Kyoto in March is spectacular – there’s the blooming of the plum blossoms and, later, the cherry blossoms, both celebrated with “hanami”, karaoke and sake-soaked flower-viewing parties. There’s also the stunning Higashiyama Hanatoro, where the Higashiyama district is lit by lanterns to dramatic effect.
Plum blossoms in Kyoto – image © Jeffrey Friedl
1-18 March 2018
Event: Feature Exhibition: The Doll Festival and Japanese Ningyō
Location: Kyoto National Museum, Heisei Chishinkan Wing (The Collections Galleries), Galleries 2F-5
Time: Tuesday-Thursday, Sunday: 9:30am-5:00pm (Enter by 4:30pm), Friday, Saturday: 9:30am-8:00pm (Enter by 7:30pm)
Timed to coincide with the Hina Matsuri, which is held on March 3rd, this exhibition showcases the traditional Japanese dolls that are displayed on the day of the festival. If you’re a fan of Japanese dolls, don’t miss this show.
1-18 March 2018
Event: Feature Exhibition: TREASURES OF A WEALTHY MERCHANT FAMILY,
The Hiromi Collection, a Legacy of Elegant Living
Location: Kyoto National Museum, Heisei Chishinkan Wing (The Collections Galleries),
Galleries 1F-2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Time: Tuesday-Thursday, Sunday: 9:30am-5:00pm (Enter by 4:30pm),
Friday, Saturday: 9:30am-8:00pm (Enter by 7:30pm)
The Hiromi family was a wealthy merchant and trading family in southern Osaka in the 19th century. They amassed an incredible treasure trove of artwork from the period, including works by the wonderful Ito Jakuchu. This is a great chance to see some fantastic examples of late-Edo period art.
1-18 March 2018
It’s not normally possible to enter the beautiful pagoda at To-ji Temple, but during this special opening, you can enter the first (ground) floor of the pagoda to examine some of the fine Buddhist images contained therein.
1 – around end of March 2018
In mid- to late February, the plum blossoms start to bloom in Kyoto, which marks the real beginning of spring in Kyoto (preceding the cherry blossoms by a few weeks). Kyotoites, who are intensely conscious of the seasons, welcome the arrival of the plum blossoms with something approaching religious fervor (and you’ll see plum motifs of sweets in all the shops). Starting on 9 February, Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine opens its famous plum garden and crowds descend on it to gaze in wonder at the pink and white blossoms and enjoy their bubble-gum-like fragrance. It’s a nice way to mark the coming of spring in Kyoto and the adjoining shrine is always lovely.
3-31 March 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.
4 March 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.
Hanatoro © musume miyuki
9-18 March 2018
Event: Higashiyama Hanatoro
Location: Higashiyama area
Higashiyama’s Hanatoro events is one of the cooler events of the Kyoto year. It’s held in the Southern Higashiyama sightseeing district. Lanterns are placed along the lanes and roads of the area, all converging on Maruyama-koen Park, where various light sculptures and installations are on display (provided by Kyoto art school students). The effect is utterly magical. There is no better time for a stroll in this area. Don’t miss it if you’re in town.
9-18 March (and 30 March – 8 April) 2018
Event: Night time illumination
Location: Shoren-in Temple
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.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple Night Illumination © Hyougushi
9-18 March (and 30 March – 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!
9-31 March 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.
14-16 March 2018
For those interested in Buddhism, the days of 14 to 16 March would be a good time to visit beautiful Tofuku-ji Temple. On these three days, a huge and stunning “Nehanzu” will be displayed. A Nehanzu is a picture of the reclining Buddha shortly before he entered final nirvana, surrounded by his disciples and animals. The Nehanzu will be displayed in the main hall (Honden) in the middle of the compound. Don’t miss the nearby Hojo Garden!
15 March 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 March 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.
Stone bull at Kitano Tenmangu – image © Jeffrey Friedl
25 March 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.
25 March – 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.
30 March – 1 April 2018
Event: Kyoto Grand Antique Fair
Location: Kyoto Pulse Plaza, Takeda
Time: 10:00am-5:00pm (close at 4:00pm on 1 April)
This is the mother of all Japanese antiques and art fairs. Held at the Pulse Plaza event hall in the southern Kyoto suburb of Takeda (on the Karasuma subway line), it brings together some of the country’s best dealers and eager crowds of collectors. If you’re in the market for Japanese arts, crafts, collectibles and crafts, don’t miss this. But, don’t expect bargains – this is no flea market! One the days of the fair, there is a free shuttle bus from outside Takeda Station to the event hall. See our Pulse Plaza Antiques Grand Fair page for more details.
End March – Early April 2018
Nijo-jo Castle doesn’t usually make my list of favorite Kyoto spots, probably because of the crowds that regularly descent on the place. 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 Night Illumination, Maruyama-koen Park © Jay Bergesen
End March – 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.
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 your Japan trip - book online with World Nomads