Inspiration

[Rent a Car and Explore the Southern Part of Kyoto 2] Find hidden Kyoto spots: temples, shrines, nature, and delicious food!

2022.11.04

Kyoto Tea Country

Did you know that about an hour’s drive from Kyoto City, there are many undiscovered scenic spots and delicious dining options in Kyoto Tea Country? There you can find the second smallest five-storied pagoda in Japan, a matcha pudding that sells 700 cups a day, and Japanese gardens with gorgeous autumn foliage. Come drive with us around Kyoto Tea Country in southern Kyoto Prefecture, and explore some of the incredible places in Kyoto that have yet to be discovered!

Recommended Route for a Day Trip to Kyoto Tea Country

9:00 a.m. Rent a car and depart from Kyoto City. (For details, see the car rental guide at the end of the article.)
→ Exit at the Seika Shimogoma Interchange on Keinawa Expressway via Daini Keihan Road, and drive approximately 1 hour toward Kaijusen Temple via the national highway.

1. Kaijusen-ji Temple (10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.)
→ Approximately 35 minutes by car to Minamiyashiro Village Michi-no-Eki Roadside Station

2. Minamiyashiro Village Michi-no-Eki Roadside Station (11:35 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.)
→ Approximately 10 minutes by car to Takayama Dam

3. Takayama Dam + Tayama Tsurugi Tea Fields (1:10 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.)
→ Approximately 10 minutes by car to Koishidani Shrine

4. Koshidani Shrine + Koiji Bridge (2:10 p.m. – 2:40 p.m.)
→ About 40 minutes by car to Keihanna Memorial Park

5. Keihanna Memorial Park (3:20 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.)
→ Return to Kyoto City by way of the Keinawa Expressway and Daini Keihan Road, and return the car (about one hour).

  

After picking up your car at Kyoto Station, head south towards Kaijusen Temple, the first spot on our list. After driving for an hour, you’ll see a sign for Kaijusen Temple on the left side of National Highway 163. The road just in front of the entrance to Kaijusen Temple is narrower, and there are some steep slopes before you get in to the temple, so be sure to slow down and drive carefully. There are two parking lots at Kaijusan-ji Temple, both of which are available for free.

When you see this sign, go straight to the end of the road and turn left, and you’ll see tea fields on the right. Try turning right here to reach the temple via the road that passes between the tea fields.

Stop 1: Sense the footprints of history at Kaijusen Temple

Kaijusen Temple has a long history, and the buildings here are more than 800 years old. If you want to see the main hall, you can take off your shoes, place a 500 yen coin in the collection box, and step inside, but taking photos within is prohibited.

  

◆A small five-storied pagoda

One of the sights you won’t want to miss at Kaijusen Temple is a carefully preserved five-storied pagoda from the 12th century. About half the size of a typical five-storied pagoda, this is the second smallest pagoda in Japan. It’s unusual design features a first story with “mokoshi,” a kind of skirted roof traditional to Japanese temple architecture that keeps the rain away.

  

◆ A special exhibition for the beautiful leaves of autumn

From the mid- to late November, Kaijusen Temple’s autumn foliage is at its most vibrant. Every year from October to November, the temple offers a special autumn exhibition, where visitors can see areas that are usually off-limits to the public, like inside the five-storied pagoda. You’ll be able to see other treasures as well, including those normally displayed at the Nara National Museum.

Kaijusen-ji Temple

Kaijusen-ji Temple

Legend has it that Fujioyama Kannonji Temple was founded in 735 when Emperor Shomu ordered a Buddhist monk to enshrine the Eleven-faced Kannon Bodhisattva in order to pray for the safe construction of …

Stop 2: Enjoy a banquet of village tea at Minamiyashiro Village Michi-no-Eki Roadside Station

Next, if you drive eastward along the Kizu River for about 30 minutes, you’ll arrive at the roadside station (a “michi-no-eki,” or rest stop) in Minamiyamashiro Village, the only true village in Kyoto. The facility is perfect for taking a break, getting something to eat, or doing a bit of shopping.

  

◆A station created to revitalize local industries

The Minamiyashiro Roadside Station was created by local volunteers, and opened in April 2017 to help promote the sustainable development of the village. The station works with tea farmers from the community to sell local products, using only carefully selected, high-quality ingredients in attractive, original packaging.

  

◆Popular matcha sweets you can’t miss!

Sweets made using high-quality matcha produced here in the village are especially popular items at the Minamiyamashiro Roadside Station. Mura-cha Tea Pudding in particular is a signature product that sells as many as 700 cups a day. Also popular is tea-flavored dorayaki (a kind of traditional sweet made with two pancakes and a sweet red bean filling), made with fluffy Mura-cha tea pound cake that isn’t overly sweet, and rich, tea-flavored sweet bean paste. Two types are available: matcha and houji-cha (roasted tea).

In addition to souvenirs, you can enjoy local village dishes made with tea as you look out over the tea fields from the adjoining restaurant. After your meal, don’t forget to cleanse your palate with a rich matcha parfait!

Michi no Eki Ocha no Kyoto Minamiyamashiro Village

At this “michi-no-eki” rest stop, you’ll find a compendium of the everyday in Minamiyamashiro Village. Visitors can experience the local lifestyle and wisdom of everyday life in the village with all five senses.
At its centerpiece, the Nomon Market, you can find local specialties, including tea and fresh vegetables for sale. There are plenty of food, sweets, and boxed lunches available for you to fully enjoy with Japanese tea.
The rich flavor of the green tea soft-serve ice cream here is made using only first-grade tea, yet it has a surprisingly fresh aftertaste! This quality soft-serve is just what you might expect from a tea shop, full of rich tea flavor, and topped with matcha syrup. 370 yen (tax excluded).

Stop 3: Enjoy the natural and cultural landscapes of Minamiyamashiro Village with Takayama Dam and the Tayama Tsurugi Tea Fields

After parking your car in the Takayama Dam parking lot, this arch-gravity dam—a rarity in Japan—will come into view in just a few steps. For more than half a century, this gigantic dam has relieved flood damage and supplied drinking water to people in the Hanshin region. In early April, beautiful double-flowered cherry blossoms bloom around the dam, and the area has become a local cherry blossom spot.

Next, head down the stairs on the Minamiyamashiro Nature House and turn left, and you’ll see a vast tea field. The Tayama Tsurugi Tea Fields, which are registered as a Japanese Heritage Site, are planted using the “vertical ridge” method, unlike typical tea fields, which are planted along contour lines of the earth. This helps tea leaves to be picked more efficiently and to receive airflow from frost-preventing fans. Since the Tayama Tsurugi Tea Fields are privately owned, please enjoy them from outside the tea field during your visit, and be sure not to enter it.

Stop 4: Increase your luck in love at Koshidani Shrine and Koiji Bridge

Heading west along the Kizu River, you’ll arrive at Koishidani Shrine, well-known in Minamiyamashiro Village as a “power spot.” (There is space to park two cars at Minami-Okawara Hall, next to the shrine). The shrine is visited by those praying for a good marriage, childbirth, and safe delivery. However, if you want to purchase a shrine charm for luck in love, you’ll only be able to do so at the Spring Festival in April and the Autumn Festival in September. It’s the scarcity of this charm that’s given it the nickname “phantom charm.”

Walking out of the shrine toward the Kizu River, you’ll see a low water “chinkakyu”-style bridge called Koiji (literally, “love road”) Bridge. This type of bridge is built without railings, and is designed to sink when the water level rises in order to lower the risk of the bridge itself floating away. It is said that if you cross Koiji Bridge and make a wish at the shrine, your wish will come true.

Right: The bridge disappears from sight when the water level rises (photographed with the permission of the relevant organization)

Stop 5: Get in touch with the spirit of a Japanese village at Keihanna Memorial Park

When you see a beautiful avenue of metasequoia trees, that’s your signal that you’re approaching Keihanna Memorial Park. After parking your car in the paid parking lot, go first to the free areas of the park: the lawn area and the ravine area. The terraced lawn area is a beautiful sight in early April, with over 300 cherry trees in bloom. Meanwhile, the lush bamboo forests and streams on both sides of the ravine area look like something out of an old Japanese folk tale!

  

◆Careful consideration for every part of the scenery

Spanning approximately 24.1 hectares of land, Keihanna Memorial Park was made to reflect the landscapes of the villages of Japan. It’s a new form of looking at rural Japanese land. The scenery has a simple beauty, but it’s actually very carefully planned.

  

◆Scenic variety in a garden with waterscapes

The last place we’ll arrive is Suikei-en Garden, in the paid area of the park. This is a very modern Japanese strolling garden with an elaborate design. The Kangetsukyo Bridge was designed to resemble the latticework (Japanese-style windows) of a Kyoto machiya (a traditional townhouse). The bridge is 10 meters high, so looking down from the bridge and looking up from the ground offer quite different views of the same scenery, each interesting in their own way.

Keihanna Commemorative Park

Keihanna Commemorative Park

Keihanna Commemorative Park is 24.1 hectares in size, and commemorates the establishment of Keihanna Science City (Kansai Culture and Science Research City) in 1995. The park includes both freely acce …

Driving through Kyoto Tea Country, you’re sure to discover that Kyoto has many hidden gems that aren’t yet widely known. But today’s journey is just the beginning! When you travel to Kyoto next time, why not drive a bit off the beaten path and discover more undiscovered Kyoto for yourself?

Small guide to renting a car

Here is a brief introduction to the Japanese car-renting process (this article uses “Times Car Rental” and holders of the Republic of China, Taiwan passports for a model example)

Step 1. Enter the homepage of the car rental website, and select a booking time and store
Step 2. Check the car model, price and extra rental items (such as whether you need to rent a baby seat or other items as extra)
Step 3. Lastly, fill in your personal information such as your name and email address, along with your payment method
Step 4. Go to your inbox to receive the booking confirmation email (if you want to cancel the booking due to changes in your itinerary, please remember to cancel it six days before the booking time. If you cancel less than six days before, a handling fee will be charged)
This completes the online car rental booking!
For details, please refer to the official website of “Times Car Rental

★Friendly reminders:
1. Please prepare the relevant documents such as your passport and driver’s license when picking up the car. For details, please click here.
2. There are car rental companies near airports and train stations in major cities of Japan. Also, it is very convenient to rent a car when you arrive on site. However, since bookings fill up easily on weekends or consecutive holidays, we recommend you to make an advance online booking as early as possible!

Japanese traffic rules

Please read the relevant traffic rules in Japan before departing, and be a law-abiding traveler!