Kyoto District Guides; Okazaki 岡崎
The National Museum of Modern Art (MoMAK), the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, Hosomi Museum, Namikawa Cloisonné Museum, as well as Kyoto Zoo and Miyako Messe are some of the main attractions in the area.
History of Okazaki
The Heian Shrine is a scaled-down version of the original Imperial Palace (Daigoku-den), and the Shrine's construction transformed an area that was mostly paddy fields at the time.
Heian Jingu was built in 1885, the 1,100th anniversary of the founding of Heian-kyo (Kyoto) and was part of the attempt to reinvigorate the city after the 1868 move to Tokyo of the capital and the emperor. The nearby Lake Biwa Canal project was also part of this modernization of the former capital.
Other historic buildings in Okazaki include the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art dating from 1933 and the venerable Meiji Period Kyoto Budo Center built in 1899 - the oldest such martial arts center in Japan. Kyoto Prefectural Library & Archives, though much restored over the years, was first opened in 1873.
More recently, modern structures have appeared in Okazaki including the National Museum of Modern Art (MoMAK) designed by the architect Fumihiko Maki in 1986, Miyako Messe convention center also in 1986 and the Rohm Theater, which replaced the Kyoto Kaikan in 2016.
It is easy to spend half a day or a full day in Okazaki as there is much to see in an area mostly free of traffic and large crowds.
The Furukawa-cho arcade (shotengai) is right at exit 1 of Higashiyama Station. The arcade itself dates from 1963 but the shopping street goes back to the Edo Period and earlier, serving pilgrims on their way to Chion-in Temple, Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine to the south. More recent visitors are served by new guest houses catering particularly to Asian travelers: Hostel Haruya Kyoto, Guesthouse Oki's Inn and Hotel Japaning Kyoto. The more upmarket Kyoto Miyabi Inn is just nearby on the banks of the attractive canalized Shirokawa River.
Walking east on Sanjo off the north side of the street brings you to the small, Jodo-shu sect Kongoji Temple. Kongoji's founding is thought to have been by the priest Gyoki (668-749) during the Nara Period of the 8th century. The temple contained a wooden statue of the Amida Buddha, which was so badly damaged in the Onin War (1467-77) that only the head survived. Later Kongoji was restored and the head of the statue was brought here at the beginning of the Edo Period in 1602. In 1713 the body of the statue was recarved. The Main Hall dates from 1730.
Namikawa Cloisonné Museum
The nearby Namikawa Cloisonné Museum is the former house, studio and garden of cloisonné master Namikawa Yasuyuki and was built in 1894. The museum includes the artist's studio and kiln, with the tools of his trade also on display along with 130 pieces of his craft. Cloisonné is the art of decorating metal objects with enamel, which is incredibly time-consuming. Namikawa's work was much appreciated overseas and in consideration of his many foreign guests he had the lintels of his reception room raised to higher than the Japanese-norm to accommodate his taller visitors. The garden is by the renown Japanese garden designer Ogawa Jihei (1860-1933), who was also responsible for the garden at Heian Jingu and Murin-an. Open 10am-4.30pm; closed Monday and Thursday. The museum is generally open from April to the end of July and then again from mid-September to mid-December.
Heian Shrine Torii Gate
The giant torii gate on the approach to Heian Shrine is one of the largest in Japan and the principal landmark of the Okazaki district. If arriving in Okazaki by Kyoto city bus, this is the place to get off. The torii stands between the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art (on the right, looking north towards Heian Jingu) and the National Museum of Modern Art (MoMAK) on Jingu michi.
Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art
The Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art was founded in 1933, and still gets many of the must-see exhibitions that come down from Tokyo. A new annex was opened in 2000, which increased gallery space. The permanent collection of the The Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art consists of about 2,100 items that include Japanese paintings, Western paintings, sculpture, handicrafts, calligraphy, and prints.
National Museum of Modern Art (MoMAK)
The Fumihiko Maki designed National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (MoMAK), is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. The permanent collection has nihonga (Japanese-style painting), Western-style painting, prints, sculpture, ceramics, crafts, and photography. Big exhibits make their way here to the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto several times a year and the permanent collection is regularly rearranged. Artists whose work is included in the permanent Nihonga collection at MoMAK include Murakami Kagaku, Koide Narashige, Yasui Sotaro and Murayama Tomoyoshi. Work by Western artists includes paintings by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Kurt Schwitters, Piet Mondrian and Edgar Degas.
Kyoto Prefectural Library & Archives
Kyoto Prefectural Library & Archives has over 1 million volumes including books, journals, maps, magazines and newspapers. There are also books in English and other languages. Among the archives are a number of extremely important historical documents including the Hyakugo documents from Toji Temple, a National Treasure, the Kawashimake documents (an Important Cultural Property), as well as administrative records of Kyoto Prefecture, historic Japanese records from the 16th century and before and Chinese books from the Edo Period. The pieces are displayed in regular shows and an annual exhibition.
The Miyako Messe has three spacious exhibition halls and a special exhibition hall. Many of the exhibitions and trade fairs are put on by traditional Kyoto industries such as kimono and other Kyoto-based arts and crafts manufacturers. The Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts - Fureaikan (京都伝統産業ふれあい館) in the basement of the Miyako Messe is a superb display of literary hundreds of Japanese crafts. Free to enter, the museum's exhibits (stone lanterns, lacquerware, umbrellas, chochin lanterns, etc) are explained in both Japanese and English.
The Rohm Theater replaced the Kyoto Kaikan in 2016 and is a state-of-the-art performing arts venue. Rohm Theater has three multipurpose performance halls: a 2,000-seat capacity Main Hall a 700-seat South Hall and a 200-seat North Hall. Plaza Park Plaza combines a Tsutaya bookstore, Starbucks café and restaurant looking out on the Rohm Square open space.
Heian Shrine (Heian Jingu)
Heian Shrine is one of Kyoto's most iconic buildings, It is a scaled-down reproduction of the original Imperial Palace (Daigoku-den) first constructed in 794. Heian Shrine was first built in the late nineteenth century and the present wooden structure dates from 1979 after a fire in 1976 destroyed the original. Visitors enter the main shrine area through Ote-mon, a twin level gate constructed as a replica of the original entrance gate of the palace. The floor area here is covered with white sand. The Heian Jingu garden was designed by Ogawa Jihei (see above) and is most popular in spring when its many cherry trees are in full bloom. The central pond (seiho-ike) is the main feature of this delightful, strolling garden.
Kyoto Budo Center
North west of Heian Shrine, the original wooden Kyoto Budo Center (旧武徳殿; kyubutokuden) dates from 1899 in the Meiji Period and is the oldest such martial arts center in Japan. Facing the old Kyoto Budo Center, which is still used for martial arts training, such as aikido, iaido, naginata, tai chi, kendo, judo, kyudo (archery) and karate is the new, concrete Kyoto Budo Center constructed in 1989. Across Marutamachi Street from here is the Kyoto Handicraft Center for souvenirs, modern electronics and Kyoto arts and crafts.
West along Marutamachi, Okazaki Shrine is dedicated to the mythical kami Susano-no-mikoto and Kushinadahime-no-mikoto and their considerable brood of three daughters and five sons. This fecundity in child birth is the main focus of the shrine today. Rabbits, known for their productivity in producing offspring, are the servants of the enshrined kami and statues of rabbits are seen throughout the grounds and are depicted on the shrine's ema votive plaques, where supplicants write messages expressing their hopes to conceive or give birth safely to healthy children. Kurodani Temple is to the north.
Heading south towards Kyoto Zoo, Manganji Temple is a Nichiren temple, with many of the present buildings dating from the Edo Period, including the Main Hall constructed between 1702-1704 and the Bell Tower in 1703. It is thought that Nichiren (1222-1282) himself once stayed at the temple in its earlier incarnation.
Kyoto City Zoo
Kyoto City Zoo, was established in 1903, making it the second oldest zoo in Japan after Ueno Zoo in Ueno Park, Tokyo. Much improved in recent years, Kyoto City Zoo has a wide variety of animals including bears, elephants, giant salamanders, giraffes, gorillas, hippos, lions, tigers and zebras as well as various birds. Kyoto City Zoo is closed on Monday unless Monday is a national holiday.
The Hosomi Museum specializes in Japanese art, from the Yayoi Period to the Edo Period (1603-1867). The Hosomi Museum opened in 1998 and has regular exhibits. The Hosomi Museum is the collection of the Hosomi family, for which it is named, and features a wide range of Japanese pieces of almost every genre including Buddhist sculpture, hand scrolls (emaki), ink paintings, Rimpa art, lacquerware, tea bowls and tea ceremony utensils.
Kyoto Kanze Noh Theater
The Kyoto Kanze Noh Theater holds performances of noh and kyogen theater mainly on weekends and public holidays. The theater is named after the Kanze family, the head of the clan the father of famous Noh playwright, Zeami (1363-1443). In front of the theater is the Yurinkan Museum displaying the collection of both Chinese and Japanese art of Zensuke Fujii, businessman, politician and lover of Chinese art, who had studied in Shanghai: bronzes, Buddhist statues, calligraphy, ceramics, clothing, ink seals. Open the 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month 11am-4pm.
There are plenty of accommodation options in and around Okazaki ranging from five-star hotels to ryokan and cheaper guesthouses. The Westin Miyako Hotel Kyoto offers five-star luxury and is located south east of Okazaki close to Keage subway station. Close to Okazaki Shrine is the Heian no Mori Hotel, popular with wedding parties at the shrine. Kyoto Garden Ryokan Yachiyo is a standout ryokan close to Nanzenji, set in a beautiful garden and serving superb Kyoto cuisine. Experience sleeping in a futon on a tatami floor.
Sanjo Station, one stop on the subway west of Higashiyama, has a cluster of several hotels, ryokan and some capsule hotels (pods). Options include the Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel Kyoto Premier, the Kyoto Hana Hotel and the new, budget Prime Pod Kyoto.
Higashiyama Station on the Tozai subway line is the easiest way to access Okazaki. By Kyoto city bus from Kyoto Station take the #5 or the Raku Bus #100 to the Okazaki-koen Bijitsukan Heian-jingu-mae stop near the junction of Niomon Dori and Jingu-michi. Buses #46 and #110 also stop here.
Riding by bicycle around the shrines and museums of Okazaki is a cheap and healthy option.