Kyoto Heian Shrine – heavenly weeping cherry blossom trees

Giant vermilion Torri Gate Heian Jingu Shrine Kyoto Japan

Heian Shrine Kyoto –  Buddhist Shinto Shrine

The Heian Shrine, a Shinto shrine, is different in architecture to many other shrines and palaces we visited in Japan on our tour. The buildings are very colorful with an attractive mix of vivid vermilion,white, and jade colors; offset by dark green cypress pines and pink cherry blossom trees. This style of architecture is from the Heian Period and has a strong Chinese influence. A giant vermilion Torii gate, one of the largest in Japan, marks the approach to the shrine. The Torii, made of ferrous cement is 24.4 meters in height.

Heian Palace (replica of the old Kyoto Imperial Palace only on a smaller scale)

Heian Palace (replica of the old Kyoto Imperial Palace only on a smaller scale)

Buildings replica of original Imperial Palace

The shrines main buildings are a replica of the original Imperial Palace from the Heian period, only on a smaller scale (5/8 scale). The original palace destroyed by fire in 1227. Imagine three times larger!  The Emperor and central government of the time moved the capital from Nagaoka in 784 to Heian in 794 (Heian is the early name for Kyoto). Kyoto remained the capital  for over one thousand years. The Imperial Palace has vermilion colored look-outs at the roof center  and at the four corners of the building, these are known as Soryu-ro.

Replica of Royal Palace of old Kyoto. Heian Jingu Shrine-Corner Palace (Sōryūrō)

Heian Jingu Shrine- Corner and center towers of Palace are look-outs (Sōryūrō)


Heian Shrine dedicated to first and last Emperors 

The Heian Shrine has a relative short history compared to many other shrines. The history of the Heian Shrine dates back over a hundred years to 1895. The shrine was built to celebrate the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto. The Shrine dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors who reigned over the city, Emperor Kammu(737-806) and Emperor Komei (1831-1867).


Heian Shrine-Main-gate or Otenmon Gate

Otenmon Gate (main gate) and Diagoku-den (main hall)

The vermilion-lacquered Otenmon gate and Diagoku-den(main hall) are especially attractive buildings. The rope decorations being hung over the doorway by the Buddhist monks at the Otenmon Gate, called shimenawa (the rope) is to ward off evil spirits. The decorative strips of white paper called shime, symbolizes purity in the Shinto faith.

HeianShrineOtenmonGateMonks at work

Otenmon-gate – Monks at work- Heian Jingu Shrine Kyoto Japan

Stroll gardens known as Shin-en ‘Garden for the Gods’

The Heian-jingu shrine built according to designs by Ito Chuta (1867-1954) a famous Japanese architect, architectural historian and critic. The garden at the shrine established over a twenty year period by a famous Japanese gardener of the time, Jihei Ogawa 7th. The beautiful gardens at Heian Shrine are an important cultural property of Japan and representative of the Meiji-era (1868-1912) garden design.

Pond view of cherry trees with cascading cherry blossoms Heian Jingu shrine

Pond view of cherry trees with cascading cherry blossoms Heian Jingu shrine

Heavenly gardens – weeping cherry blossom trees

The shrine grounds are very spacious with a wide open center court. Beautiful gardens lie behind the main buildings. The garden takes up half the land area approx. 33060 sq.meters. There are four areas to the gardens-south,west,middle and east gardens.   I thought the garden would be older than it actually is. It is such a beautiful established garden with shrubs, traditional buildings, ponds, and amazing weeping cherry trees draped over bamboo trellises. An awesome sight.


East Garden- Elegant Pavilion Taiheikaky over Seiho-ike(pond) – Mount Kacho

Eastern Garden – Seiho-ike Pond

Above is the East Garden and pond named Seiho-ike. The surface of the pond is like glass with beautiful reflections of the buildings,trees, mountains and sky. This elegant pavilion Taiheikaku or covered bridge over the pond is an ideal viewing spot, a pleasure spot to sit and enjoy the reflections. Mount Kacho sits in the background, part of the Higashiyama Mountain Range.


Shobikan on Sieho-ike (pond)

Shobikan on Seiho-ike pond

On the edge of Seiho-ike(pond) is another  graceful building  called Shobikan. It has sliding doors (fusuma) painted with beautiful pictures. Both the Taiheikaku pavilion and Shobikan building given as a gift from the Kyoto Imperial Palace. The gardens are aptly named Shin-en, ‘Garden of the gods’.

Stepping stones across the pond at Heian Jingu shrine,Kyoto,Japan

Stepping stones across the pond at Heian Jingu shrine,Kyoto,Japan

Naka Shin’en (Middle Garden)

The garden area above is known as Naka shin’en or middle garden,constructed in 1895.  It lies behind the shrine’s main building and has the Soryu-ike pond featuring the Garyu-kyo. The Garyu-kyo walkway, consists of stone pillars, once foundation stones for the girders of Sanjo Ohashi and Gojo Ohashi, both famous bridges in Kyoto city center. The pond  features the beautiful purple irises which flower in the summer months.

Planting Irises Soryu-ike pond, Heian Jingu Shrine Kyoto

Planting Irises Soryu-ike pond, Heian Jingu Shrine Kyoto

Heian Shrine best site for viewing weeping cherry blossom tree

The Heian Jingu Shrine reputed to be one of the best sites for viewing the cherry blossom trees in Kyoto, with the weeping cherry trees in full bloom at the tail end of the season, around mid-April. We had certainly picked the right time for a visit. Truly magnificent, one of the most beautiful gardens, if not the most beautiful garden we have visited on our tour. The cascading blossoms, so light and delicate among the green pines and shrubs gave an almost ethereal appearance and atmosphere to the gardens. We walked around dazzled by the breath-taking beauty of the blossoms.

Weeping cherry blossom trees,delicate,ethereal blooms

Weeping cherry blossom trees,delicate,ethereal blooms

Special events at the Shrine

The shrine court, a very large central area, is sometimes used for special events. The Jidai Festival is held here on 22nd October each year, to commemorate the foundation of Kyoto. The main event of the festival is a parade of people wearing costumes from different periods of Japanese history. The procession travels from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to the center court of the  Heian Jingu Shrine.

Heavenly weeping cherry blossom trees supported on bamboo trellises,a wonderful sight

Heavenly weeping cherry blossom trees supported on bamboo trellises,a spectacular sight

Heian Jingu Shrine listed as an important cultural property of Japan.

How to get there from Kyoto Station:

The Heian Shrine can be reached by Kyoto Cityu bus number 5 or 100 from Kyoto Station-takes half an hour-cost 220 yen.

Alternate route: Take subway via Karasuma Oike Station to Higashiyama Station-  20 Minutes-250 yen. The shrine is a ten minute walk.

It is free to visit the Shrine. Cost to visit the gardens is 600 yen.


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