From a Western point of view, we could replace the adjective "discreet" with "secret." Indeed, Shogunzuka, one of the most beautiful observation decks in Kyoto, remains largely unknown by non-Japanese people for one reason: no public transportation runs to this location. That is enough to eliminate the spot from almost all international tourist guides about the city.
Reaching the hill requires choosing between two options:
- a taxi, pleased to drive you from any location in Kyoto, or
- steep hiking trails, leaving from Shoren-in/Chion-in Temples below.
Both converge on the entrance parking lot, where high-end cars and taxis come and go with discretion.
Origin and history
From an administrative point of view, Shogunzuka belongs to Shoren-in Temple, located at the feet of the mountain, in Yamashina ward. Its name (literally "the Shogun’s mound") comes from the year 794, when Emperor Kanmu decided to bury a 2.5-meter-long clay statue of a lord there to protect Kyoto. Due to its location and the panoramic view it offers, the hill served as a strategic point during local battles and as an anti-air base during WWII.
The terrace and its temple ground
Today, the main goal of the visit is the northern wooden terrace, renovated in 2014, which occupies a surface about 5 times bigger than Kiyomisu-dera’s teahouse. Nested at 220 meters above sea level, this observation deck offers a breathtaking view of the whole heart of the former capital and the vast forests of its eastern areas.
From April 2015 to September 2017, Shogunzuka has become best known for a surprising exhibition. Called 光庵 Kôan (literally "light shelter"), this Glass Tea House, opened April 4th, 2015, initially should have stayed only one year. Built by the designer Yoshioka Tokujin after a creative work lasting 5 years, the famous piece of art celebrates the 50th anniversary of the twinning between sister cities Kyoto and Florence.
This iconoclastic creation tries to catch the essence of the Japanese perception and aesthetic. Depending on the intensity brought by the season, the weather or the time of day, passing through its light spectrum reveals delightful and surprising luminous aspects.
This unexpected yet successful contrast between an artistic tea house and an historical building characteristic of Kyoto (Seiryu-den Temple) offers a show warmly recommended. To add some good points, the glass benches stay cool, offering a very pleasant feeling when the temperature rises in summer months.
The Glass Tea House Kou-An by Tokujin Yoshioka is currently removed from Shogunzuka mound. This artwork is actually travelling across Japan and will be exposed in two main art exhibitions:
- Saga Prefectural Art Museum Exhibition: from November 28, 2018 to February 11, 2019, and
- in front of the Tokyo National Art Center: from April 17, 2019 to May 10, 2021
West observation platform and Japanese garden
When continuing their discovery of Shogunzuka, visitors go to an aging metallic platform. A little out of the center and higher up, it offers a second deck for observing the buildings described earlier.
The linear promenade toward the exit leads to a beautiful Japanese garden, well-maintained, completing the already lovely discovery.
How to get to Shogunzuka
- ~5 minutes (¥~1,000 / ~US$ 9.20) from Keage
- ~25 minutes (¥~2,000¥ / ~US$ 18.30) from Kyoto Station
By foot -- About 40 minutes of hiking in the forest (intermediate level - all signs in Japanese) from Shoren-in Temple
By bus -- #70 Keihan, only weekends and public holidays
Location unreachable with the JR Pass
Get there with a rental car
- Adults: ¥500 (~US$ 4.60)
- Schoolchildren (7 to 12 years old): ¥400 (~US$ 3.70)
- Kindergarten: ¥200 (~US$ 1.80)
- Small (under 3 years old): free
Get your Japanese Yens free of charge
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission at 4:30 p.m.)
Light-up on variable dates during sakura blooming (early April) and koyo season (end of November)
How long / when to visit
Allow about one hour
Avoid rainy days
Glass Tea House Kou-An currently removed from Shogun-zuka
Weather in Kyoto
11 / 20°C
7 / 15°C
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