As historical and cultural centers, Japanese temples attract millions of tourists every year. In Japan, a multitude of temples dot the countryside and the cities. In Kyoto alone, for example, hundreds of these sacred buildings occupy the streets.
But then, which ones should you see absolutely? Here are our top 10.
Senso-ji Temple | Tokyo
Located in Akasuka district, Senso-ji temple is the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. It was built around 645 in honor of Kannon, goddess of compassion.
A must-see site of the city, it is full of attractions: sacred statue of Kannon, animated stands, etc… The legend tells that in 628, two brothers found a statue of Kannon in the Sumidagawa river. They tried repeatedly to get her back into the river, but she kept coming back to them. Seeing this as a sign, they asked for the construction of a temple to honor the goddess and house the sacred statue.
Destroyed by the bombings of the Second World War, the temple was rebuilt from donations. It has thus become a symbol of rebirth and peace for Tokyo.
Its flamboyant colors, its imposing doors, and its five-story pagoda make this sanctuary a privileged tourist place. In fact, every year, this place welcomes no less than 30 million people. It must be said that it offers an authentic spectacle to the visitors, more especially that in the evening, the sight is of any beauty there.
Temple Meiji-Jingu | Tokyo
Nestled in the heart of the capital, Meiji-Jingu Temple is one of the most imposing temples in the city. Built in 1920, it is located in a quiet and green atmosphere.
This shrine was built to honor the souls of Meiji and his wife the empress, those who made Japan a modern state. Indeed, these rulers ushered in an era of industrialization, urbanization and colonial expansion. Following their deaths, the Meiji Jingu Shrine was erected to venerate them. It was destroyed by American bombing in 1945, then rebuilt with public donations in 1958.
With its majestic architecture, this Shinto temple is a real meeting place between modern culture and Tokyo history. Inside this Japanese temple is a treasure room, filled with ancient artifacts from the region. Traditional in appearance, the garden includes a lavish labyrinth of picturesque forest paths, iris beds and even a classic Japanese teahouse.
The Kiyomasa well is also a real focus of spiritual energy. Visitors go there in the hope of benefiting from its positive energy.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple | Kyoto
Kiyomizu-dera is one of the most famous Japanese temples in the country. Built in 780, it is located in the heart of the Ottawa Waterfall site in the wooded hills of eastern Kyoto. It is a place of history, culture and relaxation. Lhe site offers a breathtaking view of the city and its surroundings.
This sacred building is famous for its authentic wooden platform. This one is installed on stilts thirteen meters high above the hill.
Moreover, the temple is composed of several structures:
- a beautiful three-story pagoda
- rooms dedicated to the Buddha
- a room containing nearly 200 stone statues
Within the complex also stand:
- lush gardens
the Seiryu dragon fountain
the Jojuin building
- the Jojuin building
The Ottawa Waterfall is located at the foot of the temple. It is a particularly pure source of water. According to the legend, the three rivers present offer various benefits: longevity, academic success and a fulfilling love life. But beware: those who drink from the three streams will be considered too greedy.
Kinkakuji Temple | Kyoto
It is one of the most iconic temples in Japan, Kinkaku-ji is nestled on a majestic hill in Kyoto. The place is very famous all over the world for its famous facades covered with gold leaves. It is a true national treasure. Moreover, it is classified as a Unesco World Heritage Site. This temple is considered a masterpiece of traditional Japanese architecture.
In reality, it was built in 1397 by the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. Originally, it was promised to the Ryoanji temple. But the latter was destroyed in a fire, when the construction was only half finished.
Today, the building is best known for its golden pavilions, mirror pond and lavish gardens. Moreover, tourists can drink tea there.
Ginkaku-ji Temple | Kyoto
Classified as a world heritage site by Unesco, Ginkaku-ji temple attracts visitors for its famous silver pavilion. Moreover, it is part of the reason for the fame of the city of Kyoto in general.
With its authentic patterns, the site perfectly reflects the architecture of the Japanese landscape. It is located in the middle of a green park at the foot of the eastern mountains of Kyoto. The gardens are particularly well cared for: a pure pleasure for nature lovers.
The Ginkaku-ji temple is a sacred place that can be seen in all its splendor inautumn. For this reason, it is mainly visited by tourists at this time of the year.
The building was built in 1482 by Yoshimasa Ashikaga, who spent much of his retirement there. It is a true artistic treasure for meditation. Nevertheless, it is possible to visit it when it is open to the public.
Hokokuji Temple | Kamakura
Also known as“bamboo temple“, Hokokuji is an old Zen Buddhist temple in Kamakura. It is considered a masterpiece of religious architecture. It is located in the heart of a green park. It is a place of meditation and reflection, which is much appreciated by visitors. It is mainly known for its bamboo garden, which is of great beauty.
Hokokuji Temple is a place of meditation which is particularly appreciated in winter when its bamboos are covered with frost.
Construction of this temple was started in 1334 by Tengen Eko. In reality, it is the temple of the Ashikaga family, before the latter became the shogun. The ancestors of the shogun dynasty were buried in these places.
Todai-ji Temple | Nara
Todai-ji temple, founded in 735, is one of the most important sacred places in Japan. It houses the largest bronze Buddha statue in the world, measuring 18 meters high and weighing nearly 250 tons.
Originally, it was a gift from Prince Shotoku Taishi. This statue is also known as Daibutsu (the Great Buddha).
Todai-Ji Temple is located on the main island of Honshu. Listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, it is home to several meditation centers, and serves as the headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism in Japan. The shrine is undoubtedly the most visited place in Nara. It has several attractions, including the Buddha Hall,
The name of the temple, Todai-ji, is a contraction of two words: Todai, which means “great”, and JI which means “temple”.
Sanjusangendo Temple | Kyoto
Built in 1164 and rebuilt a century later after a destruction, Sanjusangendo Temple is one of the most famous temples in Japan. It is also known as the ” Temple of the Thousand Buddhas “. Indeed, it contains 1,001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.
His depiction of Kannon with 1000 arms is also surprising: the sculpture has 11 heads intended to testify to the distress of humans. It also has 1000 arms to help them overcome suffering.
At 120 meters, the temple hall is the longest wooden structure in Japan. By the way, the name Sanjusangendo, meaning “33 intervals”, corresponds to the number of intervals between the supporting pillars of the building.
Sanjusangendo Temple is located in Higashiyama district.
Shitennoji Temple | Osaka
Shitennoji Temple is one of the oldest and most majestic Buddhist temples in Japan. Built in 593, it is located in the southeast of Osaka
It was built on the order of Shotoku Taishi, the emperor of the time. It remains today one of the only Shinto temples to have preserved its original architecture, despite being destroyed by fire and rebuilt around 1970. The place is currently an important center of the Buddhist culture of the country.
Indeed, Shotoku Taishi is a key figure in the history of the country: he played an essential role in the introduction of Buddhism in Japan.
The wooden statue of Buddha is one of the oldest in the country, and is located on the second floor of the temple.
Several attractions are present in the premises. You will find in particular:
- the treasure house
- the Kodo conference room
- Buddhist statues
- paintings and sacred artifacts
- many national treasures
The temple is also known for its beautiful one hectare park, which is one of the oldest in the country. Within it are a pond, streams and several cherry trees.
Temple Nikko Tosho-gu | Kanto
In this shrine where the samurai leader Tokugawa Ieyasu is buried, the architecture is unique. The premises include an imposing five-story colorful pagoda and authentic artworks. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this temple is a must-see destination for tourists.
Located at the foot of Nikko Mountain, it was built in honor of Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the most famous figures of the country. The latter had an essential role in the unification process of Japan. His accession to the title of shogun helped to trigger a most prosperous period in the history of ancient Japan. He elevated the merchant city of Edo to the status of an international megalopolis, known today as Tokyo. A year after his death, Tokugawa Ieyasu was elevated to the status of a deity.
Every year, in spring and autumn, Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine is the site of the great Shuki Taisai festival. His convoy of a thousand warriors represents the scene of the arrival of the remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu in Nikko.
No. In general, the entrance to a temple is always paid. But the price remains reasonable. It varies between ¥400 and ¥600, or between €3.5 and €5.
There is no absolute rule about the opening hours of temples in Japan. However, in most cases, they follow the sunrise and sunset times. They open around 9 am and close early in the afternoon (between 4 and 5 pm).
Although a guidebook is not essential, it could be of great help for those visiting the country for the first time. A guide will help you find your way around, and understand all the facets of the history of each temple. It also helps you not to miss anything of the most famous sacred buildings.