Top Ancient Temples in Japan Every Traveller Must See
When in Japan, temple hopping is part and parcel of travelling. The good thing is that there are plenty of temples in almost every corner of the country. In fact, there are already 2,000 temples in Kyoto alone. It’s hard to imagine how many are there in total.
Back in 2016, I posted a lot of articles on the site about my visit to Japan and here are some more additions to that chapter. Take a look at the ancient temples that need to be added to your bucket list.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple (Kyoto)
Kyoto is a great place to start because it’s a temple hotspot as mentioned earlier. Dubbed the ‘Heart of Japan’, Japanology describes Kyoto as a shining example of a city that preserves tradition while welcoming modernity. Kiyomizu-dera is one of the must-visit temples in the city, and it’s also one of the oldest in Japan. It was built in 778 without the use of any nails, as the builders relied on their ingenuity to interlock wooden planks and columns together. The best time to visit is during autumn, when the temple’s lights illuminate the vibrant colours of the surrounding landscape.
Sanjusangendo Temple (Kyoto)
(image: JW Web Magazine)
Also a Kyoto favourite, Sanjusangendo Temple is famous for its statues of the deity, Kannon. The goddess is primarily a Buddhist figure who represents mercy and aids those who call upon her. In this particular temple, there are 1,001 statues inside the long main hall.
Kinkaku-ji Temple (Kyoto)
You may have heard of Kinkaku-ji as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. The reason for this is due to the way it was covered in gold-coloured leaves during construction. Kinkaku-ji Temple remains beautiful during all four seasons, especially with the reflection of its striking facade on the surrounding pond. Before it was turned into a Zen temple, it was actually a villa for a shogun in the 1390s. Now, it is one of Japan’s many well-deserved World Heritage sites that many people can enjoy visiting.
You can read about my visit to Kinkaku-ji here.
Todaiji Temple (Nara)
Nara is not only famous for local deer that feed out of your hand, as it’s also home to the Todaiji Temple. One of the halls in the complex is home to the largest bronze Buddha statue in the entire world. And the good news is that there are deer wandering freely in the temple complex! Talk about getting the best of both worlds, the deer of Japan are all super cute and rather friendly, when it’s not mating season.
Senso-ji Temple (Tokyo)
(image: Fast Japan)
Even though the Senso-ji Temple can get crowded, if you’re travelling to Tokyo, you still need to see it. Fast Japan explains that it is unlike the contemporary tech-savvy side of Tokyo because the rustic ambience can be a refreshing change of pace. Another attraction here is the local delicacy Ningyo-yaki, which is basically a red bean pancake that is quite something.
So much of the country’s culture is rooted in its temples and visiting them will give you a glimpse of Japan’s rich history. These sacred structures are places of worship for the Japanese and they believe that they will protect them and the area that it is built in, which explains why every town has at least one.
In addition, many people come to see the temples as they evoke a sense of peace and serenity. It’s one of the reasons why tourists are drawn to them so frequently. For the most part, you’ll have no doubt got to appreciate Japanese temples through film. For instance, part of the appeal of the 2003 film The Last Samurai is the Engyoji Temple, which is one of its core filming locations. Japan’s ancient culture has even made it to mobile-friendly video games as well. It’s the main theme in console titles like Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, where the player controls a ninja infiltrating various locations in ancient Japan including its abundance of temples. The slots platform Slingo also uses a similar premise in games such as Samurai Ken, Geisha’s Garden, and Lucky Koi. A common feature among these games is the presence of natural elements such as mountains, ponds, and gardens. The wealth of nature is relevant in the construction of temples especially in Shintoism where simple earthly elements are highly regarded. Finding harmony with nature is important in ancient Japanese religions and it is something that you can easily observe in their temples. And this is reason enough to witness some of them with our two eyes when you visit Japan next.
On my visit, I adored Senso-ji Temple, despite being crowded, it was still one of the most peaceful and interesting places I visited in Japan. Temples are all so unique and individual, so when planning your Japan trip, make sure to include a few stops along the way!
Have you had the chance to visit the incredible temples of Japan? Share your experiences through our comments section below!