The nation of Japan is often recognized for its ancient culture, which includes distinct architectural designs and structures.
Many of these buildings were built more than a thousand years ago, but some of the country’s other notable structures were done in modern times within the last century.
Japan is filled with brilliant builders and architects who have created some of the world’s most prominent buildings, many of which sit within the country’s largest cities.
In this article, we will take a closer look at 10 of the most famous buildings in Japan, and the architects who created them, as well as their overall purpose.
Famous Buildings in Japan
One of the most culturally-significant and famous temples in Japan is also one of the oldest in its capital city. The Sensō-ji is a Buddhist temple that is believed to have been built during the 7th century A.D.
It’s located in the Asakusa district of Tokyo and, according to legend, the temple was constructed around an ancient statue of the bodhisattva Kannon (Avalokiteśvara).
Historians say that the statue was discovered in the early 7th century by two Japanese fishermen along the Sumida River. After removing the large statue from the river, the village chief decided that a temple would be constructed to honor the Kannon, which would also allow their villagers to worship it.
The chief was said to have devoted his own house as the temple site in order for the Sensō-ji to be constructed in 645 A.D.
2. Tokyo Skytree
One of the most famous towers in Japan is the Tokyo Skytree, which sits in the Sumida district of the nation’s capital city.
The tower stands at a height of 2,080 feet and was initially built to serve as an important piece of communication infrastructure that would broadcast radio and television signals. The Tokyo Skytree was designed by Nikken Sekkei, one of Japan’s most prominent architectural firms.
Construction on the Tokyo Skytree tower began in the summer of 2008 and was completed in 2012. At the time of its completion, it was the tallest structure in Japan, as well as the tallest tower in the world.
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It currently stands at the third-tallest structure in the world behind the Merdeka 118 in Malaysia and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
The top of the main structure in the Tokyo Skytree features an observation deck that allows tourists to take in the incredible skyline of the city and its many skyscrapers and buildings.
Another one of Japan’s most ancient buildings is also very well-known to those in the nation, as well as for worshippers of the Zen Buddhist religion. The Kinkaku-ji is officially named Rokuon-ji, which in Japanese means “Temple of the Golden Pavilion.”
It is located in Kyoto, Japan and is believed to have been constructed during the late 14th century during the Bunmei era.
The Kinkaku-ji is recognized as a National Special Heritage Site, as well as one of the World Heritage Sites. It was completed in 1397 A.D. and suffered extensive damage in 1950 after a fire broke out.
Reports indicate that a monk at the temple attempted to commit suicide by burning himself on Daimon-ji hill behind the building. In doing so, the fire destroyed much of the temple and it was reconstructed in 1955.
4. Fushimi Inari Taisha
The Fushimi Inari Taisha is another one of Japan’s most prominent buildings that is also one of the nation’s oldest structures that is still in existence today.
The shrine is meant to serve as the head shrine for the kami, or god, Inari, which pertains to fertility, agriculture, industry and certain animals like foxes, as well as foods like rice and tea.
The shrine is located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto Prefecture and has stood since its construction in 711 A.D.
The shrine became an important national symbol during the Heian period, which lasted from the end of the 8th century until the end of the 12th century in Japan.
The Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine’s earliest-known structures that were built in 711 are still standing, but there have been multiple additions over the many centuries since it was completed.
The oldest parts of the shrine were constructed on Inariyama hill and the main section of Fushimi Inari Taisha was built much later in 1499 near the base of the mountain.
5. Tokyo Tower
One of the tallest structures in Japan is the Tokyo Tower, which stands at 1,093 feet at the tip of the structure’s antenna spire.
This building was designed by Tachū Naitō, a famous Japanese architect, engineer and educator who devoted much of his career to developing and building towers and other structures that were capable of withstanding earthquakes without suffering much, if any, damage at all.
The tower began to be constructed in the summer of 1957 and it was planned by Hisakichi Maeda, who initially intended for the tower to be taller than the Empire State Building–the tallest structure in the world at the time.
Due to lack of funds and materials, however, the Tokyo Tower would end up falling short of that goal and would also be completed just one year later in 1958.
6. Osaka Castle
Another one of the nation of Japan’s most-visited ancient structures is also worthy of being mentioned as one of the country’s most famous buildings.
The Osaka Castle is located in the Chūō-ku ward of Osaka, Japan and is a sprawling castle complex that consists of towering walls and an intricately-designed moat that encircles much of the structure.
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The Osaka Castle was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who is one of the most highly-revered Japanese samurai, and also a daimyo who was recognized as the second “Great Unifier” who lived during the Sengoku period.
The Osaka Castle began to be constructed in 1583 and it took more than a decade of intense labor to complete the inner and outer portions, as well as the main tower in 1597.
7. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is a well-known structure in the capital city of Japan. It’s a structure that features a distinct design that was intended to resemble certain electronic parts.
The building was built in three different phases, or buildings, with the largest of these three representing a giant integrated circuit that is also designed according to the Gothic cathedral architectural style.
The building was designed by Kenzo Tange, who is recognised as one of the greatest architects in Japan’s history and also a world-renown designer who was awarded the Pritzker Prize for architecture in 1987.
Construction on the project began in the spring of 1988 and it would take two full years to complete as each of the three different sections each comprise one full city block. Today, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is recognized as the tallest city hall building in the world.
8. Meiji Shrine
Japan’s Emperor Meiji, or Meiji the Great, is recognized as one of the nation’s greatest leaders in the country’s history. It is not surprising, then, that one of the most well-known buildings in Japan is specially-dedicated to holding his spirit within its walls.
The Meiji Shrine is located in Tokyo, but his actual body rests in Fushimi-momoyama, which is just south of Kyoto, Japan.
After the Emperor Meiji’s death in 1912, the shrine began to be constructed. The location for the shrine was a special iris garden that the emperor and his wife visited many times during his rule over the nation.
The Meiji Shrine was completed in 1920 and was intended to honor the now-deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. It has since become one of the most-visited sites in Tokyo by tourist each year.
Another one of Japan’s most distinguished buildings is also located in Kyoto.
The Kiyomizu-dera temple is a Buddhist shrine that’s recognized as one of the nation’s oldest religious structures, as well as a major tourist destination for visitors to Japan, and for those of the Buddhist faith.
Kiyomizu-dera is the name of a Buddhist of the Kita-Hosso sect who had a vision to begin the construction of a new temple next to the Otowa spring.
Work began on the project in 778 and dragged on for many centuries before it was finally completed in 1633.
One of the most famous Buddhist temples and a world-renown location for those interested in the Buddhist faith is Kōtoku-in.
This temple features a massive statue and is located in the city of Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture. The statue is known as The Great Buddha of Kamakura, which was done in honor of Amitābha.
According to historians, the current bronze statue was done to replace a wooden statue that first stood on the site. The wooden statue was finished in 1243, but was severely damaged by a storm just five years later, prompting builders to create a bronze statue as a replacement.
The massive statue, known as the Great Buddha of Kōtoku-in, is among the most famous religious sites in Japan.