18 min from Heian Shrine.
This bagel shop has a big variety of vegan flavors.
Opening Hours: 9:00 - 18:00
Address: 386 Iseyacho, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto, 602-0873, Japan
Unfortunately there are not many vegan options in this area besides traditional Japanese sweets like mochi or shaved ice. However, since Gion Area is super close I recommend eating there! You can check out the vegan options of Gion Area in this post:
If you find other vegan options in Higshiyama Area, please share them in the comments so that everyone can find out about them! :)
Where to go next?
How I said in the beginning, I recommend visiting Gion in the morning, then eat and look around at Gion Area. Afterwards you can go shopping in Shijo/Sanjo Area and dine there.
Another possible rout is to visit Gion, eat there, then check out Higashiyama Area, walk to Heian Shrine from there, take a bus to Ginkakuji Area and eat there.
Check out my other Kyoto Sightseeing x Vegan Food Guides here:
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