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Located in the heart of the Kansai region, near Nara prefecture is Yoshino. Yoshino is renowned across Japan as one of the most beautiful parts of Japan, and especially so during the spring and Autumn.
Famous for its beautiful temples, incredible history, and for the UNESCO World Heritage Site Yoshino mountains, it is certainly worth a visit.
The main stations of Yoshino are Yoshino station and Yoshino Jingu which is one stop before Yoshino station. These are on the Kintestu line and are around a 45 minute /1-hour train ride from Kyoto or Osaka. If you are coming from further out, you will be travelling on JR lines. Buying a Japan Rail pass will make things cheaper and easier. Click here to buy one from the official vendor.
Yoshino is particularly beautiful in Autumn, as the mountains turn yellow, red and purple in a stunning spectacle of autumn leaves (Koyo).
In this guide, I will show you the best things to do in Yoshino, including some off the beaten path things to do.
â–ºHow to get here: Go to Yoshino station, which is the final stop on the Yoshino Kintetsu line. Once you get there you need to walk up the nanamagari (seven bends) path.
The main street runs up the central spine of the mountains. It's basically the main high street in the mountain village. On this street you will find loads of fascinating local handicraft shops, cute little cafes and restaurants, souvenir shops selling Yoshino seasonal specialities like Kakinoha Zushi (wrapped salted sushi), odango and omanjuu (Japanese seasonal traditional sweets) and all sorts of other fascinating and delicious snacks including Japanese street food, and dotted around are some Ryokan hotels. Everything is very local and Japanese. Further on up the road (Johnny Cash) are the temples and shrines (more info on those further down the page).
Yoshino mountain is also a fantastic and famous place to see the Koyo (Autumn/Fall leaves). As it is quite high up, the leaves change quite early here. Expect the early leaves to start changing near the end of October.
Delicious mountain food Teishoku. This particular one is mountain deer grilled with veggies and rice!
The main attraction and feature of the Yoshino Mountains is the famous Kinpusenji. Built in the 14th century, it boasts the second largest wooden structure in Japan after Todai-ji in Nara, the Zaodo hall. The temple is the head temple of the Yoshino Kinpusenji-Shugendo religion, which is basically a mountain religion with Buddhism and Shinto influences.
Visit the temple, and go pray in the Zaodo building for good fortune and health!
They have many events here throughout the year as well as rituals and ceremonies which are more sporadic. They usually tend to be around the spring and summer. You may be lucky enough to see a Shugendo prayer!
â–ºAdmission fee: 500 yen for the main hall.
Down hundreds of steps is Noten Shrine, locally and affectionately known as Noten San (san is what you affix to the end of people's names when you address them in person). Many people from all over Japan will come to Noten san and pray for good school grades, exam grades etc, due to the belief that the shrine grants good luck and health to body parts from the shoulders and up. There is a corridor where, if you walk up and down it 100 times, it will bring good luck. My grandmother did this for my mother when she had exams. Superstition still exists and is a big part of Japanese people's lives, even to this day!
If you look at the photo below of the corridor, you'll notice colourful things on the right-hand side - there are thousands of origami cranes (birds) made by children at local schools. They hang them up here, which is believed to bring good luck.
â–ºHours: Open all day
A really pretty little shrine located a little walk up the mountain main street is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Yoshino Mikumari Shrine. The Shrine was built by the powerful warlord, Daimyo and politician Hideyoshi's son, and features beautiful styling and architecture of the Momoyama period (1568-1600) with its bark layered roofing.
The Shrine is dedicated to Ameno Mikumari who is the female deity of water and healthy childbirth. It is believed that those who pray to her will be granted great fertility and pregnancy.
The Shrine itself is very enchanting and pretty, well worth the walk up. The surrounding mountain views display fantastic Koyo (Autumn Leaves). Plenty of great picture opportunities for your social media, because let's face it… that's the most important thing right?
â–ºHours: Open 8:00 till 16:00 (15:00 in April)
The main high street has some amazing cafes and restaurants that look out over the hills. Most of them serve traditional Japanese sweets like Kakigori (shaved ice) in the summer, or mochi parfaits and other sweet Japanese snacks, as well as donburi, udon and other main courses. Have a wander and see what you discover.
I have two particular favourites that I recommend. They are further on up the road.
Yamatoan - a really pretty little restaurant within interesting yet very basic decor. No frills, just really delicious organic and locally sourced food. The main dining area, if you could call that, is downstairs and is complete with a chopping block for wood, small fireplace, music and magazines laid out.
Cafe Sakanakaya - Right next door to Yamatoan is another very pretty little cafe/restaurant that looks out over the mountain. They serve delicious teishoku (set meal tray) with locally hunted game, Boar and Deer, and fish. Also, the parfaits here are amazing too. Come and enjoy the peaceful scenery and delicious food!
Occasionally in life, you will come across a place that is breathtakingly beautiful.
If you can get to this place, you'll be rewarded with what I think is the most stunning Shrines in Japan, and coupled with amazing Autumn leaves, you’re in for a treat. The only downside is that it is difficult to get to as there are no public transport links. You need a car to get here. So if you have a hire car… sorted! Tanzan Jinjya is one of those beautiful untouched places. Located deep in the Sakurai Mountain area in Nara prefecture. The Shrine enshrines the powerful Fujiwara family founder who founded the family and pretty much governed Japan during the Heian period (794-1185).
With its pagodas, balconies and beautiful architecture set in stunning mountain scenery, it really is a magical place.
â–ºAdmission: 600 yen
â–ºHours: 8:30 - 17:00
â–ºBest time to Visit? First 10 days of November.