Autumn at Daigoji Temple in Kyoto, Japan




Daigo-ji is a World Heritage–listed sprawling temple complex located in the Daigo district of Kyoto, which lies on the east side of the Higashiyama mountains, accessible by the Tōzai subway line. Outside of the cherry-blossom season (early April), it's not a high-priority destination, but it makes a good half-day trip for those who like hiking and want a break from the more famous temples in the city centre.

Daigo-ji was founded in 874 by Shobo, who gave it the name Daigo (meaning ‘the ultimate essence of milk’). This refers to the five periods of Buddha’s teaching, which were compared to the five forms of milk prepared in India; the highest form is called daigo in Japanese.

The temple was expanded into a vast complex on two levels, Shimo Daigo (lower) and Kami Daigo (upper). Kami Daigo is atop Daigo-yama, behind the temple. During the 15th century those buildings on the lower level were destroyed, with the sole exception of the five-storey pagoda (Garan). Built in 951, this pagoda is treasured as the oldest of its kind in Japan and is the oldest existing building in Kyoto.

In the late 16th century, Hideyoshi took a fancy to Daigo-ji and ordered extensive rebuilding. It is now one of the Shingon school’s main temples. To explore Daigo-ji thoroughly and at a leisurely pace, mixing some hiking with your temple-viewing, you will need at least half a day.

The subtemple Sampō-in is a fine example of the amazing opulence of that period. The Kanō paintings and the garden are special features.

From Sampō-in it’s a steep and tiring one-hour climb up to Kami Daigo. To get here, walk up the large avenue of cherry trees, through the Niō-mon gate, out the back gate of the lower temple, up a concrete incline and into the forest, past the pagoda.

To get to Daigo-ji, take the Tōzai line subway east from central Kyoto to the Daigo stop, and walk east (towards the mountains) for about 10 minutes; there are signs pointing the way. Make sure that the train you board is bound for Rokujizō, as some head to Hama-Ōtsu instead.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Kyoto attractions

1. Fushimi Inari-Taisha

2.95 MILES

With seemingly endless arcades of vermilion torii (shrine gates) spread across a thickly wooded mountain, this vast shrine complex is a world unto its own…

2. Tōfuku-ji


Home to a spectacular garden, several superb structures and beautiful precincts, Tōfuku-ji is one of the best temples in Kyoto. It is linked to Fushimi…

3. Gekkeikan Sake Ōkura Museum

3.67 MILES

The largest of Fushimi’s sake breweries is Gekkeikan, the world’s leading producer of sake. Although most of the sake is now made in a modern facility in…

4. Kizakura Kappa Country

3.68 MILES

Kizakura is worth a look if you're in the Fushimi area. The vast complex houses both sake and beer breweries (these are not open to the public), courtyard…

5. Kiyomizu-dera

3.69 MILES

A buzzing hive of activity perched on a hill overlooking the basin of Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera is one of Kyoto's most popular and most enjoyable temples. It…

6. Sanjūsangen-dō Temple

3.78 MILES

This superb temple’s name refers to the 33 sanjūsan (bays) between the pillars of this long, narrow edifice. The building houses 1001 wooden statues of…

7. Kyoto National Museum

3.85 MILES

The Kyoto National Museum is the city's premier art museum and plays host to the highest-level exhibitions in the city. It was founded in 1895 as an…

8. Kawai Kanjirō Memorial Hall

3.94 MILES

This small memorial hall is one of Kyoto’s most commonly overlooked little gems. The hall was the home and workshop of one of Japan’s most famous potters,…