One thing I love about Japan is that it’s so easy to find a secluded tranquil space in the middle of the city. At first, the Heian Shrine looks big, red and, because of the crowds, touristy. This shrine in eastern Kyoto, not too far from the iconic Gion district, is relatively young by Japanese standards – having been built in only 1895 to mark the 110th anniversary of Kyoto becoming the capital city. After passing through a giant torii gate, you’ll enter the wide shrine grounds where you can purchase temple charms (omamori) and take some photos.
For a small fee, you can also enter the shrine’s gardens, which is famous for its weeping cherry trees. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch the petals falling into the pond, which is a particularly beautiful sight. A trip across the stepping stones is also a must but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re in high heels or flip flops – you don’t want to be that person wobbling around dangerously.
Another good time to visit the Heian Shrine is 22 October, when it plays host to the Jidai Festival celebrating the anniversary of the foundation of Kyoto. A parade of people in costumes from different periods of Japanese history travels from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to the Heian Shrine.