Many of us maybe have an idea of sightseeing in Kyoto being limited to daytime, as normally most temples and shrines close before 5 p.m., but during many illumination events the temples are open late, some even as late as 9 p.m. These events are a great chance to see a different Kyoto: see the traditional mixed with a bit of modernity.
So here we have it, the eight greatest night illumination events of Kyoto!
8. Higashiyama Hanatoro
First, we have the one and only Higashiyama Hanatoro
in March! During this event the temples and streets of Higashiyama area are illuminated by LED lanterns, bathing the area in mysterious light. The feeling is almost surreal like you had walked into a different dimension, especially when you get to see the woman wearing a fox mask being pulled in a rickshaw in the procession called the fox’s wedding.
This event is remarkable also because so many of the famous temples have illumination events. Kiyomizu-dera Temple
, Kodai-ji Temple
, Chion-in Temple
, and Shoren-in Temple
among others are illuminated during this event, so a great way to enjoy the Higashiyama area in March is to go see some temples when it’s still not dark and then enjoy the temple illuminations at night.
7. Cherry blossom illumination event at Maruyama Park
is, of course, famous as a cherry blossom viewing spot in the end of March and beginning of April, but what is special about it is that the park is also illuminated at night. And the temple is not only illuminated by LEDs, but also by bonfires! Seeing cherry blossoms illuminated by bonfires is something you can probably only see at Maruyama Park in Kyoto.
|Maruyamacho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City 605-0071
|After sunset until 12 a.m.
6. Randen night tram cherry blossom tunnel *This event will be closed until the further notice due to the cherry tree maintenance.
Keifuku Randen is the only tram in Kyoto, and during the cherry blossom season, you can see the cherry blossoms by the tram tracks illuminated at night. During this event
the train will slow down at the places with the best views so this is a great chance to see night blossoms in Kyoto. One of the greatest things about this event has to also be that you can take pictures of the trams running through the cherry blossoms tunnel by getting off at the stops in the middle and waiting for the next train. The interval between trams is between 10 and 20 minutes so it should not take too long to wait for the next one.
|Saga, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
|Night illumination: 6:30pm to 8:30pm. (According to the train schedule)
5. Okazaki Jikkokubune boat ride and night illumination
During the cherry blossom season, it is possible to take the Jikkobune boat ride
on Lake Biwa Canal. This boat ride on the canal that brings water to Kyoto from Lake Biwa is something you can, of course, only experience in Kyoto.
You can take the boat ride during the day, but at night the experience is something magical. During the cherry blossom season it’s best to reserve the tickets in advance online.
|Nanzen-ji Boat Pier
|9:30am - 4:30pm
Boat departs every 15 minutes
(every 30min - 60min during slow season).
*hours extend from 8:30am - 5:30pm during peak season.
Night Boat Ride
Runs until 8:30pm
4. Tanabata illumination event at Kifune Shrine
The Tanabata illuminations are held at Kifune Shrine in July and August, and during this festival also known as Star Festival you not only get to see the shrine of Kifune illuminated at night, but you also get to see the Tanabata decoration paper slips illuminated too. Kifune Shrine may be a bit far from the city center, but during this event, there are Kyoto city buses that go up to Kifune Shrine even late at night so you should have no problem going to the shrine and coming back.
|180 Kibune-cho, Kurama, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
|10am - 3pm
3. Kyo no Tanabata
Tanabata, or the Star Festival
, is a festival in Japan for the two deities Orihime and Hikoboshi. Kyo no Tanabata is like you can probably guess from the name, a Tanabata event in Kyoto. This event is held in August according to the lunar calendar so the precise date changes a bit every year.
In the picture you can see the main attraction of the event, the “Milky Way of Light,” but the temples and shrines around the area will also have nighttime illumination events too.
|Kamogawa venues : August 3 to 4 / 7:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. * August 4 is until 9:00 p.m.
Horikawa venues : August 10 to 12 / 6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Nijo-jo Castle Venue : August 1 to 15 / 7:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.
*Please note that the event time differs in every venue.
2. Eizan Electric railways tunnel of autumn leaves
There are two events above the rest in Kyoto: cherry blossom viewing in spring and autumn leaves viewing in autumn. And like our number 6 where you could see cherry blossoms from a tram, now we have an event where you can see autumn leaves from a train. Eizan, or as it is often called in Japanese, Eiden, is a train line that can take you either to Mt. Hiei or to Mt. Kurama
During the autumn leaves season you can go through a tunnel of autumn foliage by taking the train. The train slows down at the best places so you can have time to admire the scenery.
|Eizan Railway Demachiyanagi Station
|Momiji Leaf Tunnel is lit up from sunset to around 9:00 pm during the event days.
1. Arashiyama Hanatoro
And lastly, we have my favorite event in Kyoto, Arashiyama Hanatoro. We went full circle starting with Higashiyama Hanatoro and ending with Arashiyama Hanatoro. This event takes place in Arashiyama in December, and the whole of Arashiyama is illuminated by lanterns giving it an even more mysterious feeling than normal.
The area of the event is so large that there are also places with few people; you can view the illuminated sights of Arashiyama without having to feel stressed, though the Bamboo Grove is, of course, crowded as usual. There is really a lot to see at the event but my recommendation would have to be the Okochi Sanso Villa which is illuminated beautifully and from where the night view of Kyoto is unbelievably great.