November features Kyoto’s peak fall colors, plus a full calendar of special events, nighttime illuminations, and a few festivals at temples and shrines. Despite the heavy crowds, it’s an excellent month to visit Japan, and you’ll have too many choices for seasonal things to do during a November trip to Kyoto.
In this post, we’ll offer a rundown of things that are occurring in Kyoto during November 2018. We actually decided to make this ‘Kyoto calendar’ while visiting the Kyoto Tourist Information Center, and seeing fliers featuring events we hadn’t seen on other English special events listings for Kyoto. As we were burned last year by inaccurate info online during our autumn visit to Japan, we’ve decided to compile this list ourselves based upon what we found on the fliers.
In addition to those, we are also including links to the website of each Kyoto special event (that we could find). Those links will be helpful if you’re traveling to Japan in 2019 or beyond, or want up-to-date info. While English resources like this site are great, most temples regularly update their websites. We would suggest double-checking those sites to ensure that the seasonal events or festivals are still occurring a day or two before you go.
For example, last year one of the Higashiyama temples abruptly canceled a nighttime illumination because a wild boar had been spotted in the area. This year, recovery from Typhoon Jebi remains ongoing and some events have been canceled, including the Kurama Fire Festival in October.
Another thing to note is that our calendar just scratches the surface on special events and festivals in Kyoto. As we stress elsewhere on the site, seasonality is extremely important to Kyotoites. It’s not just about the four seasons, but every little nuance in the calendar, changing of the scenery, and so on.
In fact, there’s a rather large Japanese book titled Kyoto Festivals and Events 365. Despite the English title, the book is entirely in Japanese, with zero translations. I’ve paged through it at Maruzen (the best bookstore in Kyoto), trying to use the augmented reality feature in the Google Translate app with…unfortunate…results. That is, unless there really is a “Joyful Odor Festival” in November at one of the temples!
Suffice to say, if you’re particularly keen on attending a seasonal event while in Kyoto, there is most certainly one occurring, irrespective of your travel dates. If you don’t see something listed below, we’d suggest stopping by one of the Kyoto Tourist Information Centers (there are convenient locations in Kyoto Station, Higashiyama, downtown, etc–find them via Google Maps) and inquiring. Reps there are fluent in English and incredibly knowledgeable.
With that said, here are the major events in Kyoto for November 2018:
October 19 to December 9, 2018 – Kodaiji Lightscape – As we note in our full post about Kodaiji Temple, this is our #1 nighttime illumination in all of Kyoto (we have lots of photos of the event in that post, for what it’s worth). It’s also the longest-running nighttime illumination, which is in large part because it’s less about fall colors and more about a high-tech projection mapping show, illuminated bamboo forest, and more. Highly recommended. Official website.
September 25 to December 12, 2018 – Shokouji Temple Special Views – Shokokuji is the second of the five leading Rinzai Zen temples in Kyoto that were built during the medieval Muromachi Period, and is a ‘living temple’ that is generally not open to the public. During this extended timeframe, several of its buildings are open to the public. Due to its location, we would not recommend this to most tourists. Official website.
October 1 to November 25, 2018 – Ninnaji Treasure Hall Opening – Located adjacent to Ryoanji and a modest walk from the Golden Pavilion, Ninnaji is a stunning temple on sprawling grounds. Its Sacred Treasure Hall is not normally open to the general public. Official website.
October 1 to December 10, 2018 – Rurikoin Temple Fall Opening – Relatively unknown to people outside of Japan, Rurikoin is incredibly popular with Japanese tourists. Famed for the way its foliage reflects and colors the interior of the temple, expect long lines at this temple in Northern Kyoto–and a steep 2,000 yen admission fee. Official website.
October 26 to December 2, 2018 – Shorenin Temple Light Up – The ethereal blue lighting on the ground is the highlight of this experience, with fall colors being secondary (more like “third-ary” after the bamboo grove). We like Shorenin because it’s nestled between Chionin and Kodaiji, making it an easy stop on a nighttime tour of Higashiyama illuminations. Recommended. Official website.
October 27 to December 9, 2018 – Toji Temple Illumination – We aren’t normally huge fans of Kyoto’s iconic pagoda, but during its spring and fall evening illuminations, it’s a different story. Not only are the reflected views spectacular, but you also get rare access to certain temple halls. Even considering the relatively steep 1,000 yen fee (as compared to other illuminations), we think it’s worth the money. Recommended. Official website.
November 1-10, 2018 – Gion Odari – Held at the Gion Kaikan Theatre, this is a public dance performed by the geiko and maiko of Kyoto. Each of the city’s geisha districts performs such an event, but most happen in spring during cherry blossom season. This is the lone event preceding the heart of fall colors season, with tickets costing 4,000 yen (or 4,500 with green tea and a sweet) for two performances are held each day at 13:30 and 16:00. Highly recommended. Official website.
November 2 to December 2, 2018 – Chionin Temple Illumination – Despite the ongoing refurbishment project, Chionin will conduct its annual night lighting, with Yuzenen Garden, the main gate, and two halls illuminated. It’s an interesting option if you have several days in Kyoto, but otherwise, we’d stick with alternatives in Higashiyama.
November 3 to December 2, 2018 – Eikando Temple Illumination – Our #1 temple for fall colors in Kyoto (see more in that post), we suggest visiting Eikando both during the day and at night for its evening illumination (this requires paying two separate admission fees) as different areas are open during day versus at night. Highly recommended. Official website.
November 3-25, 2018 – Kibune Autumn Leaves Lantern Festival – Fall colors are illuminated nightly along the Eizan Railway Line, around Kifune Shrine, and along Kibune Way. Located north of the city, Kibune and Kurama have stunning fall colors, and Kuramadera is our #2 temple in Kyoto. This is a free event, save for train fare. Highly recommended. Official website.
November 8, 2018 – Kanikakuni Festival – Maiko and geiko come to offer flowers in front of the memorial statue of Isamu Yoshii, a famous poet and playwright who loved Gion, on the Shirakawa. This is a popular event for geisha-spotting, and photographers line the canal from around 11 a.m. hoping to catch a glimpse of the performers on their way to pay their respects.
November 9 to December 2, 2018 – Konkai Komyoji Temple Illumination – More commonly known as Kurodani Temple, this geographically prominent yet ‘hidden’ gem temple is opening its Shiun Garden to the public during the day, and offering a nighttime illumination with live Koto performances at night. Official website.
November 9 to December 2, 2018 – Daikakuji Temple Illumination – This is a very different kind of fall nighttime illumination, as it’s primarily a water screen projection show on the large pond outside the inner temple grounds. We love Daikakuji Temple, and this would make for a solid option after a day in Arashiyama. Official website.
November 9 to December 2, 2018 – Hogonin Temple Illumination – This is a subtemple of the famed Tenryuji, and features a promenade style garden with views of Mount Arashiyama in the background. Official website.
Mid-November to Early December – Unryuin Temple Illumination – Unryuin Temple’s nighttime illumination is one of our favorites (see photos of the event in that post), and that’s in part because it’s under the radar–you won’t see many (if any) other tourists here. Recommended. Official website.
November 17 to December 2, 2018 – Kiyomizudera Temple Illumination – One of Kyoto’s most popular fall nighttime illuminations, Kiyomizudera’s hillside looks absolutely stunning covered in fiery red momiji. We love this event, and try to do it every year in spring and fall (see our photos in that post). Highly recommended. Official website.
November 21, 2018 – Kobo-san Flea Market – This flea market at Toji Temple features a range of antiques and used items, and draws big crowds. If you’re in town mostly to see the towering pagoda here, choose another day.
November 23, 2018 – Labor Thanksgiving Day – Not so much a ‘special event’ you’ll want to see, but quick words of caution here: the long weekend around Labor Thanksgiving Day is the busiest time of the year in Kyoto–period. We’d advise finding under-the-radar things to do if you’re visiting this weekend. Avoid the popular temples, buses, and Kyoto Station.
November 25, 2018 – Tenjin-san Flea Market – Held on the 25th of every month, this large flea market at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is incredibly popular and has a wide variety of antiques, used items, and food for sale. As we discuss in our post about Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, we attended the flea market last November and it was absolute chaos.
If you’re planning a trip to 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 attended any November special events in Kyoto? What did you think of the experience? Would you recommend it to a first-timer visiting Japan? Anything you’re looking forward to this month in Kyoto? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? 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!