Takao (高雄) is a thinly populated, mountainous area with three historic temples along its forested valley, a one hour bus ride north of central Kyoto. Worth a visit at any time of the year, Takao becomes most popular during the autumn leaf season, which usually peaks around mid November.
Kozanji Temple dates back to 774 and is recognized as a World Heritage Site. Inside Kozanji, visitors can see what is considered Japan's first manga, a scroll depicting animals in a satire of the court life of the Heian Period. In another first, Kozanji claims to be the original site of tea cultivation in Japan. The original tea plantation has recently been restored for visitors to see.
Jingoji Temple is the most visited among Takao's temples. A long set of stone stairs make for an impressive and tiring approach. The temple grounds feature a large entrance gate and multiple halls, as well as a path to an observation point with views over the valley. Small clay discs with inscriptions can be purchased there to be thrown into the valley for good luck.
Saimyoji Temple was originally built as a detached temple of Jingoji. It is not as big or impressive as Jingoji, but still interesting. The vermilion covered Shigetsukyo Bridge, which leads over a river to the temple entrance, is a particularly well known sight.