5 Must See Shrines in Japan
While in Japan, a shrine visit is probably high on your list of things to do. Shinto and Buddhist shrines and temples are knitted into the very fabric of everyday life in Japan. And with the number of shrines and temples reaching well into the tens of thousands, it can almost feel like there’s one every corner; two if you're in Kyoto!
You could spend years visiting every temple and shrine in the country. But you’ve only got a week or two. So which ones should you visit?
These five must-see temples and shrines in Japan top the list for anyone traveling to Japan.
Located in the heart of Tokyo, the Meiji Shrine is perhaps one of the most famous shrines in the entire country. Tourists are often pleasantly surprised to find out just how accessible it is. Adjacent to Yoyogi Park and Harajuku Subway Station, you'll probably pass the Meiji Shrine on your first day exploring Tokyo.
Originally built to honor the enshrined spirits of the Emperor Meiji and the Empress Shoken, Meiji is my number one must-see-shrine because of its serenity and the glimpse it offers into a traditional world, despite being just around the corner from one of the most contemporary places in modern Japan (Harajuku).
Located in Osaka, Shitennoji is one of Japan’s oldest shrines. Built in 593 by Prince Shotoku, an integral figure in Japan’s history. Shotoku was Regent to Empress Suiko, his aunt, and he played a key role in bringing Buddhism to Japan. The Shitennoji shrine represents Buddhism’s birth in the country.
Supported by 13 meter high wooden columns, Kiyomizudera juts out from the side of a mountain in eastern Kyoto. The temple, opened in 778 AD, is also part of UNESCOs World Heritage Site (Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto).
But my favourite point of interest for Kiyomizudera is the Jishu-Jinja shrine. Jinshu, the god of love & matchmaking, is said to bless those who navigate the path between the shrine’s two large stones, with eyes closed, by bestowing luck on them to find the great love of their life. But all is not lost if you can’t make the trek alone. If you need some assistance to make the blindfolded mini-pilgrimage, don’t despair. Legend says you’ll just need a helping hand when it comes to finding your forever love.
Near Hiroshima, the gates to the Itsukushima Shrine reach up from the waters surrounding Miyajima island, where “people and gods live together.”
Photos of the gate – the Torii - that seems to float in the waters at high tide, are some of the most popular images to come out of Japan. The gate is also believed to be the boundary between the human world and the spirit world. During low tide, you can walk to the foot of the Torii and if you're lucky, you might just catch a glimpse of some of the wild deer populate the island, revered as sacred creatures.
Kyoto’s Kinkaku-Ji Temple has a long and distinguished history. This beautiful temple survived the Onin Wars and the battles of WWII, only to be set alight by a young monk battling schizophrenia in 1950. Each floor has a unique architectural style, and the top two floors are covered entirely in gold leaf - earning the temple the nickname "Temple of the Golden Pavilion." After the temple was rebuilt in 1955, it became (and remains) one of Japan’s most treasured tourist destinations.