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. Since March 2021, Takao is part of the city's flat-fare zone, and buses to Takao have become fully covered by Kyoto's one-day bus pass (even JR buses).
JR buses for Takao leave from Kyoto Station every 20 to 30 minutes, cost 230 yen one way and take 50 minutes to get to Takao. The buses can also be boarded at several stops along the way, including JR Nijo Station and Omuro Ninnaji bus stops. The JR buses are also covered by the Japan Rail Pass, JR Kansai Area Pass, JR Kansai Wide Area Pass and a few other rail passes by JR West.
Takao can also be reached by Kyoto City Bus number 8, which departs from Shijo-Karasuma every 30 to 60 minutes, costs 230 yen one way and takes 45 minutes.
In the Takao area, the buses stop at the Takao bus stop (高雄), which is most convenient for accessing Jingoji and Saimyoji, before terminating at the Toganoo bus stop (栂ノ尾), which is most convenient for accessing Kozanji. About half of the JR buses continue to run deeper into the valley instead of terminating at the Toganoo bus stop.