November is one of the best months to visit Kyoto – the weather is generally sunny and cool and the fall foliage is at its peak. In addition, there is a huge selection of things going on in the city. Here’s a rundown of special Kyoto events that happen during November.
Kyoto Imperial Palace
1-10 November 2019
Event: Gion Odori
Location: Gion Kaikan
Time: starts at 1:30pm and 4:00pm
Admission: JPY4,300 (JPY4,800 with Japanese tea)
The Gion Higashi geisha district puts on their annual geisha dance in the Gion Kaikan hall on Higashioji-dori in early November. This is the smallest of the city’s big five geisha districts and their dance is both intimate and somewhat quaint – a stark contrast to the grand Miyako Odori held by the main Gion geisha district. This is part of the charm of the event. Also, this is the only major geisha dance to be held in the fall. Thus, we highly recommend this dance if you happen to be in town. If you go early, you can usually buy tickets at the box office at the theatre. Otherwise, hotel concierges and high-end ryokan can usually help with tickets.
1-24 November 2019
Few tourists make it up to the fine temple of Ninna-ji, in the northwest of the city, and that’s a shame, because it’s a beautiful sprawling temple filled with lovely buildings and gardens. It’s easily paired with a visit to nearby Ryoan-ji Temple and Kinkaku-ji Temple (the Golden Pavilion). During the entire month of October, it’s possible to pay to enter the temple’s treasure hall to see the incredible collection of artifacts the temple has accumulated over the ages.
1-24 November 2019
Event: Special Exhibition
The Thirty-Six Immortal Poets: Elegant Arts of the Classical Japanese Court
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)
Closed: Mondays (The museum will be opened on Monday October 14 and Monday November 4 (national holidays) and closed on Tuesday October 15 and, Tuesday November 5, 2019.)
This show reunites a collection of 13th-century scrolls depicting the so-called “Immortal Poets” of Japan’s classical period. Held in a variety of private collections, this show is a rare chance to see these masterpieces together (or see them at all).
1-25 November 2019
Event: To-ji Temple Homotsukan treasure house Autumn Special Opening
Location: To-ji Temple
Time: 10:00am-5:00pm (enter by 4:30pm)
To-ji Temple, in southern Kyoto, opens its Homotsukan treasure house to the public from 20 September all the way until 25 November. For those with an interest in Japanese Buddhism, particularly Shingon (esoteric) Buddhism, this is sure to be a fascinating experience.
Garyuchi Pond in Kodai-ji Temple
1-30 November 2019
Kodai-ji Temple is an otherworldy 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. This extends until 10 Dec.
1-30 November 2019
Event: Shoren-in Autumn Night Illumination
Location: Shoren-in Temple
Time: 6:00pm-10:00pm (enter by 9:30pm)
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.
Chion-In Buddhist temple
2-30 November 2019
Event: Chion-in Temple Night Illumination
Location: Chion-in Temple
3 November 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.
4-30 November 2019
Event: Konkaikomyo-ji Temple Autumn Special Opening
Location: Konkaikomyo-ji (Kurodani-san)
Located up on Yoshida-yama Mountain (it’s really just a hill) in the Northern Higashiyama sightseeing area, Kurodani Temple has always been one of my favorite temples, perhaps because I used to live nearby and strolled through the grounds every morning. The graveyard and main hall here are wonderful, but you usually cannot enter the exquisite garden. However, if you’re in town in November, the gardens are open to visitors and should not be missed.
8 November 2019
Event: Kanikakuni Sai
Location: Gion Shirakawa
Time: from 11:00am, and from 2:00pm
Held in memory of poet Yoshii Isamu (1886-1960), a lover of the “floating world” of geisha, the Kanikakuni Sai is a good chance to see the geisha of Gion, who come to pay their respects to a stone that commemorates the poet on Shirakawa (also known as Shimbashi, the preserved street along the canal in Gion). Don’t expect to be the only photographer in attendance – camera-wielding hoards descend on the event in hopes of snapping some of Kyoto’s supremely photogenic maiko and geiko.
15 November 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.
16-30 November 2019
Event: Kiyomizu-dera Temple Night Illumination
Location: Kiyomizu-dera Temple
17-24 November 2019
Event: Unryu-in Night Illumination
This is a fabulous chance to see Kyoto’s sublime little Unryu-in Temple after dark. It’s located next to the more famous Sennyu-ji Temple.
21 November 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.
25 November 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 - World Nomads is well-regarded (and here's why)