Japan is well known for its spectacular Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples and our personal travel expert Joanne was not disappointed by what she found. Here are her top five recommendations for temples and shrines to visit in Tokyo, Kyoto and beyond.
1. Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Kyoto
This was actually the last shrine that Joanne visited during her time in Japan but she felt they’d really saved the best for last and was blown away by its unique beauty.
This iconic shrine is the head of some 46,000 Inari shrines located throughout Japan. Inari is the god of rice cultivation and business in the Shinto religion and therefore very important in Japanese culture. It is this shrine’s 10,000 vermillion Torii gates that make it so famous outside of Japan, but you will also find many statues of foxes here, who are considered to be the messengers of Inari, as well as two large stones. According to legend, if you are able to lift the stone easily, then you will have success in business!
The shrine is located on a huge site and the Torii gates stretch up a four-kilometre mountain path so make sure you leave plenty of time to explore. Unlike many Japanese temples and shrines, which will generally close at 5pm, Fushimi Inari Taisha is open 24-hours-a-day and there is no entrance fee so head up later in the day and take your time!
2. Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima
Accessible via ferry a short ferry journey from Hiroshima, Joanne really fell in love with Miyajima island, with its quaint shops and eateries and peaceful deer roaming free. Besides the curious tame deer, visitors also come to Miyajima to see the famous floating Torii gate of Itsukushima shrine. When the tide is in it appears to be floating but when the tide is out you walk up to the gate.
Most tourists only come for the day but if you stay for a night or two, you’ll get to see the shrine lit up at night and experience this magical sight without the crowds.
3. Meiji Shrine, Tokyo
Dedicated to the deified spirits of the Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken this shrine is reached by a beautiful tree-lined pathway headed by a Torii gate. Along the way you will see stalls selling lucky charms and before the shrine there is also a huge collection of sake barrels which are left as offerings to the gods. Joanne was captivated by the fascinating ritual of worship which begins with a cleansing ceremony in the bathing area, which you’ll see immediately on entering the shrine.
As is so often the case in Japan, these ancient traditions are accompanied by the quirks of contemporary Japanese culture. If it’s not raining, you may well see 70s rock fans dressed up to the nines and even performing in an area by the gate. Walk further on and you’ll reach Takeshita street, which is lined wall to wall with cool shops with staff in fancy dress – it’s a must for teenagers!
4. Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto
More commonly known by tourists as the Golden Temple because of its spectacular golden pagoda, this is one of the most famous temples in all of Japan. The current building is an exact replica of the 15th century structure but had to be rebuilt in the 1950s after the original temple was burned down by a monk. The story goes that the monk had secretly visited the Gian geisha district and, wracked with guilt, burned down the temple in despair.
With the shining pagoda beautifully reflected in the garden’s mirror pond, this is a perfect photo opportunity so don’t forget your camera!
5. Tofukuji Temple, Kyoto
While the Golden Temple may be crowded with groups of tourists, by contrast the Tofukuji temple is a favourite with local guides because it is less busy. The draw of this temple really is its tranquil setting, Joanne would recommend spending a few hours here enjoying the peace and beauty of its four landscaped gardens.
Visit during autumn to make the most of the gardens’ spectacular collection of maple trees whose flaming foliage is absolutely stunning during these months.