Cherry Blossom Night Lighting at Kiyomizudera Temple

For sakura season, Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, Japan has special night illumination. We’ve visited during the night lighting for cherry blossom season many times, and share some of our experiences, photos and tips we’ve learned during the visit. (Updated March 14, 2024.)

During the 2024 cherry blossom season, Kiyomizudera Temple is open for nighttime illumination from 6 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. (9:00 p.m. last entry) from March 23 to 31, 2024. You’ll notice this is only about a weeklong window, which is really short. Most of the other temples and gardens that have special openings are at least a few weeks to a little over a month.

Kiyomizudera is one of my favorite temples in Kyoto, Japan. We have it in the top 5 in the ‘Things to Do’ rankings in our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan and I cover why it is not to be missed in our full Kiyomizu-dera Temple Tips & Info post. It’s mentioned in countless other posts as a must-stop spot, and for good reason.

If you’re planning a trip to Kyoto, you’ve undoubtedly seen praise for Kiyomizudera elsewhere. It’s widely considered one of the most iconic temples in all of Japan. If you walk past the bus stop at Kyoto Station, you can find the Kiyomizudera bus by looking for the one with the longest line. Suffice to say, it’s incredibly popular and perpetually busy. All of this is very well established on this blog and elsewhere, so we’re going to cut to the chase and cover how to approach a visit during the nighttime illumination.

After spending the day wandering all over Kyoto to see the highlights of sakura season, we made Kiyomizu-dera Temple our last stop of the day. It was actually our last stop twice: once for sunset and once again for the evening illumination of the cherry trees. We’ll cover the ‘why’ of this in the tips.

During our previous fall colors visit, the streets of Higashiyama were virtually deserted in the evening. Most shops closed before 8 p.m., and it was a veritable ghost town. This made wandering those streets quite the tranquil experience.

By contrast, I arrived at Kiyomizu-dera Temple at around 8 p.m. for the night illumination, and the streets of Higashiyama were shoulder-to-shoulder at that time. I stayed until the temple closed, after 9:30 p.m., and the streets were still alive with people.

The point here is that Sakura season is most certainly a popular time in Kyoto, and throughout Japan. In general, the crowd levels in April were significantly higher than November (or really, any time we’ve been to Kyoto). This is for good reason, as the cherry trees during sakura season are absolutely breathtaking, making the experience well worth the added crowds.

Kiyomizudera, in particular, is the single-most busy nighttime illuminations spot during sakura season in Kyoto. There are several reasons for this. The first is that there are simply fewer options. I’d estimate that nearly double the number of special openings are held in November/December as March/April.

The second is that the sakura season nighttime illumination only lasts one week at Kiyomizudera. These two factors in tandem means that crowds are consolidated into fewer places and fewer dates, and the end result is that Kiyomizudera is packed with people during the evening hours.

A final factor is pent-up demand. This is true throughout Kyoto, but doubly so with Kiyomizudera, as the main hall has emerged from a multi-year restoration process. Even though it’s been done for a few years at this point, tourists–both domestic and international–are still in the process of returning to Kyoto. And with those return visits, they want to see the restored Kiyomizudera.

Now, time for a few tips based on our experience…


Tickets for Kiyomizudera Temple’s night illumination differ from the day tickets to the temple. Meaning, if you go during the day, you’ll have to purchase a separate ticket at night. Don’t think you’re being clever by heading to Kiyomizu-dera Temple right before sunset–you will not be able to see both sunset and nighttime in one fell swoop.

The temple completely closes at the end of its normal operating day and reopens later for the night lighting. With that said, we would still recommend going to Kiyomizudera for both sunset and the nighttime illumination. Our pro tip here, though, is that you don’t necessarily need to go inside at sunset. There’s a rather large free area, and that’s great for viewing the sunset and capturing great photos.

The reason Kiyomizu-dera Temple is such a popular cherry blossom spot is because of the night illumination (and since it’s always a popular spot in Kyoto). I mention this because you might be a bit disappointed after seeing hundreds of cherry trees at other locations only to find a few dozen (perhaps fewer?) here.

The beauty of the complex at night and photogenic quality of how you can frame some of the cherry trees around iconic structures of Kiyomizu-dera Temple makes up for the sparse trees, in my opinion. Based upon our observations, the cherry blossoms bloom earlier at Kiyomizu-dera Temple than almost any other popular spot we visited in Kyoto. If you visit in April, you’re bound to see some naked trees.

This is normal and owing to Kiyomizu-dera Temple’s higher elevation and types of cherry trees. During our past visits in early April, all other popular sites have been in peak bloom (perhaps a few days post-peak), and Kiyomizudera Temple was easily a week or more past peak at the same time.

On another occasion, we’ve visited Kiyomizudera in mid-March when it was in full bloom. Meanwhile, other spots around Kyoto had just started to emerge from dormancy and were a couple of weeks away from full bloom. That’s the nature of the beast–during a single trip, you probably won’t hit every spot in Kyoto while they’re in full bloom.

It was still a wonderful experience to see the temple and its trees bathed in lights under the starlight and with the lights of downtown Kyoto in the distance, but it would’ve been cooler if the cherry trees still had all of their blossoms. However, no matter where you go, you’re going to run into this “issue.”

In addition to different parts of Japan blooming earlier or later, different locations in the same cities will vary, and even different trees in the same park! This is due to different breeds of cherry trees varying in when they bloom, so it’s unavoidable.

Plus, given that the night illumination at Kiyomizu-dera Temple only costs ~$4 and since this is one of the few temples in Kyoto open in the evening, it’s not like you have much to “risk” by doing this.

A final recommendation concerns how much time to allocate for the cherry blossom night illumination at Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The night lighting lasts around 3 hours, and there’s no way any casual tourists needs to spend that much time there. However, if you’re big into photography, you might want to allocate that whole time here. I found shooting the cherry blossoms to be particularly difficult as the trees blew in the wind.

Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue as a bit of motion blur gives a certain energy to trees in a photo. In this case, I think you want the blossoms to be crisp, though. I took and retook the photos in this post numerous times (the main hall shot at the top took me 11 tries to reasonably crisp–and it’s still not perfect), and ultimately did not give myself enough time to shoot and see everything.

Additionally, I’d recommend something like The Green Pod platform in lieu of a tripod. I used my tripod at Kiyomizu-dera Temple intermittently throughout the evening, but was informed in the last 5-10 minutes of operation that tripods are not allowed.

Even if you aren’t told this, the Green Pod is going to be a lot easier to use for photographing the main hall than a tripod (the walkway back there is narrow and crowded–I didn’t even try to use my tripod there as it probably would’ve been impossible). Fortunately, there’s a thick handrail that’s easy for perching the Green Pod, a GorillaPod, or something of that sort.

Overall, I would highly recommend doing the cherry blossom night illumination at Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Even though the cherry trees are not as dense here as other locations in Kyoto, the experience is unique thanks to the night lighting, and the way the cherry blossoms enhance scenes that are already picturesque makes it an experience that is not to be missed.

If the idea of paying twice to visit is not appealing, we still recommend going in the morning as you normally would per our 1-Day Eastern Kyoto/Higashiyama Itinerary, but sticking with the free area. Nighttime here is a truly unique experience with special lighting and great evening views of the city. Kiyomizu-dera Temple takes on a magical atmosphere during evening illuminations, and it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

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! 

Your Thoughts

Have you visited one of Kiyomizudera Temple’s nighttime illuminations? Fall, summer, or spring? What did you think of the experience? How did it compare to other nighttime illuminations in Kyoto (if you did any) for you? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Do more dedicated posts about nighttime illuminations in Kyoto interest you? 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!

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9 replies
  1. Fa
    Fa says:

    Can you purchase night illumination tickets in advance via a website, or only day of? Is there a need to go to the temple earlier in the day to purchase tickets (do they run out?) for the nighttime illuminations or can you just show up once it starts and purchase your tickets?

  2. Sue
    Sue says:

    Thanks for the great website. The only issue is that due to the continuous jumping of the advertisements one cannot read it. Even writing now is difficult, due to the screen refreshes, blinking, etc. You might want to reconsider because it defeats the purpose and it is very bad design.

  3. Cara
    Cara says:

    This was a great read! Your posts are really inspiring me to start actively planning a trip to Japan in the next few years.

  4. Anna Cinquemani
    Anna Cinquemani says:

    The nighttime illumination provides a beautiful picturesque view of the temple and the cherry blossom trees! You take beautiful pictures!

  5. George Dibble
    George Dibble says:

    This was a lot of fun to see, and definitely worth the effort for anyone who happens to visit during either of the night illumination times. I was sorry that we had to leave as early as we did (we had kiddos with us). I had my Green Pod with me, and it worked great here.


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