Takao (高雄) is a sparsely 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.
Takao is connected with central Kyoto by local JR buses and Kyoto City Bus.
JR buses for Takao leave from Kyoto Station every 20 to 30 minutes, cost 530 yen one way, and should take 50 minutes to get to Takao. The bus can also be boarded at several stops along the way, including JR Nijo Station and Omuro Ninnaji bus stop. The bus is covered by the Japan Rail Pass, JR Kansai Area Pass, JR Kansai Wide Area Pass and a few other rail passes by JR West, but it is not covered by the one-day pass for city buses.
Takao can also be reached by Kyoto City Bus number 8, which departs from Shijo Karasuma every 30 to 60 minutes, costs 530 yen one way, and should take 45 minutes. Because Takao is outside the flat fare zone of the Kyoto City Bus network, the one-day bus pass will not fully cover the fare.
All buses stop at Takao bus stop (高雄, known as Yamashiro-Takao 山城高雄 in case of JR buses), which is most convenient for accessing Jingoji and Saimyoji. While Kyoto City Buses terminate at Takao bus stop, JR buses continue to run deeper into the valley and two minutes later stop at Toganoo bus stop (栂ノ尾), which is most convenient for accessing Kozanji.
From March 2021, the Takao area will become part of the flat-fare zone of Kyoto City Bus, which means that a) the bus fare to Takao will be reduced to 230 yen and b) the bus ride to Takao will become covered by the one-day bus pass. Not only will these changes affect Kyoto City Bus number 8, but they will also be applied to the JR buses. Furthermore, Kyoto City Bus number 8 will be extended to Toganoo bus stop.