August is when you can witness the spectacular Daimonji Fire Festival, where massive Chinese characters set up on the hills around the town are set ablaze. The lantern floating ceremony and the otherworldly candlelight of the Sento kuyo ceremony are two other visually stunning events happening this month.
Daimonji Yaki Festival at Satsuki Mt: EarthScape ImageGraphy / Shutterstock.com
1-17 August 2019
Event: Yokoyama Kazan
Location: The Museum of Kyoto, The fourth and third floors
Time: 10:00am-6:00pm (enter by 5:30pm, Open until 7:30pm on Fridays)
Yokoyama Kazan was a highly individualistic Kyoto artist who was active in the late Edo Period. Working in several mediums and styles, his art is utterly distinctive. This show at the Museum of Kyoto, on Sanjo-dori in the center of downtown, is a great way to get acquainted with his work.
1-18 August 2019
Kodai-ji Temple, in Kyoto’s Higashiyama district, is always a magical place. But, when darkness falls and they light the place up, the effect is magical. As always, my favorite bit is the bamboo grove, which looks like something straight out of Narnia.
4 August 2019
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.
7-10 August 2019
Event: Gojo-zaka Pottery Festival
Time: 9:00am- 10:00pm
Gojo-zaka, which leads up to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, has always been known for its pottery. And, this three-day event celebrates that fact. If you’re a fan of pottery, get yourself there, but don’t expect to buy any treasures from unsuspecting merchants – these folks have been at it for decades.
Shimogamo-jinja shrine, Kyoto – image © Damien Douxchamps
11-16 August 2019
Event: Kyoto Used Book Fair
Location: Shimogamo-jinja Shrine
Time: 10:00am-5:30pm (ends at 4:00pm on the last day)
This used book fair is a major annual event for Japanese book collectors. Needless to say, with most of the titles being in Japanese, the appeal is limited to foreigners. Still, there are plenty of good picture books about, some English books, and, you might just be one of those foreigners who actually reads Japanese. It’s a good day out.
14 August – 16 September 2019
Event: Feature Exhibition in Celebration of ICOM Kyoto 2019
Masterworks of the Kyoto National Museum: Temple and Shrine Treasures
Location: Kyoto National, Museum Heisei Chishinkan Wing (The Collections Galleries)
Time: 9:30am-5:00pm (enter by 4:30pm), Fridays, Saturdays (expect September 7) 9:30am-9:00pm (enter by 8:30pm)
Closed: Mondays (The museum will be opened on Monday September 2 and Monday September 16 (national holiday), 2019.)
This “sampler” show at the National Museum is a great way to see some of the masterworks from Japan’s religious traditions. With works from all major mediums, this show is a great way to become familiar with Japan’s rich and deep artistic traditions.
15 August 2019
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.
16 August 2019
Event: Gozan no Okuribi
Location: various places in Kyoto city
Time: starts at 8:00pm
This is the crowning event of the month of August. More commonly known as the “Daimonji Fire Festival,” this is when they set those massive Chinese characters on the hills around town ablaze. The main mountain is the eponymous Daimonji, which towers over Ginkaku-ji Temple and the rest of northern Higashiyama. It’s set alight promptly at 8pm, and the other four mountains are set alight in counterclockwise fashion every 15 minutes. The best places to view the scene include from the east side of Yoshida-yama, parts of the Imperial Palace Park (Gosho), parts of the Kamo-gawa Riverbank, and, if you can afford it, a hotel rooftop beergarden.
16 August 2019
Event: Arashiyama Toro Nagashi (Lantern Floating Ceremony)
Location: vicinity of Arashiyama Togetsukyo Bridge
Time: around 7:00pm-9:00pm
Admission: Free (Toro JPY1,000)
This highly photogenic event takes places just after dusk near Arashiyama’s famed Togetsukyo Bridge. Floating lanterns are set adrift of the waters of the Katsura-gawa River, both to wish for good luck and to dispel bad luck. Bring a tripod if you’re serious about taking some good pictures.
21 August 2019
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.
Stone statues in Adashino Nenbutsu-ji buddhist temple: Kononchuk Alla / Shutterstock.com
23-24 August 2019
Adashino-Nembutsu-ji Temple, in the far northwest of town, a bit of a stroll from Arashiyama, is one of the more mysterious temples. It’s said that dead bodies used to be left there to rot, the great Buddhist saint Kukai turned it into a temple and properly honored the dead. Other legends have it that another great saint, Honen, played a role. Now, there are thousands of Buddhist images there an on the evenings of 23 and 24 August, candles are lit to pray for the souls of the departed. It’s an otherworldly sight.
25 August 2019
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.
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- 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.
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- 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. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router.
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass - here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- A prepaid Icoca card makes travelling around Kyoto easy - here's how.
- Get travel insurance for Japan - we recommend World Nomads (and here's why)