Southern Higashiyama

KYOTO, JAPAN - 2016/07/19: Yasaka Shrine or in Japanese Yasaka Jinja was once called Gion Shrine includes several buildings, a main hall and a stage on which kendo and noh performances are held.   The shrine was constructed in the year 656 and was under imperial patronage during the early Heian period.   In the year 869 the mikoshi portable shrines or divine palanquins of Gion Shrine were paraded through Kyoto to help ward off an epidemic  which was the beginning of the Gion Matsuri, an annual festival which has become an intangible UNESCO world heritage artifact. (Photo by John S Lander/LightRocket via Getty Images)

LightRocket via Getty Images

This colourful and spacious shrine is considered the guardian shrine of the Gion entertainment district. It's a bustling place that is well worth a visit while exploring Southern Higashiyama; it can easily be paired with Maruyama-kōen, the park just up the hill.

The present buildings, with the exception of the older, two-storey west gate, date from 1654. The granite torii (shrine gate) on the south side was erected in 1666 and stands 9.5m high, making it one of the tallest in Japan. The roof of the main shrine is covered with cypress shingles. Among the treasures here are a pair of carved wooden koma-inu (guardian lion-dogs) attributed to the renowned sculptor Unkei.

This shrine is particularly popular as a spot for hatsu-mōde (first shrine visit of the New Year). If you don’t mind a stampede, come here around midnight on New Year’s Eve or on any of the days following. Surviving the crush is proof that you’re blessed by the gods!