Japan has a tradition of taking 5 – 7 days off from the end of the year to the beginning of New Year (usually from 29th December – 3rd January).
During this period, many stores, especially those run by independent owners and facilities managed by government agencies are closed (Note: Nijo Castle and Kyoto Imperial Palace will be closed). The actual duration depends on each store/facility, but if there are particular places you hope to visit, check their websites or data provided in my Kyoto Guidebook. This article also provides information on the most crowded spots in Kyoto.
Since most temples/shrines, especially those regarded as sightseeing spots are open 365 days including New Year Holidays, so it is worth researching to find a few not-too-popular but sacred and festive spots.
There are several temples and shrines along Philosopher’s Path. Ginkakuji Temple, Hounenin Temple, Anrakuji Temple, Kumano Nyakuoji Temple and Nanzenji Temple (which closes from 28th – 31st) are all located on this small path. Ginkakuji Temple and Nanzenji Temple are much more popular than other spots, so it might be a good idea to visit either of two early in the morning and the other few spots later while walking along the path.Philosopher’s Path Map
Higashi Honganji Temple & Shoseien Garden
Higashi Honganji Temple is the head of the Otani Shinshu Group from the Jodo Shinshu Sect. The main building, called Mikagedo is one of the biggest wooden buildings in Japan and contains a statue of the founder (no pictures allowed). Higashi Honganji Temple is conveniently located. It is easy to reach the temple within 7 minutes from Kyoto Station on foot. Shoseien Garden, also run by Higashihonganji Temple, is worth visiting. Although it is not popular, this garden is picturesque and well-taken care of. Higashi Hongaji Temple is free to visit, but the Shoseien Garden requests a 500 yen donation or more per visitor. With donation, a gorgeous brochure/book with many exquisite pictures is provided. This brochure can be a nice souvenir.Higashi Honganji Temple Map Shoseien Garden
Kyoto Tower is a 131 meter tall tower, which looks like a lighthouse. It is hard to miss since it stands across from the Kyoto Station’s Karasuma Exit. Since this is run by a private company, it opens during the Holiday Season as well. Unfortunately, the open hours of the Kyoto Tower are not decided yet. Therefore, please check the official website for the latest information: http://www.kyoto-tower.co.jp/kyototower/en/index.htmlKyoto Tower