Shrines in Japan: Top Five

These five must-see temples and shrines in Japan top the list for anyone traveling to 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 if you’ve only got a week or two, which ones should you visit?

Shrines in Japan

In this post we’ll look at five of the most popular shrines in Japan:

  • Tokyo: Meiji Jingu, 1-1 Yoyogikamizonocho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-8557
  • Osaka: Shitenno-ji, 1-11-18 Shitennoji, Tennoji Ward, Osaka, 543-0051
  • Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji, 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361
  • Kyoto: Kiyomizu-dera, 1 Chome-294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0862
  • Hiroshima: Itsukushima, 1-1 Miyajima-cho, Hatsukaichi City 739-0588

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu

Located in the heart of Tokyo, the Meiji shrine is perhaps one of the most famous shrines in Japan. Tourists are often pleasantly surprised to find out just how accessible it is. Adjacent to Yoyogi Park and Harajuku subway station, you’ll might pass the Meiji Shrine on your first day exploring Tokyo.

Originally built to honor the enshrined spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, Meiji is our number one must-see shrine. It tops our list 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).

Shitenno-ji

Shitenno-ji, Main Gate [Photo Credit: C. Gladis]

Located in Osaka, Shitenno-ji is one of the oldest shrines in Japan. Prince Shotoku built the shrine in 593, becoming an integral figure in Japan’s history. Shotoku was Regent to Empress Suiko, his aunt, and he played a crucial role in bringing Buddhism to Japan. The Shitenno-ji shrine represents Buddhism’s birth in the country. 

Kinkaku-ji

Kinkaku-ji Temple [Photo Credit: D. Mennerich]
Kinkaku-ji Temple [Photo Credit: D. Mennerich]

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. The top two floors of Kinkaku-ji 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. 

Kiyomizu-dera

Kiyomizu-dera Temple [Photo Credit: M. Crupi]

Supported by 13 meter high wooden columns, Kiyomizu-dera juts out from the side of a mountain in eastern Kyoto. The temple, opened in 778 AD, is also part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List (Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto). 

But our favorite point of interest for Kiyomizu-dera is the Jishu-Jinja shrine. Jinshu, the god (kami) 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 are unable to navigate the path alone. If you need assistance to make the blindfolded mini-pilgrimage, don’t despair. Legend says this means you’ll just need a helping hand when it comes to finding your forever love.

Itsukushima

Itsukushima Torii Gate, Miyajima Island

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 appears to float in the waters at high tide are some of the most popular images of shrines in Japan you can find. 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 that populate the island, revered as sacred creatures.

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