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Top 5 Spots in Kyoto to Visit During the Morning to Avoid Big Crowds

It is difficult to tour around at your own pace in Kyoto, where visitors from different parts of the country and abroad gather. However, you don’t have to rush if you wake up early to visit when there are still no people! This article introduces 5 shrines and/or temples that let visitors in during the early morning.

1. Kitano Tenmangu

Kitano Tenmangu serves as the main shrine among the approximately 12,000 Tenmangu Shrines in the country. It is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, who is known as the deity of academics. The must-see spots in this shrine are the Sanko-mon Gate that was designed in a symbolic way and the Main Shrine, which is a national treasure. It is a popular spot for viewing the sea in early spring, green maple leaves in the summer, and the autumn foliage during the fall.
The gates open at 5:00 AM from April to September, and at 5:30 AM from October to March. However, the Bai-en Garden (Ume Garden) and Momiji-en (Autumn Maple Garden) open at different times, so be careful! On the 25th of each month – the birth and death day of Sugawara no Michizane – the area is filled with stalls selling antiques, clothing, and other items from 6:00 AM onwards. Please do visit!

1. Kitano Tenmangu

Bakuro-cho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

2. Shimogamo Shrine

Official Name: Kamomioya Jinja
This is one of Kyoto's oldest shrines, having been built even before the Heian period (794 – 1185). This shrine has been venerated as a protector of the country since long ago, and still serves as a place for many people to pray for the peace of the nation. The deity that resides here is known as the guiding deity or the deity of victory. They help ward off misfortune, as well as grant academic success, safe transportation, and even love! Some must-see spots include the Main Hall – which is a national treasure – and the Main Shrine, which was designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan. Another highlight is the Tadasu-no-Mori that surrounds the vast precinct. If you come here early in the morning, you should be able to enjoy some fresh air as you take a walk.
The gates open at 6:30 AM, but this may vary depending on the season, so please make sure to double-check prior to going!

2. Shimogamo Shrine

59 Shimogamo Izumigawa-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

3. To-ji Temple

Official Name: Kyo-o-gokoku-ji Temple
This serves as one of the head temples of the Shingon sect, which is a division of Japanese Buddhism. This temple is also home to the Five-layered Pagoda, which serves as the symbol of Kyoto. The area is open from 5:00 AM onwards. You may enter the Mieido House (Daishido House) (under construction until 2019) and the Jikido Hall for free. From 8:00 AM onwards, you can visit Kondo Hall (Main Hall) that serves as a national treasure, as well as Kodo Hall, which houses a set of 21 Buddhist statues that form a sacred mandala.
Every month on the 21st, from 5:00 AM onwards, you can visit stalls that sell antiques, clothing, and other items at the Kobo-ichi Market.

Entrance Fee (Kondo Hall, Kodo Hall):
(Adults) 500 JPY
(High School Students) 400 JPY
(Middle School Students and Below) 300 JPY

3. To-ji Temple

1 Kujo-cho, Minami-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

4. Kifune Shrine

Kifune Shrine is located at the base of Mt. Kurama, which is in the northern part of the city. This shrine is dedicated to the water deity, who has been worshipped since long ago by the Imperial Household. This deity brings prosperity and luck for marriages, and they also grant other prayers. You can enjoy the beauty of this shrine in every season: The fresh greenery in the spring, the foliage during the autumn, and the snow illuminations at winter!
The gates open at 6:00 AM. Let your fortune paper (Mizu-ura Mikuji (200 JPY)) float on top of the holy water that springs from the stone wall in front of the shrine, and pray for good luck! Please note that though this activity is popular, you can only purchase the fortune papers from 9:00 AM onwards.

4. Kifune Shrine

180 Kuramakibune-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

5. West Hongwanji

West Hongwanji is the head temple of the Jodoshin sect of Honganji (a division of Japanese Buddhism). Here, you can find many buildings from the Momoyama period (latter half of the 16th century). For example, you can view a wooden carving of the founder, Shinran, at the Founder’s Hall. Or you can look at important items like their principal object of worship – a wooden figure of Amida Buddha – at their main hall, Amida Hall. They also have various splendid ornamental carvings and national treasures at the Karamon Gate. Pay special attention to the wooden plugs found at the Founder’s Hall and Amida Hall (veranda and hallway)! You may find them within the cracks of wooden boards that were developed over the years, or perhaps buried inside wood chips. There are even heart-shaped ones, so please search them out! The gates open at 5:30 AM.

5. West Hongwanji

Hanaya-cho-sagaru, Horikawa-dori, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto

The places listed in this article include Shimogamo Shrine, To-ji Temple, and Hongwanji Temple, which are all registered as World Heritage Sites. Wake up early to enjoy these sites to the fullest!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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