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 March 2020
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.
1-22 March 2020
Event: Feature Exhibition: The Doll Festival and Japanese Ningyō
Location: Kyoto National Museum, Heisei Chishinkan Wing (The Collections Galleries), Galleries 1F-2
Time: Tuesday-Thursday, Sunday: 9:30am-5:00pm (Enter by 4:30pm), Friday, Saturday: 9:30am-8:00pm (Enter by 7:30pm)
Set to coincide with the Hina Matsuri Festival on March 3, when families display traditional Japanese dolls, this special exhibition marks the new dolls displayed to represent the new Imperial Period (Rei-Wa). This is a must for fans of Japanese traditional dolls.
1 – around end of March 2020
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.
Kyoto Higashiyama Hanatouro
6-15 March 2020
Event: Higashiyama Hanatoro
Location: Higashiyama area
Higashiyama’s Hanatoro event 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.
6-15 March (and 27 March – 5 April) 2020
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.
6-15 March (and 27 March – 5 April) 2020
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!
6-31 March 2020
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.
14-31 March 2020
To-ji Temple looks magical in the evening when everything is lit up, including the towering pagoda for which the temple is famous. It’s a nice chance to check out this wonderful and historical temple.
15 March 2020
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.
20-31 March 2020
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.
20 March – 2 April 2020
Event: Kitano Odori
Location: Kamishichiken Kaburenjo
Time: starts at 2:00pm and 4:30pm
Admission: JPY5,000 or 5,500
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.
21 March 2020
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 2020
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.
27-29 March 2020
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.
Maruyama Park during the cherry blossom festival
End March – Middle April 2020
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
- 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 - World Nomads is well-regarded (and here's why)