Kyoto is one of the most famous cities in Japan, besides Tokyo. Many guidebooks introduce you to the famous temples and shrines and popular locations such as Gion, Arashiyama, and Ohara. However, if you don't have much time in the city, it can be difficult to cover all of the famous temples and shrines in Kyoto, as they are scattered over a large area. Here we would like to introduce you to some places where you can capture the essence of Kyoto within a 1.5km square. This is the area known as Higashiyama, in the east of Kyoto. If you cover them, you will be able to film various locations of Kyoto in a day.

(1) Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine

The streets of Kyoto are laid out like a grid, and if you head straight east along Shijo Street, which runs through the middle of the grid, you will come to the Yasaka Shrine, the symbol of Gion. The famous Gion Festival is held at Yasaka Shrine, which is said to have been founded about 1,150 years ago when people asked the gods of Yasaka Shrine to help them fight off a plague. The main shrine is surrounded by 10 other shrines, including the gods of business, disease, beauty, marriage, and swords. It is illuminated until late so you can enjoy a late-night prayer.  In spring, Yasaka Shrineits neighbour Maruyama Park and are famous for their cherry blossoms as well and their illuminated scenery attracts many people.

If you have time, you can also visit Chion-in Temple, 10 minutes away from Yasaka Shrine. The temple is a Buddhist temple with a large area where you can film various beautiful objects such as the Sanmon Gate and Mikado Hall, as well as the famous large bell tower and the 2.7m high Amida Buddha.

(2) Hanamikoji-dori


Just before reaching Yasaka Shrine, you can find Hanamikoji-Dori street on your right. This is the main street of Gion's teahouse district. Both sides of the street and the alleyways are lined with old-fashioned buildings, including restaurants, ryotei (traditional Japanese restaurants), and ryokan (Japanese inns). In the evening, Maikos and Geishas can be seen making their way to serve ryotei and various locations. Please note that it is currently forbidden to film Maikos and Geishas, so you will need to ask permission in advance.

(3) Kenninji Temple

Kenninji Temple (663highland, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

If you go straight past Hanami-koji, you will meet the south gate of Kenninji Temple. Kenninji is the third most prestigious temple in Kyoto. The precincts of the temple are large and there are a number of famous Tacchus (small temples belonging to Kenninji). Sometimes tea ceremonies are held in these small temples, and you can film a tea ceremony if you obtain permission.
Kenninji Temple is famous for its beautiful gardens. All of three are classified as Karesansui (a form of the garden in which stones, sand, moss, plants, and terrain are used to represent the flow of water in the absence of water) and there are one with white sand and a few rocks, one with moss and plants, and so on.
In the rooms surrounding the garden are powerful Fusuma paintings (paintings on Japanese slide doors) of wind gods, thunder gods, and dragons, all painted in ancient times. And on the ceiling of the Dharma Hall (where the monks give their preaches), there is a large dragon winding its tail. It says that you are free to take photos at Kenninji, but this is for tourists only, so if you want to use the temple for commercial purposes, you will need to ask for permission.

(4) Typical Kyoto style small streets


When you turn the road from Yasaka Shrine to Kiyomizu-dera temple, you will find a narrow alleyway with white mud walls on both sides and stone pavement. This typical Kyoto-style street is called Ishibe Koji street. If you continue to walk this street, you will meet a bit wider street called Nene-no-michi Street, and this street also has a good atmosphere.
In March, an event called the Higashiyama Hanatouro (flower lantern path) takes place within 4.6km from Higashiyama to Maruyama Park, Sannenzaka, Nene-no-michi street, and Kiyomizu-dera. The lanterns light up the stone-paved streets, creating a dark and atmospheric nighttime scene that can not be missed to film.
Kodai-dera Temple which can be found on the way to Kiyomizu-dera, has a garden with a pond and a mountain in the background. This is famous for its beautiful cherry blossoms in spring and coloured leaves in autumn. If the time allows you, we recommend you to include it in your schedule.

(5) Yasaka Pagoda area

Yasaka Pagoda

As you walk along Nene no Michi, you will come to a slope. This is called Ichinen-zaka, followed by Ninei-zaka and then Sannenzaka, all with stone steps. Both sides of the hill are lined with typical Kyoto houses, including souvenir shops and restaurants. If you film from the top of Sannenzaka, you can see Yasaka Pagoda (five-storey pagoda) over the rows of machiya houses, which is a typical Kyoto shot in many travel guides. If you walk up Kiyomizu-zaka hill, you will see the gate of Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

(6) Kiyomizu-dera


Kiyomizu-dera Temple has a history of over 1200 years. There are many national treasures and important cultural assets such as the main hall, bell tower, three-storey pagoda and Buddhist statues and they are all registered to UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most famous of these is the "Kiyomizu no Butai", a large balcony protruding from the main hall. Kiyomizu-dera Temple was built on the hillside of Mount Kiyomizu by piling up stone walls and clearing the land, and this "Kiyomizu-no-butai" was built along the side of the slope. It is 13m high, 18m wide at its widest point and 10m deep, covering an area of 190 square metres. It is made entirely of wood, with over 12 metres of zelkova wood, and is constructed without the use of a single nail. The stage has been used for Noh and Kabuki performances since ancient times, and in modern times it has also been used for live rock concerts. If you are lucky enough to be there at the time of those concerts, you may be able to film some beautiful scenery of the stage lit up at night. You can also film long shots of Kyoto from the top of this stage. The cherry blossoms in spring, the green maple leaves in spring, the coloured leaves in autumn and the snow in winter are also beautiful, so please consider your schedule accordingly.

When you shoot Kyoto there are a number of things to bear in mind that are different to other areas. We will explain about them in a coming article.

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