Temples and Shrines

Found throughout the land, Japan’s Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines co-exist happily and range from very small and simple constructions to huge, elaborate buildings.

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Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple

Adashino Nenbutsuji is a small temple near the end of the Saga Toriimoto Preserved Street at the northern end of the Arashiyama sightseeing district, near its sister temple, Otagi Nenbutsuji. There are 8000 buddhist statues placed in memory of those who died without family dating back to the Heian period. These lost souls are remembered…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , ,

Byodo-in

This stunning temple in the small town of Uji near Kyoto combines Heian Pure Land style Buddhist gardens with Chinese-influenced architecture. The Phoenix hall was built in 1053 and is famously featured on the 10 yen coin. Various Buddhist treasures are on display throughout the temple and garden complex and especially in the small though…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , ,

Chishaku-in

Within this Shingon Buddhist temple is one of Kyoto’s best small examples of tsukiyama gardening, with elements evocative of a mountain landscape, complete with cascade, bridge, and azalea bushes pruned to represent rolling hills.

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , ,

Daikaku-ji Temple

Located on the site of a 9th century palace, Daikakuji was converted to a Shingon Buddhist temple in 876. Although the original buildings are long gone, the architecture and courtyard gardens retain the Heian Period style described in the Tale of Genji, and a large lake creates sweeping views across to the nearby mountains. Originally…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: ,

Daisho-in Temple

Miyajima’s main temple, Daishō-in is tucked back into the well-treed lower slopes of Mount Misen, about ten minutes south of Itsukushima-jinja. Daisho-in is one of the most important temples in Shingon Buddhism and the sect’s founder, Kobo Daishi, first began the practice of Buddhism on Miyajima. The temple has interesting pavilions, lily-filled ponds, and stone…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Western Honshu  |  Tags: , ,

Fushimi Inari Shrine

The best known of Kyoto’s shrines, Fushimi Inari is visually stunning: Thousands of torii gates form an unbroken tunnel of red, leading up to the crest of Mount Inari. Oldest and most famous of all the Inari shrines in Japan, Fushimi Inari Taisha is, like the others, dedicated to the Shinto deity thought to protect…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , ,

Futarasan Shrine

Futarasan is really a shrine in three parts, the main part of which is next to the Tōshō-gū Shrine. The beautiful red Futarasan Shrine is dedicated to Nikkō’s mountains, in particular the long-dormant volcano, Mount Nantai, and makes up the third part in Nikkō’s World Heritage trinity. Don’t miss the sacred red Shinkyo bridge, which…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kanto  |  Tags: , ,

Ginkakuji

More properly called Jishō-ji, the Silver Pavilion was, like the similarly named Golden Pavilion, built as a retirement villa and only later converted into a Zen temple. During its time as a residence in the late 15th century, Ginkaku-ji was, again like the Golden Pavilion a century earlier, the very heart of aesthetic Kyoto, playing…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , ,

Gio-ji Temple

Tiny Gio-ji Temple is often overlooked by the throngs of sightseers in Arashiyama but what it may lack in size, it more than makes up for in charm and it’s one of our favourite temples in the area, not least for its fascinating history. The temple was named after Gio, a dancer from long ago…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , , , ,

Hachiman-gu Shrine

Properly known as Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū, this imposing shrine is Kamakura’s most important Shinto shrine, and on holidays and festivals this is made apparent by the happy crowds of visitors. The shrine grounds are particularly lovely, including as they do a pond (the lotus blossom in mid-summer) and Japanese-style bridges, and the wide steps leading up…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kanto  |  Tags: , ,

Hasedera Temple

Hase-dera Temple is marked by the steep stairs that wind up the slopes of one of Kamakura’s many hills, and by the thousands of Jizō statues which surround them. Despite the temple’s popularity, it remains a moving spot to visit, and we highly recommend leaving time to explore the grounds with their statues and ponds…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kanto  |  Tags: , ,

Heian Shrine

Though one of Kyoto’s newest shrines, the Heian Jingū is also one of the most impressive – the shrine gate is one of the largest in Japan, and the buildings are a replica of Kyoto’s Heian Period Imperial Palace. The gardens are best known for their weeping sakura (cherry blossom) trees, so are most popular…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , ,

Honen-in Temple

A lovely and secluded temple just off the Philosopher’s Path, Honen-in was established in 1680 to honour Honen, the founder of the Jodo Buddhist sect. Set amongst a wooded hillside, the temple has a beautiful raked sand garden, moss gardens and a tranquil pond filed with koi carp. The main entrance to the temple is…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , ,

Honganji Temples

Nishi Honganji (西本願寺) and Higashi Honganji (東本願寺) are two large temples in the centre of Kyoto. As headquarters of the two factions of the Jodo-Shin Sect (True Pure Land Sect), one of Japan’s largest Buddhist sects, they are a good place to experience contemporary Japanese Buddhism. Nishi Honganji (West Honganji) was built in 1591 by…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: ,

Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine is built out over the water, as a spiritual threshold that separates the sacred island from the profane outer world. With its large torii gate standing nearby in the sea, it forms the iconic image of Miyajima. The shrine itself was first built in the 6th Century, and took its present form in…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Western Honshu  |  Tags: , , ,

Izumo Grand Shrine

Located in the city of Izumo in Shimane Prefecture, about an hour west of Matsue, Izumo Taisha is one of Japan’s most important shrines. Although no records exist of exactly when Izumo Taisha was built, it is often considered the oldest shrine in Japan, already in existence in the early 700s as shown in the…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Western Honshu  |  Tags: , ,

Jojakko-ji Temple

Famous for its beautiful Autumn colours, Jojakko-ji is situated on the side of a mountain in Arashiyama and was established in 1596. The Taho-to pagoda, which is designated by the national government as an Important Cultural Property, was constructed in the 17th century. It is built in the gorgeous 16th-century Momoyama style and affords a…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: ,

Kamakura Great Buddha

Kamakura’s great Buddha, or Daibutsu, is undoubtedly the town’s most famous sight and dominates the grounds of Kōtoku-in temple. The 13.35m bronze statue was cast in 1252 and originally located inside a large temple building, however after being destroyed many times by typhoons and a tidal wave in the 14th and 15th centuries, since 1495…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kanto  |  Tags: , ,

Kasuga Taisha Shrine

Kasuga Taisha (Grand) Shrine is Nara’s most celebrated Shinto shrine. Kasuga Taisha was also the shrine of the Fujiwara, Japan’s most powerful family clan during most of the Nara and Heian Periods. It is famous for its lanterns, which have been donated by worshipers. Hundreds of bronze lanterns can be found hanging from the buildings…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kansai  |  Tags: , ,

Kinkakuji

Generally known as the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji was built in 1398 by Shogun Ashikaga, and served as a flourishing centre of the arts before becoming a Rinzai Zen temple in 1419. Though the gardens are superb, featuring a large pond with islands representing the landscape of the Buddhist creation myth, it is the Golden Pavilion…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , ,

Kiyomizu Temple

Overlooking Kyoto from the base of the eastern mountains, Kiyomizu Temple takes its name from the pure water of the cascade which runs down the hill behind the complex. Founded in 780, this temple of the Buddhist Hossō sect is older than Kyoto itself, though Kiyomizu-dera has been rebuilt many times over the years –…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: ,

Kodaiji Temple

Kodaiji is an outstanding temple, established in 1606 in memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Japan’s greatest historical figures. Its main buildings were constructed in the lavish style of the era of Japan’s unification with the financial support of Hideyoshi’s successor Tokugawa Ieyasu. You can visit Kodaiji’s main hall (Hojo), which was rebuilt in a…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , , , ,

Kompirasan Shrine

Kompirasan is the main shrine of multiple Kompira shrines found around Japan that are dedicated to sailors and seafaring. Located on the wooded slope of Mount Zozu in Kotohira, the approach to Kompirasan is an arduous series of 1,368 stone steps. Over many centuries, Kompirasan had been revered as a mixture between Shinto shrine and…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Shikoku  |  Tags: , ,

Meiji Jingu Shrine

Tokyo’s largest shrine, Meiji-jingū, covers 175 acres and houses over 100,000 trees, making it a lush escape from the hard angles of the city. The shrine itself is austere and built using cypress and copper in the nagare-zukuri style. Though often busy with tourists and pilgrims, it is still extremely popular for weddings, which are…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Tokyo  |  Tags: , , ,

Mount Koya

Not far from the hustle and bustle of Japan’s third largest city, the holy mountain known as Koya-san is one of the most peaceful spiritual centres in the country. Mount Koya is the heart of Shingon Buddhism and the resting place of the sect’s founder, perhaps Japan’s best known Buddhist, known as both Kukai and…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kansai  |  Tags: , , , ,

Nanzenji

Even to the casual observer it is obvious that Nanzen-ji is one of the most powerful temples in Japan – indeed, since 1381 it has been named the principal Zen temple in Kyoto. The kare-sansui (dry landscape) garden of crushed rocks and shrubs with a backdrop of ‘borrowed’ scenery from the nearby hillside is said…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , , ,

Nara Park

Nara’s main sights are arranged around the grassy Nara Park, through which friendly deer freely wander – you can buy special deer-food sembei crackers which will make you popular! Here you’ll find Tōdai-ji, Nara’s most important and impressive temple, and home to Japan’s largest Buddha statue. Though the current temple structure is only two thirds…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kansai  |  Tags: , , , ,

Nikko

Nikkō is best known for its spectacular shrines and temples built during the Tokugawa Shogunate, particularly the Tosho-gu Shrine, which is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu himself. Unlike the more austere shrines in other regions, the Nikko shrines are heavily carved and brightly decorated, and bear a particularly famous painting of a sleeping cat, as well…

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Ninnaji Temple

One of Kyoto’s most interesting temples, Ninnaji was founded in the year 888 as an Imperial Residence but, like many historic buildings in Japan, has suffered repeated destruction in wars and fires over the centuries. Today, Ninnaji is the headquarters of the Omuro school of the Buddhist Shingon sect and features a large variety of…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , ,

Okunoin

Mt Koya’s Okunoin is the site of the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi (also known as Kukai), the founder of Shingon Buddhism and one of the most revered people in the religious history of Japan. Okunoin is one of the most sacred places in Japan and a popular pilgrimage spot. Since Kukai’s death in the 9th…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kansai  |  Tags: , , ,

Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple

Otagi Nenbutsuji, like its sister temple Adashino Nenbutsuji, is a small but charming temple, hidden away at the far end of the Arashiyama neighbourhood and featuring 1200 stone sculptures of rakan, the Buddha’s disciples, all with different facial expressions and poses. The statues are scattered amongst a few small temples and pagodas. The statues themselves…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , , ,

Rinno-ji Temple

Not far from the famous Tōshō-gū Shrine and the Futarasan Shrine is Rinnō-ji Temple, Nikkō’s most important Buddhist Temple. The temple dates back to the eight century, and is famed for its three statues, which are said to be Buddhist Incarnations of the native Shinto mountain deities enshrined at Futarasan Shrine, and are the largest…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kanto  |  Tags: , , ,

Ryoanji Temple

Nestled at the base of Kyoto’s Mount Kinugasa, Ryoan-ji Temple dates back to 983, though the temple was officially founded in 1467, and a number of the present buildings are reconstructions dating to 1800. More importantly, Ryoan-ji is home to Japan’s first, and arguably best, kare-sansui (dry landscape) garden. The garden is a masterpiece of…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , , , ,

Saihou-ji Temple

Commonly known as the Moss Temple, or Koke-dera in Japanese, the fee of 3000 yen and the complicated booking procedure keep this cultural jewel blissfully free of tourist crowds. Saihō-ji is possibly the earliest Zen garden, and, as in many Zen gardens, elements of the landscape are reflective of Buddhist philosophy. One example, a large…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , ,

Sanjusangendo Temple

Sanjusangen-do is officially known as Rengeō-in. A Tendai Buddhist temple, it was built in 1164 to house 1001 statues of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. A fire in 1249 destroyed the hall and most of the statues, and reconstruction was completed in 1266. Though the golden statues are said to have one thousand arms…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , ,

Sanzen-in Temple

Sanzen-in Temple is located in the Ohara district, about an hour north of central Kyoto. There are a number of smaller temples in the vicinity and Sanzen-in Temple itself has large temple grounds and a variety of buildings, gardens and walking paths. Sanzen-in is a temple of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism and was…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , ,

Senso-ji Temple

Senso-ji Temple, red, and pleasantly crowded with pigeons and sight-seers, is the oldest and most important Buddhist site in Tokyo, home to a small golden statue of the goddess Kannon which is so sacred that it cannot be viewed. Senso-ji’s main entrance is marked by an impressively large lantern that hangs suspended below the kaminari-mon…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Tokyo  |  Tags: , , ,

Tenryu-ji Temple

Tenryu-ji is the most important temple in Arashiyama. It was ranked first among the city’s five great Zen temples, and is now registered as a world heritage site. It is the head temple of its own school within the Rinzai Zen sect of Japanese Buddhism. Built in 1339 by the ruling shogun, the temple”s buildings…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kyoto  |  Tags: , , ,

The Garan

Legend has it that Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, threw a Buddhist ceremonial tool from China, where he had been studying, to Japan. Later, having returned to Japan, and in search of a place to base his new religion, he came across this tool in the branches of a pine tree on Mount Koya…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kansai  |  Tags: , ,

The Philosopher’s Path

Roughly 3km in length, the Philosopher’s Path is one of Kyoto’s classic strolling routes and is named after a Kyoto University Professor of Philosophy who would meditate as he strolled along the path on his way to work each day. The route follows a cherry tree lined canal and passes a number of interesting temples…

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The Taya Caves

From roughly between the years 1200 to 1700, Shingon Buddhist monks excavated an underground maze of tunnels behind Josenji Temple near Kamakura as a site for spiritual training. Dark, silent corridors lead to small, domed meditation chambers with walls and ceilings carved with fantastic creatures and Buddhist images, and on down to the spring room…

Type: Temples and Shrines  |  Category: Kanto  |  Tags: , ,

Todaiji

Todaiji (“Great Eastern Temple”) is one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples and a landmark of Nara. The temple was constructed in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan and grew so powerful that the capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 in order to lower…

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Tōshō-gū Shrine

The Tōshō-gū Shrine is Nikko’s main attraction, and is dedicated to the first of the Tokugawa Shoguns, Tokugawa Ieyasu himself. Unlike more austere shrines elsewhere in Japan, the Tōshō-gū Shrine is elaborately carved, decorated, and gilt. Most famous of the painted carvings are those of a sleeping cat, as well as the three wise monkeys…

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