Temples and shrines – religion in Japan
Japan is a country with a very rich history and the religion was a big part of it. Traditional religion is shinto which differs from region to region and praise many gods. There is also a considerable number od buddhists. Teachings of Buddha arrived to Japan from China as early as in V century.
- Shrines are places of worship of shinto gods – Kami. The important part of the religion is trying to establish a connection between present times and your ancestors. It is more a set of native belifes and mythology than a unified religion.
- Temples are central places of japanese buddhism. Most of them consist of a main hall, teachings hall and five-storied pagoda. Considerable number of them are also monasteries where monks devote their live to meditation and studying teachings of Buddha.
During our visit in the Country of Cherry Blossom we visited numerous shrines and temples. In every town and community you can find a place of worship. Just in historic old capital Kyoto are hundreds of them! Just like castles they are an extraordinary example of local architecture. Therefore, it was really hard to pick just 5 of them to create this list. If you have some more time in Japan consider visiting other destinations famous for their tamples like Nikko, Koyasan or Kamakura. These places are not in the top because we did not have enough time to explore them, but we heard some really good things about them.
Top 5 The most beautiful Temples and Shrines
5. Todaiji, Nara
Nara was the first, aincient capital of Japan. It is full of historical tresures. The city is located lass than an hour train ride away from Kyoto and Osaka and you can easy get here with your JR Pass. We walked throug a neat park toward the largest wooden construction on the planet. On our way we were enjoying countless flowering trees and a company of friendly, yet greedy deers. There were hundreds of them just casualy walking around the park. According to the Shinto beliefs they are the messangers of the gods, but to us it seemed that they are always hungry and constantly asking for more snacks. In the center of the park there is Todaiji Temple. Inside it you can find 15 meter tall Buddha statue. The building itself is the largest structure made of lumber in the world. It was reconstructed in XVII centure after the original temple was destroyed by fire.
4. Kinkakuji, The Golden Pavillon, Kyoto
The Golden Pavillon is a shrine in the northern Kyoto. Two stories of it are covered in gold leaves. The building is set in the middle of a well maintained park, just by the pond. The shinning walls mirror in the calm waters creating some fantastic reflections. Even though the shrine is stunning the complex is not very big, but it is extremly crowded.
3. Itsukushima, Miyajima
There is an island close to Hiroshima called Miyajima which literally means a “Shrine Island“. To get there we travelled by train and a ferry and all was included in our JR Pass – super happy with this investment. Among many temples and shrines on the island one is the most famous – Itsukushima. This one was build in a uniqe way. The entire shrines stands on piers and bridges stretched over the sea. Depending on the tide while sightseeing you can be walking above sandy shore or choppy sea water. The most recognizable part of the complex is the giant Torii Gate standing alone in the sea guarding the entry to the shrine. This iconic view is so famous, that we just had to travel all the way here to see it. There are friendly deers all over the island. Visitors can also enjoy hiking to the mountain top for panoramic views of the island and the bay. Unluckyly for us it was the most rainy and cloudy day during our entire trip to Japan, so we decided to skip hiking and indulge in hot tea instead.
2. Fushimi Inari, Kyoto
Fushimi Inari is the biggest and the most important shinto shrine dedicated to the Kami of rice – Inari. Right behind the complex there are trails leading to the top of Inari Mountain (233 masl). Hiking one of those is a popular attraction. The paths leads uphill in the shade of the forest and thousands of vermilion Torii Gates. All of them were fund from donations and each has a name of the donator and date painted on its back. The size of the gate depends on the generosity of the donation. On your way up you will pass by literally piles of the miniature ones. You can even buy one of your own and hope that it will bring good fortune. The hike to the top of the hill and back took us around 2 hours. The further we went the fewer people we saw. Walking through the endless tunnel of thousands of Torii Gates is one of the best memories from Japan.
1. Chureito Pagoda, Fujiyoshida
A visit to Japan would not be complete for us without seeing the highest peak of the country, a famous Fuji volcanoe. Shortly after our arrival to Tokyo we decided to go to Five Lakes District on the northern slopes of Mt Fuji. It turned out that the highland areas had not heard about spring yet. What is even worse during our visit to Arakura Sengen shrine and Chureito Pagoda we could not see the peak of Fuji at all. It was all covered in clouds! We were a bit disappointed and we promised to ourselves that if time allows we will come back in 10 days at a very end of our trip.
Mt Fuji and cherry blossom
On our last day in Japan we were flying back to Australia at 6:30 pm. Previous evening we made it back to Tokyo and decided that we use all the time that we have left ( it wasn’t much of it!) to visit Five Lakes District again. We left our luggage in a locker on Tokyo station and took a train to Otsuki. From there we hopped on Fujikyu Rail which is designed for tourists willing to travel to Mt Fuji (it was not included in JR Pass and costed us 960 JPY per person). It took 35 minutes to get to Shimo-Yoshida station. From there it was 10 minute walk to the entry of the shrine. 400 steps higher was the goal of our time pressured excursion – the most picturesquely located pagoda in entire Japan. We only had an hour for sightseeing and we still had to rush to make it on time for return train , but it was definitly worth it.
10 days had passed from our last visit and the landscape was completly transformed. Thousand of cherry blossom decorated the slopes and symetric, majestic Mt Fuji was the most stunning background to it.
Maybe Chuerito Pagoda is not the oldest, the biggest or the richest shrine in Japan, but its postcard-worthy location secured its win in our TOP 5 countdown. This is the view that we hopped for while we were planning our trip months before. Seeing it with our own eyes gave us a feeling of fulfillment and pure joy. This moment will last in our memories forever.