Daigoji (醍醐寺) is a large and important temple located in Kyoto’s Yamashina district (which is somewhat separated from the city proper in the next valley) and is one of the 17 sites which together constitute the Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage listing. It’s especially renowned for the many cherry blossom trees planted on its grounds and is one of the city’s prime cherry blossom viewing spots – the trees are of a variety of species with slightly different blossoming times, so it has a longer window of opportunity than most places. Of course the temple gets very crowded throughout the cherry blossom period, but the expansive grounds and the slight extra effort required to get there mean it isn’t quite as packed as places like Kiyomizu-dera.
The main temple area is located at the foot of the mountain, but Daigoji also has a cluster of buildings located on top of the mountain (Kami Daigo, 上醍醐, Upper Daigo) and there’s a hiking trail connecting the two areas (the mountain in question is the ridge that forms the border between Kyoto and neighbouring Shiga Prefecture). You can find the entrance to the trail at the back of the main temple area – with a ticket gate blocking your way. The fee to enter, at time of writing, is 600 yen (see the Japan Guide Daigoji page for more information)
The first bit of the temple grounds is free to enter:
When you reach this guardian gate with the Nio statues there’s an entrance fee for that section of the grounds:
You can go through that section and come out of this gate at the back:
Then just walk up here to find the trail entrance (山頂 means summit and 上醍醐 is Kami Daigo):
The trail entrance (closed off at time of this photo due to typhoon damage):
Alternatively if you don’t want to go through the paid section, turn right at the guardian gate and go this way:
Then take this left to walk up to the trail entrance (path closed off at time of this photo due to typhoon damage):
Alternatively before reaching the guardian statues you can turn right at this signpost, walk to the end & go out of the gate to the road, then go up to the left and this also gets you up to the trail entrance:
The Daigoji temple hike up to Kami Daigo
The trail’s straightforward and clearly marked, presenting no navigational issues. It is pretty steep though and takes around an hour, so it’s a pretty good work out. The trail up’s through the forest and there aren’t any viewpoints, but there’s a waterfall partway up and a few mini-shrines; it isn’t particularly interesting to be honest, but the temple area at the top is pretty neat. The buildings up there are old and grand, and as the crowds mostly stay down at the bottom it feels a bit like stumbling over a lost temple in the forest, almost Lord of the Rings-esque. This is one of the main remaining places in Japan for the practice of Shugendo (mountain asceticism) by Yamabushi mountain priests, and it has an appropriately mysterious atmosphere; for more on the Yamabushi see here. There are good views looking out to the south towards Nara and Osaka, and when I went up there I didn’t see a single soul either on the trail or up at the top.
I only have a few photos from my crappy old flip-phone:
The Daigoji temple hike is by no means my favourite hike in Kyoto, but if you visit in spring and combine it with a spot of cherry blossom viewing it makes for a good day out.
How to get to Daigoji temple
To reach Daigoji, ride the Kyoto subway Tozai (東西) line (orange on the map) to Daigo Station from where it’s about a 15-minute walk east to the temple. Coming out of exit 2, turn right through this shopping centre and up the elevator at the end, then follow the path up through the residential district to the temple:
For hiking in the Tokyo area, see here
Have you done this hike, or do you have any questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.
(Photo credit: nekotank, Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license)
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