One of the best short hikes in Kyoto is the easy 2-hour hike from Chion-in Temple in Southern Higashiyama up to the Shogunzuka viewpoint. It provides some incredible views over Kyoto. Here is everything you need to do this hike.
The view over Kyoto from the Seiryuden viewpoint – image © Jeffrey Friedl
Time: about two hours
Distance: about 3km round trip
Start point: Chion-in Temple in Southern Higashiyama
Finish point: Chion-in Temple in Southern Higashiyama (others possible)
My favorite hike in Kyoto is the Daimonji-yama hike, but this hike is a close second. It is an easy climb from Chion-in Temple in Southern Higashiyama up to the top of the mountain that overlooks the city. There are two viewpoints up there, the old viewpoint in Higashiyama Sancho-koen (Higashiyama Summit Park) and the new Shogunzuka Seiryuden Viewpoint. The Seiryuden was opened in 2015 and is actually part of Shoren-in Temple (the next temple north of Chion-in).
This hike takes about two hours, including a half an hour stop at the top to enjoy the views. It’s a fairly steep climb, but the switchbacks make it easy and this hike can be done by anyone in decent shape. The distance from the temple to the viewpoints is about 1.5km and the total vertical ascent is about 150 meters, so there really isn’t that much climbing.
The view from either of the viewpoints is mind-blowing. You can see the entire basin of Kyoto and all the way down to the skyscrapers of Osaka on a clear day.
The Main Gate of Chion-in Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
Here’s the route:
Start at Chion-in Temple in the Southern Higashiyama. This temple is a short walk from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Subway Line. Walk through the impressive main gate of the temple and climb the steep steps to the main compound of the temple.
Stairs to Chion-in Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
At the top of the steps, you’ll immediately see the giant Goei-do Hall, which is being restored and is covered with a metal superstructure. Walk in front of the hall, heading toward the mountain.
Goei-do Hall of Chion-in Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
You’ll soon see a sign reading “The Big Bell” pointing toward a flight of steps.
Sign Pointing to Bell at Chion-in Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
Climb the steps to the temples giant bell.
Steps to Bell at Chion-in Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
This bell, cast in 1633 weighs 70 tons. It is the largest temple bell in Japan.
Bell at Chion-in Temple – image © Chris Rowthorn
Walk behind the bell and you will see a flight of steps with a gate, which is open during daylight hours. Walk up the steps and through the gate. Here is where the trail starts.
Start of the Hike to Shogunzuka – image © Chris Rowthorn
Follow the trail gradually uphill and into the woods.
Trail to Shogunzuka – image © Chris Rowthorn
You’ll see signs on wooden posts reading 東山山頂公園 (Higashiyama Sancho-koen). Follow these signs.
Sign for Higashiyama Sancho-koen Park – image © Chris Rowthorn
You will soon come to a small cave in the hillside surrounded by stone markers. This is the Houtaru-no-Iwa, which is said to mark the spot where Honen, the founder of Pure Land Buddhism, first taught his followers to say the nenbutsu prayer that forms the heart of this religion.
Houtaru-no-Iwa Monument – image © Chris Rowthorn
Continue climbing up from the Houtaru-no-Iwa.
Trail Passing Houtaru-no-Iwa – image © Chris Rowthorn
There are a few small side trails and game trails that branch off from the main trail, but as long as you stick to the widest and most obvious trail, you will not get lost. Along the way, you will pass several stone cairns topped by Jizo Bodhisattva figures.
Jizo Figures Along the Trail – image © Chris Rowthorn
The trail soon starts to climb in earnest to the summit of the ridge. There are several switchbacks which make the climbing easier. Along the way, you will pass through stands of beautiful shiinoki trees, a Japanese species of beech with distinctive branch structures that seem to be reaching toward the sun in the west.
Shiinoki or Beech Trees – image © Chris Rowthorn
Once you get near the top and the trail levels out, you will see the fence that surrounds the Seiryuden on your left.
Trail Junction Near Viewpoint – image © Chris Rowthorn
As soon as the fence ends, you can climb that small rise and walk directly to the front gate of the Seiryuden. Entry is Y500 and the view is incredible. Take this option if you really want to see the view over the Northern Higashiyama Mountains. For details on the Seiryuden, see our Shoren-in Shogunzuka Seiryuden Viewpoint page.
Entrance to Seiryuden – image © Chris Rowthorn
Otherwise, continue straight until you get to the parking lot and turn right and you will soon see the path to the main Shogunzuka Viewpoint, which is free.
Shogunzuka Viewpoint – image © Chris Rowthorn
The Shogunzuka Viewpoint offers an incredible view south and west across Kyoto.
View From Shogunzuka Viewpoint – image © Chris Rowthorn
After enjoying the viewpoint at one of these viewpoints, you can simply retrace your steps to return to Chion-in. Or, if you take the path that leads to the right and passes under the viewing deck of the Seiryuden, you will eventually come out near the intersection of Sanjo-dori and Jingu-michi, not far from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai subway line. Finally, if you want a longer walk, you can follow the wide path that continues south along the ridge from the Higashiyama Sancho-koen. This will eventually lead to Kiyomizu-dera.
Here is a Google map of the hiking route. Note that this map shows the route all the way from Chion-in along the ridge of the Higashiyama Mountains all the way to Fushimi-Inari-Taisha. Walking this whole route would take about three hours.
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
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- 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
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