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10 Masterpieces You Can Only See in Kyoto| © Mr Hicks46
10 Masterpieces You Can Only See in Kyoto| © Mr Hicks46 Flickr

Stunning Masterpieces You Can Only See in Kyoto

Picture of John Asano
Updated: 6 March 2017

Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital is home to an amazing collection of national treasures. These works of art span from ancient Japan to the 19th century, and are treasured for their historic or artistic value. Let’s take a look at 10 masterpieces you can only see in Kyoto.

The Fujin Raijin Zu folding screen at Kennin-ji Temple

The work of famous painter, Sotatsu Tawaraya, this gorgeous folding screen covered in gold leaf features the God of Wind and God of Thunder. Drawn in the early 17th century, this piece has gone on to inspire and act as the prototype image of these famous Japanese gods. The folding screen at Kennin-ji Temple is a replica with the original housed at the Kyoto National Museum.

Komatsu-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, +81 75-561-6363

The Ninomaru Palace at Nijo Castle

The former Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shoguns is an excellent example of 17th century Momoyama Period architecture. Nijo Castle was constructed to showcase the shogun’s immense wealth and power and the Ninomaru Palace boasts 33 rooms, exquisite wood carvings and elaborately painted sliding doors.

541 Nijojo-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, +81 75-841-0096

The Main Hall at Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera is Kyoto’s most famous temple with its cliff hanging main hall an architectural masterpiece. The main hall is constructed over a cliff and is supported by 18 massive pillars. Amazingly it was built without the use of a single nail and has withstood the test of time, including several major earthquakes.

294 Kiyomizu 1-chome, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, +81 75-551-1234

The Painting of the Blue Cetaka at Shoren-in Temple

Shoren-in Temple has a long and extremely close relationship with the imperial family and is famous for the Painting of the Blue Cetaka (a blue guardian deity of the temple). It is one of only three major cetakas in Japan (blue, red and yellow).

69-1 Awataguchi Sanjobo-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, +81 75-561-2345

Rengeo-in Sanjusangen-do

The main temple building at Sanjusangen-do is the longest wooden structure in Japan at 120 meters. Completed in 1266 it is famous for its wooden statues of Senju Kannon, which are lined up in an orderly fashion. The 1,001 statues of Senju Kannon all have a different face with a local legend saying that if you look closely, you will see one with the face of the person you want to meet.

657 Sanjusangendomawari, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, +81 75-561-0467

Senbon Shakado Daihoon-ji Temple

The main temple building at Daihoon-ji is believed to be the oldest original building still standing in Kyoto. Built in 1221, it is one of the few medieval buildings remaining in Kyoto giving it national treasure status. It has remained intact despite many wars and fires and is known for its many outstanding Buddhist sculptures.

1305 Mizomae, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, +81 75-461-5973

Myokian Taian Tea House

The tea house at Myokian, a Zen Buddhist temple of the Rinzai Sect is the oldest tea house in Japan, and one of only three designated as national treasures. Established during the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), it is believed to be the creation of Sen no Rikyu, a master of the Japanese tea ceremony.

56 Ryuko, Oyamazaki-cho, Otokuni-gun, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, +81 75-956-0103

The Five Storey Pagoda at To-ji Temple

To-ji Temple was one of the guardian temples of ancient Kyoto, built to protect the city’s southern edge. It can boast the tallest pagoda in Japan at 57 meters in height, which is also the tallest wooden tower in Japan. The pagoda is a symbol of Kyoto, and dates from the Edo Period (1603-1868), when it was rebuilt by order of the third Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu.

1 Kujo-cho, Minami-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, +81 75-691-3325

The Amida Nyorai Buddha at Byodo-in Temple

The Phoenix Hall at Byodo-in Temple in Uji City in southeast Kyoto is one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Japan. It is so beautiful that it can be found on the ¥10 coin. The hall is home to the Amida Nyorai Buddha, a golden Buddha towering more than nine feet, which was carved by the most famous sculptor of the Heian Period (794-1192), Masuzo Inui.

Renge-116, Uji, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, +81 774-21-2861

Kyoto National Museum

Possibly the best place to see many of Kyoto’s original masterpieces is at the Kyoto National Museum. Many of Kyoto’s famous paintings, statues, lacquerware and artwork is preserved here in this 1897 French baroque style building. The golden age of Kyoto during the Heian Period (794-1192) when the arts flourished is well represented.

527 Chaya-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, +81 75-525-2473