One of the best things about visiting Japan is being able to fill your visit with trips to both the sprawling cities, as well as the incredibly peaceful and tranquil countryside, and with so many spots to choose from, it can sometimes be difficult to decide where you’re going to go during your limited time in the country!
One of the most commonly recommended things you can do whilst visiting Japan is to visit one of the many temples that you can find all around the country.
The temples in Japan provide a glimpse into the past of this amazing country, and feature beautiful architecture and scenery that definitely cannot be missed.
However, trying to decide which temples to visit is a difficult task, so here’s our guide to the top 10 most famous temples that you should visit whilst in Japan!
Before We Start
Before you begin planning your adventure to a temple in Japan, it’s important to understand the difference between a shrine, a temple, and a monastery, as this will help you to avoid any confusion or offence during your time there.
Shrines in Japan are almost always Shinto and are therefore dedicated to worshipping a singular deity or spirit. Shintoism as a religion mainly consists of rituals and ceremonies, which will often take place inside the shrines!
Temples found in Japan are traditionally Buddhist, and although Buddhism wasn’t a religion that originated in Japan, over 40% of the current population of Japan are Buddhist, and the beliefs of this religion can be seen in most aspects of everyday life in Japan.
The monasteries in Japan also tend to be Buddhist too, as some parts of Buddhism are monastic, which means you will find both nuns and monks practising in these monasteries, and if you want a real monastery experience, you can sometimes choose to stay in one too.
As with many other places in Japan, there is a certain expectation of what you can or cannot wear whilst visiting these holy places.
Although there is no strict dress code for tourists paying a visit to a monastery or a temple, you will be expected to remove your shoes upon entry to a Buddhist temple, however, they will usually provide you with sandals to wear instead during your time inside the temple.
Best Temples In Japan
Now, let’s take a look at some of the best temples that you can visit during your trip to Japan!
Hida-Sannogu Shrine – Takayama
Surrounded by tall trees that dwarf the shrine entirely, the Hida-Sannogu is an iconic shrine found in Takayama, and as well as its stunning architecture, this shrine is also well known for the role it has to play in the Shinto Sanno Matsuri Festival, which is amongst the top 3 most important festivals in the entirety of Japan.
This festival is one that has been performed for centuries now, with the main feature being the large parade that makes its way right through Tokyo.
Overall, it might seem more unassuming than some of the other temples mentioned on this list, but it’s definitely worth visiting if you’re nearby.
Hasedera Temple – Kamakura
Belonging to the Jodo sect found in Japanese Buddhism, this temple is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, and is well-known for playing home to an incredible statue of the eleven-headed goddess.
The story that goes along with this is that a monk carved the statue from a camphor tree hundreds of years ago, one was placed in Nara city, and the other was set adrift, before washing up near Kamakura, where this temple was then built for it.
There’s a restaurant, a classic Japanese garden, as well as a small museum dedicated to the history of the temple too.
Enryaku-ji – Kyoto
If you find yourself in Kyoto, then it’s definitely worth a visit to this grand Buddhist monastery found in the mountains of East Kyoto. This monastery is a part of the Tendai Sect and is well known as being one of the best Buddhist sites in all of Japan.
Many of the most notable Buddhist monks and scholars have studied and worshipped in this temple, which is why so many people interested in Japanese Buddhism make sure a visit to Enryaku-ji is on their to-do list!
Kiyomizu Temple – Kyoto
Deep in Eastern Kyoto is the Kiyomizu Temple, it can be seen nestled between the contrasting greenery of the woodland and the pink cherry blossom.
This temple gets its name from the waterfall of clean water that can be found at the bottom of the temple, with “Kiyomizu” translating to “Pure water”.
You can even drink from this water fountain, and it’s said that doing so will provide you with many spiritual benefits, including success, love, and longevity!
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine – Kyoto
Another Kyoto-based shrine, the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine is well known for the large number of Torii gates that can be found on the walk up to the main complex of the shrine, which is found at the foot of Mount Inari.
The main route that takes you to the peak of the mountain is actually a pilgrimage route, along which you’ll find a load of smaller shrines scattered along the path. This route is also covered by the many Torii gates too.
The hike might be slightly intense but the view of Kyoto at the top is unparalleled!
Meiji Jingu Shrine – Tokyo
This shrine found in Tokyo was dedicated to the spirits of both Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. It was built six years after the death of the Empress, with Emperor Meiji having died before her, in 1925.
The Meiji Jingu Shrine can be found in Yoyogi Park, which is a great place to escape to if the hustle and bustle of busy Tokyo is overwhelming you, and the forest that surrounds it is all trees that have been donated by people who worship the shrine from all over Japan.
Itsukushima Shrine – Hiroshima
Arguably the most visually stunning shrine on this list, the Itsukushima Shrine found in Hiroshima is one of the most famous in the entire world thanks to its classification as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.
It’s also home to the Torii gate that looks as if it’s floating on the water during high tide, which the architects intentionally did so they didn’t disturb the spirits which are believed to call the island their home!
Nezu Shrine – Tokyo
Found in the center of a particularly stunning Japanese garden, this shrine dates all the way back to 1705, which makes it one of the oldest shrines in all of Tokyo.
The path of Torii gates guides you through the surrounding trees to the shrine itself, and the traditional Japanese architecture with the distinct red, gold, and green coloring alongside the pond of Japanese carp really helps to create the picturesque image of a traditional Japanese shrine.
Regardless of whether or not you have an interest in Japanese culture or religion, no visit to Tokyo is complete without a visit to the Nezu Shrine, and if you want to witness its beauty during the blossom season, aim to visit in April for the Bunkyo Azalea Festival!
Senso-Ji Temple – Tokyo
Known as the oldest temple in Tokyo, as well as one of the most famous in Japan, the Senso-Ji temple still stands even a thousand years, and for many years, the temple has been the destination of many pilgrimages, although a lot of the structure had to be rebuilt after the Second World War.
This temple is still a completely functional Buddhist complex which is actually completely open to the public and available for you to explore!
Kinkakuji Temple – Kyoto
Known as the Golden Pavilion, this temple resides in northern Kyoto alongside a large pond, surrounded by vast amounts of luscious greenery, which helps to add to the tranquil feeling that the temple itself gives off!
The second and third floors will immediately catch your eye as they’re covered in gold, which means that they catch the sun and shine brilliantly, the second and third floors also have entirely different architectural styles too, which is what makes this temple so iconic, and definitely the most famous Japanese temple that you should visit!
You won’t have full access to the temple, as some of it is closed to the public, but it’s still definitely worth a visit if you can make time for it in your schedule.
To summarize, trying to decide upon just 10 amazing Japanese temples for you to visit during your time in the country is difficult, but all of these temples are incredible and well worth visiting should you get the chance.
So, if you want to visit some famous Japanese temples that everyone will know, try one of these temples out!