Bishamondo is a secluded temple in Kyoto, Japan’s Higashiyama Mountains within walking distance of Yamashina Station. Unlike other locations near it, Bishamondo Temple is an uncrowded hidden gem due to it being relatively difficult to access. In this post, we’ll share photos of the temple, info on how to get there, and our brief review of Bishamondo.
What we won’t be offering is in-depth historical information, background, etc. Now that we’ve completed individual posts for all of our top 25 spots in the city (as listed in the ‘Things to Do’ section of our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan), I’m going to be writing shorter and more to-the-point posts for remaining points of interest, even ones we really like. In part, this is because we anticipate much less interest in these places, but it’s also because it took me a couple of years to finish the top 25, and we still have around 100 temples to cover. Suffice to say, I need to pick up the pace.
As for Bishamondo Temple, it might sound like a contradiction that its nearby other popular locations in Higashiyama, but also in a difficult-to-access area of the Yamashina suburbs. If you look at Google Maps, this becomes a little easier to understand–Bishamondo is on the other side of the mountains. So, while it’s not at all far from Nanzenji Temple as the crow flies, it takes 30 minutes to get between the two via train or subway, and even longer if you’re starting from elsewhere in Kyoto.
If you do want to visit Bishamondo Temple, either Nanzenji or Daigoji Temples are by far the most convenient starting points by rail. We really like it as part of a ‘Kyoto Southeastern Outskirts Itinerary’ that includes Byodoin Temple, Ujigami Shrine, and Daigoji Temple.
All of those points of interest are difficult to incorporate into other Kyoto itineraries, but are pretty easy to hit in the order listed above with Bishamondo Temple being the final stop.
Another option is hiking from Nanzenji Temple. I detailed my misadventure doing this in our Kyoto Fall & Winter Trip Report – Part 2, and while I had a fun experience that ultimately worked out, I cannot actively recommend doing that hike.
Read the hike report if you’re interested, and proceed at your own risk.
Bishamondo is not a large temple, but it packs a good punch. There are multiple gardens each with picture-perfect scenery, plus several nicely-done fusuma and other treasures inside the main hall.
The koi painting (pictured below) was my favorite; I just wish there were some historical context provided in English.
Bishamondo Temple is one of the Gokashitsumonzekijiin, or special temples serving royalty and nobles, of the Tendai sect. It’s name is derived from Bishamonten, one of the Seven Lucky Gods, Bishamonten. The temple was originally founded in the year 703 by a monk, Kyoki, upon orders of Emperor Monmu.
If you’re visiting Kyoto during fall colors season, we highly recommend Bishamondo. The vibrant leaves (koyo) are absolutely stunning. Bishamondo Temple is renowned for the stone steps leading to its entrance being ablaze in crimson red from the falling leaves. (Just look at the first two photos here.)
Our two visits to Bishamondo Temple occurred slightly post-peak for fall colors. We deliberately timed it this way, with the assumption that the leaves needed to start falling for the path to be totally awash with color. Faulty assumption on our part, as it probably would’ve looked better about a week earlier.
Speaking of that second photo at the link above, while researching Bishamondo Temple, I found a few resources indicating that there would be an evening illumination. If you haven’t read that hike report above, spoiler alert, there was not. This was really frustrating and led to me wasting a lot of time.
I mention it here because it’s unclear whether Bishamondo Temple will have a fall illumination this year. If the wobbly work done by Google Translate on the temple’s official site is correct, there is no evening event on the calendar of events for November or December.
Nevertheless, the inner grounds were absolutely stunning, with the same vibrant maple leaves as outside. In fact, while editing these photos of Bishamondo Temple, I actually had to dial back the reds because their color was blown out and starting to bleed. If photos are any indication, Bishamondo is also gorgeous during sakura season and pops with bright green leaves during summer.
Bishamondo Temple is open from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily (last entry at 4:30 p.m.), except from December 1 until March 15, when it closes 30 minutes earlier. Admission is 500 yen. Note that all of this is subject to change, and you should really consult Bishamondo Temple’s official site for other information. You might get some garbled translations, (“Pokemon Go & walking Please refrain from smughes inside the shrine”) but refraining from smughes is solid advice no matter the language.
Overall, Bishamondo Temple can be a hassle to get to, and there are few good ways to incorporate it into a Higashiyama itinerary, but it’s definitely worth visiting if you’re heading to Uji or other temples on the outskirts of the city. We would put it in our top 30 things to do in Kyoto overall, and would prioritize it higher than that during autumn. If you have more than 5 days in Kyoto or visit during the fall, it’s potentially worth your time.
If you’re planning a trip to the Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit!
Have you visited Bishamondo Temple? What did you think of the experience? Would you recommend it to a first-timer visiting Japan? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Does visiting this temple in Kyoto interest you? Would you like a step-by-step Kyoto Southeastern Outskirts Itinerary? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!