Yoshida Shrine is one of several temples and other places on a hill overlooking Kyoto University. This cluster includes some of our favorite hidden gem temples in Japan: Kurodani Temple, Shinnyodo Temple, and Yoshida Shrine along with its array of sub-shrines. In this post, we’ll share further thoughts, tips, photos, and anecdotes from Yoshida Hill & Shrine.
Technically, the shrine itself is on yoshidayama or Mt. Yoshida, but we usually refer to the larger area encompassing the surrounding temples as Yoshida Hill since they aren’t technically on the mountain. I’m not sure to what degree this is accurate; I see both terms in use almost interchangeably and yoshidayama is hardly a mountain in the first place.
We won’t do a deep dive into the shrine’s history, but it is fairly interesting. After its founding in 859, Kanetomo Yoshida, a scholar and priest, used the shrine to establish a religion known as Yoshida Shinto. This religion quickly caught one among Japanese from all walks of life, as it provided a framework for Buddhism and Shinto to spiritually coexist.
On our Top 100 Temples & Shrines in Kyoto, Japan list, Yoshida Shrine ranks #32, Shinnyodo Temple ranks #29, and Kurodani Temple is #23.
Suffice to say, they’re all very strong, and any one of them could be your favorite. They’ve become a package deal for us, and I can’t recall the last time we visited one without seeing the others recently.
In fact, we enjoy this trio of temples on and around Yoshida Hill that all are included in our 1-Day Brickers’ Perfect Kyoto Itinerary. Yes, this hill is that “essential” that even if you only have a day in Kyoto, you should visit. We love and highly recommend the Mt. Yoshida area.
Yoshida Shrine is convenient both to Heian Shrine and the Northern Higashiyama area, making it easy to incorporate into a multitude of itineraries. We usually walk from Philosopher’s Path, stopping at a nearby Fresco supermarket before making our way to the park. Yoshida Shrine is a 15-minute walk from Demachiyanagi Station, for those not visiting as a stop along another itinerary.
In addition to the aforementioned temples near Yoshida Shrine, the hillside park is home to a number of interesting spots, plus sub-temples and shrines.
One of these is Takenaka Inari Shrine, which is sort of like a bargain version of Fushimi Inari. Nevertheless, I find it particularly photogenic, as the trees above and grass below provides visual interest (so long as cars aren’t parked too closely to the torii gates).
Another of these sub-shrines is Daigengu Saijosho, which is a sub-shrine within Yoshida Shrine that is only open the 1st day of every month, and for Setsubun. Daigengu’s main hexagonal building is considered one of Kyoto’s most powerful locations, as it enshrines all 3,132 kami, giving you the chance to pray to all Japanese deities at once for maximum efficiency.
The architecture of Daigengu Shrine also packs a powerful punch in a relatively confined space. Its intricacies are unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere in Kyoto; to me feels like a cross between Japan’s traditional Gasshō-style farmhouse style and the post framing of Samoa. (It might be a singular Japanese design style, but if so, I’m unfamiliar with that.)
This shrine demonstrates how Yoshida Shrine continues to be an important Shinto institution to this day, in part because of its proximity to Kyoto University and ties to that institution, and in part for its festivals.
Yoshida Shrine is famous for driving away evil spirits, and it has a rich history of drawing Japanese visitors for festivals held to serve exactly that purpose.
The most grand festival is Setsubun, which is held annually February 2nd to 4th, and is one of the biggest festivals of the year in Kyoto. The event is held at multiple temples and shrines throughout the city, with the largest being at Yoshida Shrine. The highlight of Setsubun occurs February 3rd, which is the day before the beginning of spring and was New Year’s Eve on the lunar calendar.
On this evening, huge crowds line Yoshida Shrine for a Shinto ritual called tsuinashiki, which culminates at nightfall with a performance of demons. It is believed that bad demons symbolizing ill will emerge at the turn of the seasons, and need to be exorcised. This occurs at the festival with the bad demons and good demons (hososhi) fighting back and forth.
Per Japanese Setsubun custom, people scatter roasted soybeans while chanting “Fukuwauchi, Oniwasoto,” meaning “Happiness come in! Demons go out!” The roasted soybeans are then consumed to stave off illness during the year.
The festival also offers a ton of food stalls, lottery, and huge bonfire. You can read and see more of the Setsubun customs in this post.
Throughout the year, Yoshida Shrine is home to countless other small-scale festivals and events. Many of these are put on by students and faculty of Kyoto University. In fact, we once attempted to attend a smaller festival, known as Kaguraoka Shrine Festival.
Unlike other major events in Kyoto, there were no posters plastered up on nearby businesses nor were there fliers at the Kyoto Tourist Info Center. Nevertheless, we found a listing about it in a Japanese book about Kyoto events, which was confirmed by this website. So we set out for it one morning.
Upon arriving, we found nothing…which we were half-expecting. We asked several people at the shrine about it, showing them that (English) website. Understandably, no one had any idea what we were talking about, but none seemed to think any festival would be occurring that day.
In spite of that, I raced around Mt. Yoshida, checking each of the sub-temples and shrines to see if there were any signs of a festival. Everything was quiet everywhere, leading us to believe there was no such event. To this day, part of me wonders whether it did happen and we just missed it, if it was rescheduled, or what else could’ve gone wrong.
Our other visits to Mt. Yoshida and its various shrines have been much more enjoyable. It’s situated nearby popular tourist areas of Kyoto, but is just far enough away in a relatively humdrum residential area that it’s exceedingly rare to see any other foreign visitors at any of these temples. Given the progressive increase of crowds in Kyoto, this alone makes Yoshida Shrine a welcome respite, and a place we recommend visiting.
If you’re planning a trip to Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend that you start 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 Mt. Yoshida and any of its shrines or temples? 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? Any questions about what we’ve covered here? Does visiting this spot in Kyoto interest you? Hearing about your experiences—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!