Autumn at Night- Kyoto Temple Night Illuminations

Kyoto Night Shorenin Temple title pictureDuring the height of the autumn season, Kyoto opens up some of its temples and gardens to night illuminations. They also happen in the spring, but I didn’t know about them when I was there the last time. But this time, I did my research before my trip to maximize my autumn foliage viewing, and learned about all the different temples open at night. Sadly for me, some of the largest temple complexes didn’t open until after I left Kyoto. But there were more than one temple I was able to enjoy.

Kyoto Night Shorein Temple lake reflection

Kyoto Night Shorein Temple lakeMy first night in Kyoto I visited two temples: the Shorenin Temple and the Kodaiji Temple. They are located in eastern Kyoto and roughly a 10/15 minute walk from each other. It’s always interesting to visit Japanese temples, because you are required to take your shoes off. But thankfully all the temples provide you with a convenient plastic bag to carry your shoes with you. These temples also have illuminated gardens of trees.

Kyoto Night Shorenin Temple lighted yard

Kyoto Night Shorenin Temple red treeKyoto hadn’t reached peak foliage during my visit, so there was still plenty of green leaves on the trees, but you could see oranges and reds as well.

Kyoto Night Shorenin Temple colored foliageShorenin Temple also has an illuminated bamboo forest.

Kyoto Night Shorenin Temple bamboo forestI visited Kodaiji Temple during my last trip and it was interesting to have a new perspective on it, with it being at night and in the autumn.  I was quite entranced with the images of reflections of the trees on still ponds.

Kyoto Night Kodaiji Temple pool reflection

Kyoto Night Kodaiji Temple orange reflection poolMy favorite part of Kodaiji Temple was the illuminated sand garden.

Kyoto Night Kodaiji Temple illuminated sandsThe second night I went to Eikando Temple. The temple is also located in eastern Kyoto and it’s about a 10 minute walk from Nanzenji Temple, so you can easily fit both temples into the same visit. I wasn’t able to visit Nanzenji at night, because the temple gardens weren’t open for night business until later in November. That is another reason why to schedule any Kyoto autumn visits for late November.

Kyoto Night Eikando foliage with moonThis is the entrance way to the temple. I went there right when it opened at 1730.

Kyoto Night Eikando temple entranceI went early figuring I would catch the temple, and then go enjoy dinner. It turns out that I wasn’t the only one who had that thought. There was a 20 minute wait to get into the temple. The line ran smoothly, though it meant there were hordes of people on site enjoying the illuminations. When I left the temple, there was no line or anything. So if you go to temple night visits, go later in the evening. Most of the temple night illuminations stay open between 2030-2130, so there is plenty of time each night to visit the temples.

Kyoto Night Eikando Temple pool reflectionsThat is another thing about a Kyoto autumn visit. You won’t be the only one with the same brilliant idea, so just be prepared to enjoy your visit along with thousands of others. But you get good at elbowing people out of the way so you can take your picture.

Kyoto Night Eikando reflection poolEikando is particularly good for enjoying night reflections of different colored trees on bodies of water.

Kyoto Night Eikando Temple main lakeLike every other temple in Kyoto, it hadn’t hit peak foliage. But there were definitely brilliant patches of red leaves.

Kyoto Night Eikando red trees

Kyoto Night Eikando red foliageEikando is supposed to be especially beautiful during autumn peak foliage, during both day and night. Definitely don’t miss it.

Kyoto Night Eikando Temple bridge

Kyoto Gardens

Nijo Castle beautiful garden view

Kyoto is an extraordinarily beautiful city with many, many beautiful gardens. I visited Kyoto in May, so while it was beautiful with lush, green foliage everywhere, it was sort of like the lull time between the full blooming of cherry blossoms and azaleas in the spring, and the explosion of color that happens every fall. I couldn’t quite figure out if I was there at the tail end of the azalea blooming season or right at the beginning of the season. Based on the azalea blooming season in Seoul, I was there to see the season off for another year, not welcome a new one. Like the photo above, I saw enough azaleas to see how extraordinarily beautiful it would be to be there for the full bloom season. That photo, and the photo below, is from the garden at Nijo Castle and it was so peaceful and beautiful on that bright, sunny afternoon.

Nijo Castle garden azaelas

All the Kyoto temples, castles and shrines have at least a small garden to enjoy. Kodaiji Temple has some beautiful foliage while walking through the temple grounds, including a small bamboo forest.

Kyoto interesting tree

I kept imagining what this tree will look like in the fall. I’ve seen pictures of amazing Japanese trees during autumn, and the rainbow of colors is awe inspiring to behold. I want to see Japanese foliage in the full thrust of autumn at some point in my life.

Kodaiji Temple complex

Kodaiji Temple garden window view

This view looks almost like a  painting, but rather it is framed by a door.

Kodaiji Temple bamboo forest

Ryonanji Temple also has a garden, but it is not the typical garden you expect. Sure, the temple is located on a woodsy grounds, but the centerpiece garden of this temple is a famous Zen rock garden. It was created in the 15th century during the Muromachi Period, and consists of 15 rocks set in waves of neatly organized white temples, surrounded by clay walls. Visitors aren’t able to walk in the garden obviously, but there is a wooden veranda visitors can contemplate the garden.

Ryoanji Temple Zen rock garden

Another beautiful garden is the Shinen Gardens located at the Heian Shrine. This was another place replete with azaleas in partial bloom, and I kept imagining what it looks like during the height of blooming season when it would be a riot of color. It was also full of fledgling iris flowers and waterlilies, which just started their blooming season.

Shinen Gardens irises pond

me at Shinen Gardens waterlily pond

Shinen Garden waterlily pond overhead view

The waterlilies were starting their summer blooming season. At times, it almost felt I was in a hidden world somewhere in Narnia.

Shinen Garden waterlily pond stepping stones

water snake at Shinen Gardens waterlily pond

A water snake slithering through a waterlily pond.

Shinen Gardens waterlily pond closeup

Shinen Gardens waterlily pond overhead wide view

I only saw a few gardens, and what I did see made me want to come back to the city during the fall. Sure I’d also love to see the city during cherry blossom season, but that blooming season only lasts seven to 10 days. So it is hard to coordinate a vacation during cherry blossom season, and it’s easier to catch if you actually live in Japan. But autumn is my favorite time of the year, and I’m always on the lookout for beautiful, colorful nature. Kyoto would probably be the ideal place in Japan to experience the height of all. I’m seriously considering coming back on one of my fall long weekends.