Temples, shrines and abundant natural beauty: Six of the most photogenic spots in Otokuni


Kyoto Otokuni Bamboo Grove

Kyoto is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in Japan, if not the world. From the endless tunnels of red torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha to the gilded splendour of Kinkaku-ji Temple and the stunning pagoda of Kiyomizu-dera Temple, there are Instagram-worthy sights around every corner. It’s not only the big name attractions either. If you head off the beaten tourist path, you can discover a whole wealth of lesser-known spots which are just as photogenic, with the added benefit of attracting much smaller crowds. This makes them relaxing and pleasant places to explore, plus means it’s easier for you to snap those perfect photographs! And one of the top regions waiting to be discovered is Kyoto Otokuni Bamboo Grove.

Getting to know Kyoto Otokuni Bamboo Grove

Tucked away to the southwest of Kyoto city, Kyoto Otokuni Bamboo Grove is a peaceful region with a long and fascinating history. It’s the site of the ruins of Nagaoka-kyo, one of Japan’s former capitals, as well as ancient kofun burial mounds, picturesque temples, and idyllic shrines. Then there are the serene bamboo paths themselves, which are just as beautiful as those in Arashiyama, but you’ll have fewer people to share them with. The best part is that each season brings something new to discover, as the weather changes and different species of flowers come into bloom. Here are six of the most unmissable photogenic spots to visit during your trip to Otokuni.

Mukojinja Shrine

Mukojinja, or Muko Shrine, is located in the historic Muko City. Founded all the way back in 718, it’s dedicated to several different Japanese deities. People come here to pray for everything from a good harvest to safety on the road and academic achievement. The main shrine building was constructed in 1422 in the sangensha nagare-zukuri style, with an ornate tiled roof and wooden facade that perfectly evokes the image of ancient Japan. When you visit, you’ll easily understand why it has been designated as an Important Cultural Property.

Some of the most attractive parts of Mukojinja are actually not the shrine itself, but the surrounding grounds. A long, gently sloping paved path leads up from the majestic stone torii gate at its entrance, lined with overhanging trees. During the spring cherry blossom season, this route is transformed into an ethereal tunnel of gorgeous pale pink flowers. Contrasted with the dark wood of the branches and the green leaves in the background, the scene is unbelievably photogenic.

Meanwhile in the fall, the foliage changes to stunning shades of blazing orange and fiery red, making it one of Kyoto’s quieter spots to enjoy the beauty of kouyou (autumn leaves).

Access: 10-minute walk from Nishi-muko Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line.

Mukojinja Shrine

Mukojinja Shrine

Located in Muko City in the Otokuni Bamboo Grove area of Kyoto Prefecture, Muko shrine is an ancient shrine founded in 718 and is said to be a shrine for good harvest, academic achievement, and traffi …

Yanagidani Kannon Yokoku-ji Temple

Yokoku-ji Temple was founded in 806, and sits nestled on a mountainside in Nagaokakyo City. It enshrines an eleven-faced, thousand-armed statue of the Kannon Boddhisatva, which is only open for public viewing on the 17th of every month. The temple is popular with people praying for eye health, thanks to the reputed healing properties of the water found here. There are many buildings to explore within the complex, linked by covered walkways, with traditional tatami flooring and shoji screens that open onto the picturesque gardens. Snapping a photograph from the inside looking out is a fantastic way to capture a classic image of a Japanese temple.

Be sure to take your time exploring the scenic grounds, too. The gardens are famous for their thousands of colourful hydrangeas, which bloom in June. One of the most iconic images is of the temple’s purification fountain – where worshippers wash their hands before entering – filled with their pastel pink, blue and yellow flowers.

Autumn is another photogenic time of year to visit, when the intricate wooden buildings and stone lanterns are surrounded by the captivating beauty of red and gold leaves.

Access: Take the train to Hankyu Nishiyama Tennozan Station and take a taxi for 10 minutes. Alternatively, take Hankyu Bus to Okukaiin-ji and walk for 40 minutes. From Hankyu or JR Nagaokakyo Stations, take a taxi for 15 minutes.

Yanagidani Kannon (Yokoku-ji Temple)

Yanagidani Kannon (Yokoku-ji Temple)

Yanagidani Kannon (Yokokuji Temple) is located in Nagaokakyo City, not far from Kyoto City and close to the famous Otokuni Bamboo Grove, where the main attraction is the eleven-faced, thousand-armed s …

Otokuni-dera Temple

Otokuni-dera, also known as the Temple of Peonies, is the oldest temple in Nagaokakyo City. It is believed to have been established by Shotoku Taishi, who was a famous political figure in the 6th and 7th centuries. The temple also has links to the renowned monk Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi, who founded the Shingon school of Buddhism in Japan.

April is the best time of year to see Otokuni-dera at its most photogenic, when the approximately 2,000 peony flowers planted in its garden blossom. Elegant white parasols made from wood and paper stand dotted amongst them to protect the petals from direct sunlight, creating a wonderfully whimsical scene that you’ll find impossible not to put on Instagram.

Access: 20-minute walk from Nagaoka Tenjin Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line, or 40-minute walk from Nagaokakyo Station on the JR Kyoto Line. Alternatively, take the Hankyu bus from either station and get off at Yakushido, then walk for 5 minutes.

Otokuni-dera Temple

Otokuni-dera Temple

Otokunidera is said to have been built by Prince Shotoku and is the oldest temple in Nagaokakyo City. Kukai and Saicho are also said to have met for the first time at this temple and exchanged ideas a …

Komyo-ji Temple

Founded in the 12th century, Komyo-ji is the main temple of the Seizan sect of Pure Land Buddhism. The mountainside grounds are quite extensive, with many unique buildings and features to explore. These include the striking Mie-do Hall with its historic Buddhist artwork, the classic temple bell, and several statues.

Komyo-ji Temple is most famous as one of the best places in Kyoto to view the autumn leaves. Hundreds of maple trees line one of the paved paths from the So-mon Gate at the entrance into the grounds, forming a mesmerizing tunnel of gold, red and orange about 200 metres long. About halfway there is another gate, Yakui-mon, which makes an especially stunning photograph as the white decoration and dark wood of the gate contrasts with the vermillion foliage all around it. As the leaves fall, they carpet the path in red for an even more magical appearance.

Even if you can’t visit in autumn, Komyo-ji looks beautiful all year round. In summer, the maple tree lane is a sun-dappled tunnel of green that provides welcome shade from the heat, while during winter snowfalls, the entire temple complex transforms into a tranquil wonderland.

Access: Take the train to Nagaokakyo Station on the JR Kyoto Line, or Nagaoka Tenjin Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line. Board the Hankyu Bus, and get off at Asahigaoka Home Mae.

Komyo-ji Temple

Komyo-ji Temple

Komyo-ji Temple was first built in 1198 by the soldier Kumagai Naozane in an area favored by his master Honen. Today, it the head temple of the Seizan sect of Pure Land Buddhism. Visitors can tour the …

Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine

Located in Nagaokakyo City, this shrine is dedicated to the Japanese poet, politician and scholar Sugawara no Michizane. Nagaoka Tenmangu is a popular place for people to come and pray when they are hoping for academic success or luck in their career. If you wish to increase your wisdom during your visit, look for the stone statue of a bull and pet its head!

The grounds of the shrine are quite expansive, and there are a lot of photogenic spots to discover here. One of the most famous is the 200-metre long entrance path lined with kirishima azalea trees, which are over 150 years old. They come into bloom in late April, flowering a vibrant red that matches the red and white lanterns dotted along the walkway.

The shrine also has a traditional Japanese garden called Kinkei-en, where you can admire cherry blossoms in the spring and autumn foliage towards the end of the year. The stone bridge over the small pond in the centre is another perfectly framed place for photographs.

Access: 20-minute walk from the west exit of Nagaokakyo Station on the JR Tokaido Line, or 10-minute walk from the west exit of Nagaoka Tenjin Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line.

Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine

Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine

Nagaoka Tenmangu is a shrine in Nagaokakyo City, Kyoto Prefecture, not far from Kyoto City and close to Uji—the region of Kyoto famous for matcha green tea—and the famous Otokuni Bamboo grove. Nagaoka …

Take-no-michi Bamboo Path

One of the specialty products from the Otokuni region is bamboo, which is cultivated both for use in traditional handicrafts and also as a key ingredient in Japanese cuisine. There are several bamboo groves in the area, and the take-no-michi path is among the best places to admire the ethereal beauty of these trees. The road runs for about 1.8 kilometres through a grove in the Muko hills, and is lined with eight different kinds of intricately created bamboo hedges.

Take-no-michi is the perfect place to enjoy a tranquil walk through the tall, deep green stems of bamboo. The sunlight filtering through the leaves takes on an otherworldly green hue which, coupled with the soothing sound of the plants swaying in the breeze, is sure to leave you feeling serene. The spot is also much quieter than the bamboo groves in Arashiyama, making it the ideal location to snap that iconic photograph of an empty path framed by soaring bamboo stalks.

Access: Take the train to Katsuragawa Station on the JR Kyoto Line or Rakusaiguchi Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line. From there, take a bus and get off at Muko Kaisei Hospital, then walk for 10 minutes. Alternatively, take the train to Mukomachi Station on the JR Kyoto Line or Higashimuko Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line. From there, take a bus and get off at Higashiyama, then walk for 10 minutes.

Take-no-Michi (The Bamboo Path)

Take-no-Michi (The Bamboo Path)

Bamboo shoots are one of Kyoto’s specialty products, but the “Otokuni” area around Muko City and Nagaokakyo City is known for producing some of the highest quality bamboo shoots in Kyoto. Take-no-Mich …

Exploring Otokuni

These six spots are just a small selection of the photogenic locations waiting to be discovered in Otokuni. Budding photographers should definitely consider a trip to this quieter region of Kyoto to explore more of the region’s history, culture, and unforgettable natural beauty. You never know what you’ll find around the next corner!