Fall foliage is illuminated at Eikando Zenrinji Temple in Kyoto, Japan during a special autumn night lighting. We’ve attended this special event, and will share our experience, night photos of the leaves, and some tips for visiting based upon our observations. With over 3,000 maple trees, this temple is so famous for its fall foliage that it’s colloquially known as “Eikando of Fall Colors” among Kyotoites.
As regular TravelCaffeine readers might know, we spent the entirety of peak fall colors season in Kyoto last year, spending November through mid-December in the city. During that time, we attended almost every single nighttime illumination, and did a bunch of research that has culminated in our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan. While we already have an Eikando Zenrinji Temple Tips & Info standalone post, the experience is significantly different during a fall colors season evening.
As such, I thought a quick post about the nighttime event would be appropriate. Given that fall colors season is relatively limited in duration (and thus something of a niche interest) and since I have about a dozen posts to write about autumn foliage season, I’m going to (try to) forgo my normally verbose style and keep this brief. I think the photos do most of the talking, anyway.
Cutting directly to the chase, Eikando Temple is the most popular autumn night lighting in Kyoto. It’s arguably the best, too. I say arguably because it was oppressively crowded during my visit, to the point that we moved as a herd, shuffling slowly like a horde of zombies. There was a long line to enter, and once inside, crowds were heavy.
I spread my visit out over multiple hours, and I noticed a precipitous drop-off in crowds at Eikando Zenrinji Temple towards the end of the night. My experience was considerably better later in the evening, and if I were rating only that portion of the night, it was #1. The suffocating crowds earlier in the night definitely tainted the experience, and I’d recommend doing what you can to avoid that same misery.
The nighttime illumination at Eikando Zenrinji Temple occurs from approximately November 10 through December 7 annually. These dates vary each year and unfortunately, dates for this year are not published online.
Once you arrive in Kyoto, you’ll see posters all over Higashiyama advertising the exact dates for this year (or you can go to a Visitor Center for fliers).
The times of the event are consistent year-to-year, with the nighttime illumination beginning at 5:30 p.m. and running through 9 p.m., with the last entry at 8:30 p.m.
The majority of crowds show up during the first 2 hours. If you arrive before around 7 p.m., you can expect to wait to enter.
Admission is 600 yen and is separate from the daytime entrance fee, which is 1000 yen during autumn. One thing to note with regard to Eikando’s nighttime illumination is that the entire temple is not open at night.
You cannot access any temple building interiors, nor can you walk through the covered walkway up the mountain where Tahoto Pagoda is located. Because of this, you have to pay 1600 yen and visit twice for the full Eikando Zenrinji Temple experience during fall colors season.
Eikando is one of 4 temples in Eastern Kyoto that have exceptional night lightings. If you only have one night to see them all, you’ll want to start at Kiyomizudera, then continue north to Kodaiji Temple, followed by Shorenin Temple, and finish at Eikando Temple to avoid its peak crowds.
In total, that’s 45 minutes of walking, meaning you’ll have a little over 30 minutes at each temple…which is not much time. In an ideal scenario, you’d instead spread the experience to two nights, doing Shorenin and Eikando Temple one of the nights (and perhaps Chionin Temple, as well).
Given the crowds, it should come as no surprise that tripods are not allowed at Eikando Zenrinji Temple. In fact, some areas of the temple are so busy that no photography is allowed, period (really, this is just on a couple of small bridges, and not really a big deal at all).
The good news here is that some areas of Eikando Zenrinji Temple are so brightly lit-up that you will be able to take satisfactory handheld photos. I wasn’t quite ‘satisfied’ with satisfactory photos, so I also used a beanbag (I recommend the Green POD Camera Platform–it’ll really come in handy in Japan) and put it on elevated spots wherever I could. This was a bit arduous and time-consuming, but I’m pretty pleased with the overall results.
Almost all of those were long exposures taken with the Green POD beanbag, but many could’ve been shot with a higher ISO and shorter shutter speed. I saw a couple of guests using Gorilla Pods without issue, too.
Overall, Eikando Temple’s fall nighttime illumination is an experience that you don’t want to miss. Honestly, the daytime experience is also a must-do during the fall, too. In our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, we rank it as the city’s #25 temple, and we list it as an ‘optional’ temple in our 1-Day Eastern Kyoto/Higashiyama Itinerary. That ranking and the ‘optional’ status are not true in the autumn. From late October through early December, Eikando is one of the highlights of Kyoto, and it’s actually worth the 1600 yen cost–and time it’ll take to visit twice–to experience both day and night at Eikando Zenrinji Temple.
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 the evening illumination at “Eikando of Fall Colors”? What did you think of the experience? Did you find the crowds manageable, or unbearable? 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!