Heian Shrine: Elegant Gardens & Architecture of Heian-kyo

Discovering Heian Shrine: Explore Elegant Japanese Gardens and Architecture Reflecting Heian-era Beauty

Heian Shrine, built to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the transfer of the capital to Heian-kyo, replicates the splendor of the ancient city in 5/8ths scale. Dedicated to Emperor Kanmu, who initiated the capital move, the shrine showcases the luxurious architecture of the Heian period.

Within its grounds, you’ll find significant structures like the “Daigokuden,” designated as an Important Cultural Property, alongside other valuable buildings with over a century of history.

The shrine’s garden, designated as a National Historic Site of Scenic Beauty, is renowned for its seasonal beauty, offering picturesque views throughout the year. In this article, we’ll delve into the highlights of Heian Shrine based on our thorough exploration.

Exploring the Charm of Heian Shrine

The area around Kyoto Station, a famous tourist spot, served as the political center from the Heian period to the Meiji era, housing the Emperor’s Imperial Palace. During the Heian period, known as Heian-kyo, Kyoto flourished not only as a political hub but also as a well-developed city with organized streets and transportation. Heian Shrine, replicating the architecture of Heian-kyo while preserving its scale and grandeur, vividly portrays the splendor of that era.

Preserving the vibrant atmosphere of Heian-kyo, even after the Meiji Restoration, Heian Shrine revitalized Kyoto, which lost its capital functions. Guarding the heart of Kyoto, Heian Shrine is also known as the “guardian of the four directions,” adding to its significance. In autumn, it hosts the Jidai Festival, one of Kyoto’s three major festivals, making it a popular tourist destination.

Within its grounds, you’ll find numerous attractions, including Important Cultural Properties, nationally designated scenic spots, and beautiful gardens. Experience the grandeur of Heian Shrine, offering a scale and beauty that embodies the essence of Kyoto’s landscapes, on your next visit.

The History of Heian Shrine

Heian Shrine was planned as a highlight for the National Industrial Exhibition held in Kyoto in 1895, commemorating the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s transfer to Heian-kyo. Originally intended for a different location, it was eventually reconstructed in Okazaki, Kyoto, at 5/8ths scale of the Heian period. Initially dedicated to Emperor Kanmu, who relocated the capital to Heian-kyo, it later enshrined Emperor Komei, the last emperor to reside in Heian-kyo, in 1940.

In 1976, a devastating fire destroyed nine buildings of Heian Shrine, including the main hall and inner sanctuary. Without cultural heritage status, fundraising for reconstruction was challenging. Through nationwide donations, nearly all structures were rebuilt within three years, preserving the shrine’s historical essence.

Designed by renowned architects such as Ito Chuta, Kido Kiyonori, and Sasaki Iwajiro, the shrine’s main hall replicates the imperial palace’s audience hall of the Heian period. In 2010, six buildings, including the main hall, were designated as Important Cultural Properties, underscoring their significance in Japanese cultural heritage.

How to Get to Heian Shrine

Heian Shrine is located in Okazaki, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City. The surrounding area boasts lush greenery, including Okazaki Park, and is also home to tourist attractions like the National Museum of Modern Art and the zoo. For easy access, it’s recommended to use public transportation such as trains or buses.

You can reach Heian Shrine within 30 minutes from various stations, including JR, subway, and Keihan Railway. If you plan to explore other tourist spots along with Heian Shrine using city buses, it’s advisable to use a day pass for convenience.

If you’re traveling by train:

  • It’s a 10-minute walk from Kyoto Subway Tozai Line “Higashiyama Station.”
  • A 15-minute walk from Keihan Main Line “Sanjo Station” or “Jingu Marutamachi Station.”
  • A 20-minute walk from Hankyu Line “Kawaramachi Station.”

If you’re taking the bus:

  • From JR Kyoto Station: Take Kyoto City Bus Route 5, or Kyoto Bus Route 100 or 110, and get off at “Okazaki Koen Bijutsukan/Heian Jingu-mae” bus stop. It’s a 5-minute walk north from there.
  • From Hankyu Kawaramachi Station: Take Kyoto City Bus Route 5, 46, or 32, and get off at “Okazaki Koen Bijutsukan/Heian Jingu-mae” or “Okazaki Koen Romu Theater Kyoto/Miyakomese-mae” bus stop. It’s a 5-minute walk north from either stop.
  • From Gion/Kiyomizu-dera area: Take Kyoto City Bus Route 201, 203, or 206, and get off at “Higashiyama Nijo/Okazaki Koen-guchi” bus stop. It’s a 5-minute walk east from there. Or take Kyoto Bus Route 100 and get off at “Okazaki Koen Bijutsukan/Heian Jingu-mae” bus stop, then walk north for 5 minutes.

Tourist Information for Heian Shrine

  • Address: 97 Okazaki Nishitennocho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Phone Number: 075-761-0221
  • Closed: Open all year round
  • Opening Hours:
    • Shrine Grounds: 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM (March 15th to September 30th), 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM (November to February 14th), 6:00 AM to 5:30 PM (February 15th to March 14th, October)
    • Garden: 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM (March 1st to March 14th, October 1st to October 31st), 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM (March 15th to September 30th), 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM (November 1st to end of February)
  • Admission Fee:
    • Garden: Adults 600 yen, Children 300 yen, Half price for individuals with disabilities
  • Official Website: Heian Shrine

Heian Shrine is a must-visit tourist spot with captivating features such as its architectural resemblance to the ancient Heian-kyo and the vast 1,000,000-square-meter garden. Please note that the visiting hours for both the shrine grounds and the garden may vary slightly depending on the season. With entry starting from 6:00 AM, it’s ideal for those who want to explore Kyoto’s streets early in the morning.

The shrine grounds are often covered with small stones, so wearing comfortable shoes is recommended. Additionally, since some parts of the garden have paths made of soil, sturdy footwear is advisable. If you plan to explore the garden, you can purchase tickets at the entrance located to the left of the main hall.

Discovering Heian Shrine’s Highlights

Let me introduce you to the fascinating sights of Heian Shrine, including the “Daigokuden,” designated as an Important Cultural Property, and the architectural marvels inspired by the main hall of Heian-kyo, known as the “Chodoin.” These vibrant structures, along with the serene garden and other highlights within the shrine grounds, offer an unforgettable experience for tourists, as witnessed firsthand by the author of this article.

Enjoying the Approach to the Shrine: “Ootorii” and “Otenmon”


If you’re taking a city bus to Heian Shrine, you’ll get off at “Okazaki Koen Bijutsukan/Heian Jingu-mae,” just a 5-minute walk south of the shrine grounds. Welcoming visitors at this stop is the striking vermilion Grand Torii Gate, a symbol of Okazaki. This monumental Torii Gate was erected to commemorate the Showa Emperor’s enthronement.

Designed by Kyoto Prefecture engineer Ryonosuke Sakatani, the gate is made of reinforced concrete and steel framework, standing 24 meters tall and boasting an impressive width of 18 meters, making it the largest of its kind in Japan at the time of construction. Pass through this iconic symbol of the city, designated as a Registered Tangible Cultural Property, as you make your way to Heian Shrine.

Heian Rakuichi

On the approach to Heian Shrine lies the lush Okazaki Park, known as Okazaki Park. Every second Saturday, this park, which also serves as the approach to Heian Shrine, hosts a market called “Heian Rakuichi,” where handmade crafts are sold. Stroll along the road lined with dozens of stalls, brimming with energy and excitement, and enjoy shopping at this vibrant market.

Along the main street where the market is held, you’ll find benches shaded by trees, perfect for taking a break. Nearby, there is also a zoo, making it an ideal destination for families with young children.

Otenmon Gate

At the entrance to the shrine grounds stands the Otenmon Gate, modeled after the main gate of the Imperial Palace in Heian-kyo. This striking gate replicates the features of the Otenmon Gate, such as its green-tiled roof and two-tiered structure, but scaled down to 80% of the original size. Painted in vivid vermilion, this gate is the shrine’s main gate and is designated as an Important Cultural Property by the government.

Standing at an impressive height of 18.43 meters, the gate exudes a commanding presence that leaves visitors awestruck. Legend has it that the calligraphy on the plaque above the gate, which reads “Otenmon,” was done by the famous monk Kobo Daishi. It is said that he initially forgot to add a dot to the character “O” and had to throw his brush to add it later, giving rise to the Japanese saying “Even Kobo makes mistakes with his brush.”

Exploring the Stunning Architecture: “Replicas of Heian-kyo” at the Shrine Grounds


The “Daigokuden” at Heian Shrine, serving as the Outer Hall of Worship, was constructed alongside the main hall to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of the Heian capital’s foundation by Emperor Kammu. This architectural gem, modeled after the Daigokuden of the Heian capital, seamlessly blends ancient construction techniques with Kyoto’s architectural expertise, recognized for its aesthetic value. One distinctive feature of the Daigokuden is its use of green-tiled roofs adorned with golden “tobi-no-ō” ornaments on either side.

In the Heian period, the Daigokuden hosted significant ceremonies, including the Emperor’s enthronement rites. Today, it serves as the main hall of Heian Shrine, welcoming numerous visitors. Recognized as an Important Cultural Property, this historically significant structure stands as a testament to Kyoto’s architectural legacy.

The “Sakura of Ukonn” and “Tachibana of Sakonn”

The “Sakura of Ukonn” and “Tachibana of Sakonn” are two trees planted in front of the Outer Hall of Worship at Heian Shrine. During my visit in June, amidst the lush greenery, these trees were not in full bloom, but they offer a vibrant display in their respective seasons. In front of the Outer Hall of Worship, there is a staircase called the “Ryudan,” which, in ancient times, only allowed those of high rank to ascend.


The “Soryu-ro” is another Important Cultural Property at Heian Shrine, designed in the style of the Imperial Court in Heian-kyo. Featuring a “Shiho-nagare” sloping roof on all four sides and a double-layered, five-ridged structure, this building exudes traditional elegance. The name “Soryu” comes from the Azure Dragon, said to protect the eastern part of Kyoto.

With its green roof tiles, vibrant red exterior, and towering roof reaching towards the sky like a tower, the Soryu-ro is truly captivating. During spring, the cherry blossoms behind the Soryu-ro add a touch of color, making it a perfect spot for photography.


On the western side of the precinct, you’ll find the “Byakko-ro,” standing in contrast to the Soryu-ro. Similar to the Soryu-ro, the Byakko-ro features a “Shiho-nagare” sloping roof on all four sides and a double-layered, five-ridged structure. Named after the “Byakko,” believed to guard the western part of Kyoto, the Byakko-ro is an architectural gem.

Below the Byakko-ro, you’ll find the entrance to the sacred garden, designated as a national scenic spot. When visiting the garden, make sure to purchase your tickets at the ticket counter located under the Byakko-ro.


In the precincts of the Heian Shrine, you’ll find the temizuya, or water ablution pavilion, shaped in homage to the Byakko-ro and Soryu-ro. The temizuya located on the east side near the Soryu-ro takes the form of the Blue Dragon, while the one near the Byakko-ro resembles the White Tiger. From around the entrance to the precincts where the temizuya are located, you can admire the majestic and splendid exterior of the entire outer hall.

A Japanese Garden Representing the Meiji Era – “Shen’en”

Within the grounds of Heian Shrine lies the expansive Japanese garden called “Shen’en,” boasting an area of over 10,000 square meters. This garden, designated as a national scenic spot, is considered a representative example of Meiji-era Japanese gardens, created by the pioneering landscape designer Jihei Ogawa. Combining techniques from a thousand years of garden craftsmanship, Shen’en offers the chance to admire cherry blossoms in spring, irises in early summer, autumn foliage, and winter snowscapes.

Shen’en follows the traditional “pond-strolling” style of garden design, with a large pond at its center fed by the Biwako Sosui canal. Divided into four distinct sections—East, Central, West, and South—the garden surrounds the main shrine building. Each section offers its own unique views, such as the enchanting scenery of the South Shen’en with its double-petaled weeping cherry blossoms, or the tranquil ambiance of the East Shen’en focused around the central pond.

East Shen’en

The East Shen’en is a garden centered around the Seiho Pond, envisioned for boat outings by the aristocrats of the Heian period. The scenery, composed of the natural surroundings, stone lanterns, and architecture around the pond, exudes a sense of elegance. In spring, the area around Turtle Island and Crane Island bursts into bloom with double-petaled weeping cherry blossoms, creating a stunning sight as the flowers reflect on the water.

The Taihei Pavilion, situated to cross the pond, was originally relocated from the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Inside, there are seating areas where visitors can take a break during their garden stroll. Taihei Pavilion at Heian Shrine, where Shinto weddings take place, offers breathtaking views perfect for wedding photography sessions.

Middle Shen’en

The Middle Shen’en is the garden area extending to the east of the main hall. It features the picturesque Middle Shen’en, centered around the Soryu Pond. As the rainy season approaches, lotus flowers bloom on the surface of the pond, displaying their vibrant purple color.

In addition to strolling around the pond, visitors can also cross the pond by stepping on stepping stones placed around its perimeter. The stepping stones, forming the “Gyoryu Bridge,” connect the eastern Oshima (Coral Island) and the northern shore, resembling the stone structures used in the construction of the Sanjo and Gojo Bridges by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

West Shen’en

In the serene Shen’en Garden, which offers captivating views throughout the seasons, one of the highlights in early summer is the irises blooming in the West Shen’en. Around 2,000 iris plants grace the White Tiger Pond in the West Shen’en. During my visit in June, the irises were in full bloom, creating a spectacular sight.

During the peak iris bloom season, the garden is open to the public for free for one day each year, so be sure to check the official website for details. On the west side of the White Tiger Pond lies the Oshima Island, while the garden’s only waterfall can be found on the north side.

South Shen’en

The South Shen’en, located just inside the entrance of the Shen’en Garden, was originally an undeveloped area that was transformed into a garden after World War II. Covering an area of 1,700 tsubo, this space features over 170 species of plants, primarily those mentioned in the poetry anthologies of the Heian period. At the heart of the garden lies a narrow water feature resembling a river, offering changing scenery throughout the seasons.

The South Shen’en also houses the first electric tram that operated in Kyoto in 1895. Originally introduced to serve visitors to the Domestic Industrial Exposition, the tram became part of Kyoto’s public transport system in 1918 until it was decommissioned in 1978. The tram car on display in the South Shen’en of Heian Shrine is a valuable relic from its inaugural years.

Recommended Sightseeing Spots around the Shrine

Around Heian Shrine in Okazaki and the nearby Higashiyama Station, you’ll find various attractions such as temples, shrines, and art museums. Why not visit spots like Chion-in Temple, the head temple of the Jodo sect with its magnificent Sanmon Gate, or the Kyoto Museum of Modern Art, showcasing a wide range of art and crafts from paintings to modern sculptures?

Explore Chion-in Temple, the Head Temple of the Jodo Sect, with Its National Treasures

Chion-in Temple is a serene temple located just a 5-minute walk from the “Chion-in Mae” bus stop on route 206, or an 8-minute walk from the nearest subway station, Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Line.

The majestic Sanmon Gate, constructed in 1621 under the orders of the second shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Hidetada, awaits visitors at the entrance. This gate, one of the largest wooden gates in Japan, is designated as a national treasure.

The Sanmon Gate is divided into three sections: the Kūmon (Gate of Emptiness), the Musōmon (Gate of the Non-Duality), and the Muganmon (Gate of the Absence of Desire), symbolizing the three stages leading to enlightenment. Towering at a height of 24 meters and spanning 50 meters wide, it impresses with its grandeur. Inside the Sanmon Gate, you’ll find a hall housing Buddhist statues designated as important cultural properties.

At the heart of Chion-in Temple’s grounds lies the Goeido Hall, dedicated to the sacred image of Honen Shonin, the founder of the Jodo sect of Buddhism. The present-day Goeido Hall was constructed in 1639 under the patronage of Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Designated as a national treasure, the Goeido Hall underwent extensive restoration work as of 2019 to preserve its historical significance.

To reach the central area of the temple grounds where the Goeido Hall stands, be prepared for a slope, so comfortable walking shoes are recommended. From 9:00 to 16:00 (except between 13:00 and 14:00), a shuttle bus operates between the Sanmon Gate and the Goeido Hall, providing convenient access for visitors.

Tourist Information for Chion-in Temple

  • Address: 400 Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: 5-minute walk from the “Chion-in Mae” bus stop on route 206, or an 8-minute walk from the Higashiyama Station on the Tozai subway line
  • Phone Number: +81-75-531-2111
  • Closed: Open every day
  • Opening Hours: 5:00 AM to 6:00 PM (may vary depending on the season)
  • Admission: Free
  • Official Website: Chion-in Temple

Discover Art and Craftsmanship at Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art

Located just a minute’s walk from the “Okazaki Koen Bijutsukan/Heian Jingu-mae” bus stop served by routes 5, 46, and 100, and approximately a 5-minute walk from Heian Shrine, the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art is a treasure trove of artistic masterpieces, particularly showcasing works from Western Japan with a focus on Kyoto.

This museum boasts an impressive collection including around 1000 Japanese paintings, 570 Western paintings, 1900 photographs, 3000 prints, and approximately 430 ceramic pieces by Kanjiro Kawai. Notably, it also features an extensive collection of crafts such as textiles and ceramics. With a collection of around 12,000 pieces, the exhibits are rotated 4 to 5 times a year, ensuring a fresh experience with each visit.

At the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art, alongside its permanent collection, there are always special exhibitions happening on a rotating basis. During these special exhibitions, visitors have the opportunity to appreciate artworks not only from overseas artists but also pieces borrowed from other museums and international collections. For instance, the “Van Gogh Exhibition” held in the past showcased works by Van Gogh, who had a profound interest in Japanese ukiyo-e art.

Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art Visitor Information

  • Address: 26-1 Enshojicho, Okazaki, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: 1 minute walk from bus stops 5, 46, and 100 at Okazaki Koen Bijutsukan / Heian Jingu Mae, 10 minutes walk from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Subway Line
  • Phone Number: 075-761-4111
  • Closed: Mondays (if Monday is a national holiday, closed the following day), year-end and New Year holidays, occasional closures for exhibit changes
  • Hours: 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM (last admission at 4:30 PM)
  • Admission: Collection Gallery: Adults 430 yen, University students 130 yen, High school students, under 18, and over 65 years old are free (Special exhibitions may have different fees)
  • Official Website: Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art

Explore the Famous Night Special Viewing at “Shoren-in Monzeki”

Located just a 5-minute walk from the Tozai Line’s “Higashiyama” station, this site is renowned as one of the three gate sites of the Enryaku-ji Temple on Mt. Hiei, the head temple of the Tendai sect. Among the gate temples deeply connected with the imperial family since ancient times, there is a Japanese garden said to be the work of the renowned artist Soami from the Muromachi period. The “pond and stream garden” incorporating the natural scenery of Higashiyama allows you to experience both the tranquility and grandeur of nature at once.

The Shoren-in Monzeki, with its historical and atmospheric structures like the Kacho-den and Kogosho, still standing today. At the inner sanctuary of the Seiryu-den within the precincts, you can admire the Sei-Fudo, designated as a national treasure. Don’t miss the opportunity to pay your respects to the Sei-Fudo, revered as the highest-ranking Fudo Myoo, considered the incarnation of Dainichi Nyorai.

At Shoren-in Monzeki, a special night illumination event is held every spring and autumn for a limited time. With its deity statues glowing brightly, especially the radiant Shaka Nyorai and the fiery Fudo Myoo, the temple is deeply associated with light. The entire temple grounds, including the picturesque pond and stream garden, are illuminated with approximately 1,000 lights.

Within the gardens, visitors can marvel at natural wonders like the towering camphor trees and the bamboo forest glowing in shades of blue. While interior photography is restricted, capturing the beautifully illuminated gardens is permitted. To avoid crowds, it’s advisable to aim for the starting time of 6:00 PM when the night illumination begins.

Tourist Information for Shoren-in Monzeki

  • Address: Sanjo-Bocho, Awataguchi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
  • Map: Google Maps
  • Access: 5 minutes on foot from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Subway Line, 3 minutes on foot from the “Jingumichi” bus stop on bus routes 5, 46, and 100, 10 minutes on foot from Maruyama Park
  • Phone Number: 075-561-2345
  • Closed: Open all year round
  • Opening Hours: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (last admission at 4:30 PM), extended hours during spring and autumn night illumination from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM (last admission at 9:30 PM)
  • Admission Fee: Adults 500 yen, Middle and High School Students 400 yen, Elementary School Students 200 yen (during special night illumination: adults 800 yen, middle and high school students 400 yen)
  • Official Website: Shoren-in Monzeki

I introduced the highlights of Heian Shrine, which reproduces the elegant and glamorous architecture of the Heian period in Kyoto. Let’s explore the four areas featuring temples where you can enjoy the changing scenery throughout the seasons, and spots like the Outer Hall designated as an Important Cultural Property. Combine it with nearby tourist spots, and you can enjoy sightseeing all day long.


メールアドレスが公開されることはありません。 が付いている欄は必須項目です