Kyoto’s Palace of Versailles.
Despite the impressive scale of its sacred ground – not to mention its massive torii gate – Heian-jingu’s history is comparably shorter than its ancient capital counterparts. Built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of ‘Heian-kyo’ (the former name of the country’s cultural capital, Kyoto), this monumental shrine takes its design cred straight from the Imperial Palace of the Heian Period.
While no original buildings remain, the present shrine offers a small-scale idea of the impressive structures of this aristocratic era. Basically it’s the Japanese equivalent of the Palace of Versailles.
Cross the graveled courtyard to the Daigokuden – noted as the shrine’s spiritual hotspot – where visitors can pay their respects and place their hands in prayer to silently make a wish. If you need a bit of luck, stalls around the grounds sell different amulets, or you can try measuring your fate by drawing a paper fortune known as omikuji.
The shrine also houses an attractive Japanese garden featuring plants that appear in the pages of Heian Period classics, such as the weeping cherry tree from The Tale of Genji.
Famous for its trail of 300 cherry trees, spring sees the temple courtyard and garden blossom with crowds come to celebrate hanami (cherry blossom viewing) – another tradition dating back to the Heian Era.
For an aesthetic overload, you can combine a trip to the Heian-jingu with a visit to an art gallery. The Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art and the National Museum of Modern Art are both nearby.