Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社, Yasaka Jinja) or Gion Shrine, is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto. The shrine is located between Gion District and Higashiyama District, making it a spot that’s relatively easy to visit when walking between the two districts or to Kawaramachi Station. In this post, I’ll share some photos of Yasaka Shrine and offer tips for visiting.
One thing I won’t do is review Yasaka Shrine. It just seems unnecessary. Not only is Yasaka Shrine free and open 24-hours, but it’s a spot you will literally stumble upon if visiting other places we recommend in Kyoto. Yasaka Shrine is one of the places we visit in Kyoto the most, and save for our first trip, it’s always unintentional.
The scenario usually plays out like this: we leave Kiyomizudera Temple after doing sunset there, and head towards Gion to wander its quiet streets at night. Along the way, we have the pleasant surprise of wandering by Yasaka Shrine. We’re always drawn into its courtyard, which is filled with lanterns and has an enchanting atmosphere…
Just because we visit it often doesn’t mean it’s one of my favorite things to do in Kyoto. It’s not that I dislike it, either; it’s just not really on my radar one way or the other.
To be honest, after our first visit, I forgot the name of this place, and had to Google “Gion shrine night lanterns” in order to jog my memory after taking photos of it on a subsequent trip. Perhaps its English name should be the “Ann Veal Shrine.” (Who? Her?)
This isn’t to say Yasaka Shrine is totally forgettable, either. It just…is what it is, I guess? A nice spot to spend 15-30 minutes exploring on a quiet night (particularly if you’re into photography), but nothing around which you should plan your itinerary.
Yasaka Shrine is said to be a popular spot for during hanami season, with cherry blossom parties in spring. I write “said to be” there because there reality is that most of this actually occurs in the adjacent Maruyama-koen Park.
As we mention in our 1-Day Kyoto Cherry Blossom Itinerary, the nighttime parties in this park are inviting but a bit on the raucous side (by Japanese standards). The good news is that Yasaka Shrine is also right here, so seeing it lit up at night is easy when you make a stop at Maruyama Park.
In addition to its popularity during cherry blossom season, Yasaka Shrine is also the host shrine of Kyoto’s biggest festival, the Gion Matsuri in July. The Gion Matsuri procession features giant floats and hundreds of participants, beginning at Yasaka Shrine. This celebration of Yasaka Shrine culminates with a grand procession of floats (Yamaboko Junko) on July 17, followed by a smaller second parade on July 24.
If you’re visiting during Gion Matsuri’s processions, be prepared for intense crowds. We’d highly recommend booking reserved seating tickets for Yamaboko Junko with guaranteed prime viewing of the gigantic festival floats (and English audio guide!) via Voyagin as that should save you some headache of having to deal with heavy crowds throughout Gion during the procession.
Other events occur throughout the year at Yasaka Shrine. These include Setsubun Festival (celebrating Meiko–apprentice geisha) in early February with an evening bonfire, the Ochatsubo Dochu Festival (Traveling Tea Canisters) on May 1, and Shichi-go-san (Children’s Shrine Day) in November.
Another thing that Yasaka Shrine has going for it is that it’s a 10 minute walk from Kawaramachi Station. Since this is the closest station to many of the temples and shrines along Kyoto’s Higashiyama mountains, which is probably part of the reason we pass by Yasaka Shrine so frequently.
Due to its proximity to Gion, which is famously known as Japan’s “geisha district,” you can also spot geisha from time to time at Yasaka Shrine.
Overall, I feel like Yasaka Shrine is one of those places that’s best experienced when you know absolutely nothing about it–not even that it exists–and just happen upon it. A visit here is best when it’s a happy accident, as there’s not a ton of substance to the shrine…it just looks pretty at night. Now that you’ve read this, sorry for denying you that ‘happy accident’ opportunity, I guess? (I’ll level with you: I was just looking for an excuse to post some of my photos of Yasaka Shrine.) Unless you’re visiting when one of its festivals is occurring, you really don’t need to know anything about it before visiting. Aside from visiting at night, there aren’t really any “tips” for visiting.
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 Yasaka Shrine? Did you go at night? Any insight into this temple or tips for visiting beyond what we’ve shared here? Do you agree with my assessment, or would you recommend making a special trip to Yasaka Shrine? Have you visited it during cherry blossom season or one of its other festivals? Any questions? Share any other questions or thoughts you have in the comments!