Temples are a must- see addition to any travellers adventures in Japan. Majority of the population regard themselves as either Shinto (the indigenous religion) or Buddhist (introduced in the 6th century). The two religions exist harmoniously together, with some people considering themselves attached to both religions. Large, ornate shrines and temples can be easily found in the cities. Most are open and encourage visitors. These are places of worship so when visiting do so with respect and reverence.
One of the things I loved about Japan was that I could spend days looking at the ‘must see’ religious sights, but whilst walking back to my accommodation I would often stumble upon hidden local shrines and temples built amongst the neighbourhood. Most suburbs will have small religious sites where the locals can drop in for a quick quiet prayer during their everyday life- many on their way to work, or mothers with prams, or children on their way home from school. It’s a beautiful thing to see religion practiced in an accessible but private manner. These local sites are often empty so you can take your time to observe and reflect.
Visitors flock to Kyoto (a quick bullet train ride from Tokyo) to experience some of the most beautiful and esteemed temples/shrines.
Here is a list of recommended Japanese temples in Kyoto that you must experience for yourself.
As UNESCO protected Buddhist temple on the outskirts of central Kyoto this is a must see not only for its architecture but also the sweeping views over Kyoto. It is recognisable for it’s wooden temple structure and main hall, surrounded by lush green forests. In spring it is a great vantage point to see the cherry blossoms, but equally picturesque in autumn for the colour of the maple trees surrounding the temple. Many visitors also come here to visit the Jinshu shire, which is dedicated to the God of love. There are two stones near the shrine which people walk between with their eyes closes. It is believed that if you can walk from one to another without assistance you will find true love. It’s easier said than done! If assistance is required than you will need help finding your perfect match. There is a stall there selling love charms and prayer scrolls which make perfect souvenirs or gifts. Also located at the temple is a series of waterfalls where the water is believed to be blessed. Many visitors will drink from the fountains for luck.
The Golden Pavilion
Kinkakuji which is otherwise known as the Golden Pavilion is a top sight to see in Kyoto. It is famous for it’s golden plated Zen temple amongst tranquil manicured gardens. The temple overlooks a beautiful lake filled with turtles and fish. You can’t enter the temple, but instead you walk around the lake allowing visitors to capture its beauty from a variety of angles. It’s a great sight for taking photographs and for admiring nature.
Cost- 400 Yen
Fushimi Inari Shrine
A beautiful place to visit.
This was top of my to-see sights in Kyoto and it was as beautiful as I had expected! It’s an easily accessible sight to visit, with it only being a 3-5minute walk from the local train station.
The shrine is large, decorative and very impressive, however it is the thousand tori gates that draw the crowds and for good reason. There is something very magical about walking through these corridors through the lush forest. There is a main walking path around the mountain, with many shrines and natural viewpoints to stop and admire. However there are shorter walk options. I went during the peak summer season so it was filled with tourists happily snapping photographs. I would recommend walking further than the first turn off, as you often find yourself alone and more able to enjoy the tori in quiet. It is also better for photographing.
A must see in Kyoto!
Cost- Free admission
This sight is more famous for it’s superb Zen rock garden than for the temple itself. Visitors flock here to sit and look at the rock patterns in the garden. There is an air of mystery surrounding the garden as it is unclear who created it or for what purpose. The garden features 15 large rocks and an intriquet pattern of smaller lighter coloured pebbles. An interesting note is that from every vantage point in the garden, you will always be unable to see one rock. It’s a great place to experience some peace and quiet, although it’s a very family friendly place. Outside the rock garden there is a lake and shady gardens to enjoy, making it an ideal retreat on a hot summers day.
These are, in my opinion, the top sights to see in Kyoto. All perfect half day tourist sights that will allow you to enjoy nature, tradition and architecture. I hope to do a similar post about Tokyo’s religious sights in the coming week. Stay tuned!
Be smart. Be safe. Be good.