April is the most popular month to visit Kyoto, thanks to the blooming of the world famous cherry blossoms. There’s a whole raft of events to celebrate their arrival, plus special openings of the both the Imperial Palace and a stunning subtemple at the Daitoku-ji temple complex.
Shoren-in, Kyoto © yisris
1-7 April 2018
Event: Kitano Odori
Location: Kamishichiken Kaburenjo
Time: starts at 1:30pm and 4:00pm
Admission: JPY4,300 or 4,800
Each of Kyoto’s five geisha districts holds a major series of dance performances once a year. Four of these happen in the spring. This one, held by the geisha houses of the northern Kamishichiken Geisha District, is very special. The scale is rather intimate and the dance is always superb. It doesn’t necessarily feel like stepping back in time, it feels more like stepping out of time. Some of Kyoto’s specialist tour companies and concierges at high-end hotels and ryokan may be able to source you tickets for these and the other geisha dances. Check out our Kyoto Geisha page for more details on Kyoto’s geisha.
1-8 April 2018 (and 27 April – 6 May)
Shoren-in Temple is one of the lesser-known gems of the Southern Higashiyama sightseeing district and it takes on a truly magical air when the garden is illuminated by night. Don’t miss the bamboo forest here when you go – the illumination makes it truly otherworldly. Hopefully, they’ll be some cherry trees in bloom during this period and this makes a nice combination with other illuminations in the area, such as the Cherry Blossom Illumination at Maruyama-koen Park (see below).
1-8 April 2018
Commanding a magnificent position on a hill in the Higashiyama District, overlooking the entire basin of Kyoto, no temple is more spectacular after dark than Kiyomizu-dera Temple. A pilgrimage here to enjoy the night-time illumination is not to be missed!
Early April 2018
Nijo-jo Castle doesn’t usually make my list of favorite Kyoto spots, probably because of the crowds that pack the place, due to its spacious bus parking lot. But, at night, the atmosphere is totally different. Sure, it can still be crowded, but somehow you tend to notice the crowds less after dark. And, the sight of the castle at night is magical. It’s well worth a visit if you’re in town when this is being held. You could easily combine it with a stroll down nearby Pontocho or Kiyamachi-dori.
Cherry tree illuminated at night in Maruyama-koen Park © jaybergesen
1-Middle April 2018
Event: Cherry Blossom Night time illumination
Location: Maruyama Koen Park
Time: After sunset – midnight
Maruyama-koen Park is cherry blossom central in Kyoto. Here is where you go to find the biggest crowds, the wildest hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties and some of the best trees in the city. It gets pretty rowdy here on weekend evenings when the blossoms are in full bloom, but it’s a pretty tame crowd. If the crowd gets to be too much, you can see refuge at the higher eastern end of the park, overlooking the madness below. If you can’t be bothered to fix up your own hanami party, just grab a seat on one of the tables in the center of the park – you just have to buy some drinks and snacks from the nearby vendors to claim a place.
1-15 April 2018
Event: Edo Rinpa (琳派展20 抱一の花･其一の鳥)
Location: Kyoto Hosomi Museum
Time: 10:00am-6:00pm (enter by 5:30pm, Closed on Mondays)
This show at the small Hosomi Museum in the Okazaki area showcases the flamboyant works of the Rimpa School painters of the early 19th century. It’s a great way to become familiar with this iconic Japanese school.
1-16 April 2018
Event: Kyo Odori
Location: Miyagawacho Kaburenjo
Time: starts at 12:30pm, 2:30pm and 4:30pm
Admission: JPY2,200, 2,800, 4,200 or 4,800
The second largest and grandest geisha dance in Kyoto, this is put on by the Miyagawa-cho Geisha District. It’s a first-rate performance in every way and you should do everything in your power to catch a performance – it will be unforgettable. As mentioned above, some private tour operators and concierges can help you get tickets to the performances. Check out our Kyoto Geisha page for more details on Kyoto’s geisha.
Cherry dance in Kyoto © Conveyor belt sushi
1-24 April 2018
Event: Miyako Odori
Location: Shunjuza, Kyoto Art Theater, Kyoto University of Art and Design
Time: starts at 12:30pm, 2:20pm and 4:10pm
Admission: JPY3,500 or 4,600
This is the mother of all geisha dances. Put on by the girls of the main Gion geisha district in a huge hall, this is a sumptuous feast for the senses. The number of geisha, the constantly changing sets, the outright bizarre sounds from the musicians and singers, it will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. If you can go, by all means, GO! You will not regret it. Private tour operators and concierges may be able to source you tickets. Note that the venue this year is up at the Kyoto University of Art and Design (not the usual Gion event hall). Check out our Kyoto Geisha page for more details on Kyoto’s geisha.
Daitoku-ji Temple Garden © Eric Salard
1-30 April 2018
Kodai-ji Temple is a mystical place when it’s illuminated at night. The bamboo grove here looks like something out of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. People pack in for this event, but it’s worth dealing with the crowds to enjoy this sight.
Kyoto Gosho © lucamascaro
1-30 April 2018
Daitoku-ji Temple is actually a collection of subtemples, a walled-in world of miniature Zen paradises. The eponymous Daitoku-ji itself is very fine and is open all year round. But, if you’re here in April, the make tracks for the Daitoku-ji complex because this is your chance to see what is perhaps the most spectacular subtemple there: Obai-in (sometimes written as Oubai-in in English). It’s only opened briefly in the spring and fall each year. It’s a collection of fine halls, superb karesansui (Zen gardens) and beautiful vistas from each room and window. You can pair it with a visit to the following subtemple as well. Don’t miss it. See also Michael Lambe’s detailed Exploring Daitoku-ji article which guides you around the highlights of the complex.
1-30 April 2018
Another fine garden at Daitoku-ji is contained within the walls of the superb Korin-in subtemple (sometimes written as Kourin-in). Very few foreign travelers ever make it here and that’s a shame, because it’s a beauty!
1 April 2018
Event: To-ji Temple Flea Market
Location: To-ji Temple
If you can’t be in town for Kyoto’s two famous flea markets (Kobo-san Market and Tenjin-san Market), this is a good choice. Like the Kobo-san Market, it’s held on the grounds of To-ji Temple. You’ll usually find a good selection of antiques at this market.
7 April – 20 May 2018
Event: Special Exhibition;
The Genius of Ikeno Taiga: Carefree Traveler Legendary Painter
Location: Kyoto National Museum, Heisei Chishinkan Wing
Time: 9:30am-6:00pm (enter by 5:30pm), Fridays, Saturdays 9:30am-8:00pm (enter by 7:30pm)
This show at the Kyoto National Museum showcases the work of 18th century painter Ikeno Taiga. For a fan of Chinese-style screen paintings, this show is a must.
15 April 2018
Chion-ji Temple hosts a fabulous handicraft market on the 15th of every month. It’s a great place to pick up unique, locally made souvenirs during your travels to Kyoto. It’s also a good chance to see Japan’s alternative community and local expats.
21 April 2018
Event: Kobo-san Market
Location: To-ji Temple
Named for Japan’s most revered Buddhist Saint, Kobo Daishi, this market is one of the two best markets in town (the other being the Tenjin-san Market, held on the 25th). You’ll find all manner of goods on sale here including used kimono, antiques, ceramics, food, bric-a-brac, old postcards and books, and assorted Japanalia. In addition to being a great market, this is also a chance to see Kyoto’s foreign community, which turns out in full, along with hoards of locals.
25 April 2018
Event: Tenjin-san Market
Location: Kitano Tenmangu
Like the Kobo-san market (see previous), this is one of the two best markets in town. It’s named for Sugawara no Michizane, a 9th century poet and scholar who is the patron saint of academic pursuits in Japan. Known colloquially as Tenjin-san, the market is a great excuse to visit this shrine and see people, especially school children, rubbing the two stone bulls in front of the main hall of the shrine (doing so is said to make one more intelligent). Like the Kobo-san market, this is a great chance to buy used kimono, ceramics, antiques and bric-a-brac, along with food and drink. You’ll also rub shoulders with an interesting assortment of expats and locals.
28-29 April 2018
Event: SAKE Spring 2018
Location: Kyoto International Conference Center, Event Hall
Time: 11am-7:00pm (April 28), 11:00am-6:00pm (April 29)
Admission: JPY2,500, JPY4,000, JPY12,800
If you’re a fan of Japanese sake, this event up at the Kyoto International Conference Center (Takaragaike) is a great way to learn more about Japanese sake and taste a huge variety of sake from across Japan.
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com - usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too.
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, get your Japan Rail Pass
- Get travel insurance for Japan - we recommend World Nomads (and here's why)