Japan is a country filled with thousands of temples and shrines, making it challenging to decide which are the best ones.
However, visiting a temple in Japan guarantees a profound experience that every individual should make an effort towards.
Just a simple walk through the immaculate gardens of these worship places is enough to give you deep insights into the country’s culture, traditions, and history.
Here is a list of the famous temples in Japan you should include in your travel guide for a fulfilling vacation.
What is the Difference Between Shrines, Monasteries, and Temples in Japan?
The culture and traditions of Japan are heavily influenced by religion. Buddhism and Shintoism are the dominating religions in the region and have had a significant influence on everything from art to politics.
The following definitions will help you understand better the purpose and significance of the places you plan to visit on your trip.
Shrines in Japan are dedicated to worshiping a single spirit/deity and are almost exclusive to Shinto. Shintoism as a religion focuses more on built ceremonies and rituals conducted within these shrines.
Japanese temples are worship places for Buddhists. Although Buddhism did not originate in Japan, over 40% of its population practices it. Buddhist beliefs and practices are deeply ingrained in the everyday life of most Japanese residents.
Monasteries in Japan are also Buddhist. These holy grounds accommodate monks or nuns who practice Monastic Buddhism. Some of the monasteries where monks study, live, and worship are open to the public, and you can book your stay there.
Famous Temples in Japan
The Kiyomizudera temple is famous for its large wooden terrace in its design. It is also known as the Pure Water Temple and remains among the most celebrated temples in Japan.
The wooden stage, rising 13 meters above the hillside, provides a nice view of the numerous maple and cherry trees. You also get to see the city of Kyoto in the distance when standing on the stage.
There are other locations within the Kiyomizudera you should consider visiting. The Shrine of Jishu is one and is found behind Kiyomizudera’s main hall.
It is dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking, and successfully finding your way from one stone to the other brings luck in finding love. Your trip to this Temple would be incomplete without experiencing the Okunion hall and the Otawa waterfall.
The shining Kinkaku-Ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is a worship ground in Northern Kyoto. The Temple derives its sense of tranquility from the large pond flanked by lush trees and bushes where it rests.
As you approach the structure, your eyes cannot resist the second and third floors, which are entirely gold-covered, making the temple shine and glisten under the bright sun.
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A closer examination of the Temple will have you noticing the different architectural designs on each floor. The more time you observe it, the more details you reveal. It would help to note that not all temple parts are open to the public.
However, the few accessible features provide a perfect destination to walk around and discover the lush greenery surrounding you.
The Senso-Ji Temple is among the oldest and most famous temples in the world, over a thousand years old. Pilgrims and tourists have found it an exciting and adventurous site to flock to for centuries, making it a popular destination globally.
A significant portion of the structure was destroyed during World War II but was rebuilt after the war.
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Despite the structural changes and repairs, the Senso-Ji Temple remains a space with a remarkable history and cultural significance to Japanese locals. Most residents took its reconstruction as a metaphor for signifying the rebirth of their country after the war.
It remains a functioning Buddhist temple complex open to the public in Tokyo and guarantees to deliver a satisfactory experience.
The Great Eastern Temple is another name for the Todai-Ji temple in Japan. The Temple is a famous and historically significant structure constructed in 752 as the head temple for all local Buddhist temples.
You can find Japan’s most giant bronze statues of Buddha, with the tallest standing 15 meters tall.
Todai-Ji occupies a significant portion of northern Nara Park, with several smaller temple halls and sites within its boundaries.
You can find rotating exhibitions of religious arts and cultural treasures in the Todai-Ji museum, which is open to the public. Two fierce-looking statues also represent the Nio Guardian Kings guarding the Nandaimon Gate.
Japan’s Ryoanji temple is most famous for its rock garden. The Temple was originally an aristocrat’s villa but was later converted to a Zen temple in 1450.
Who built the rock garden and when is not certain; what we know is that it contains rectangular pebble plots surrounded by low earthen rocks.
The most exciting fact of its design is that at least one of the rocks is hidden from the viewer when observing a vantage point.
Some argue that the garden represents the theme of a tiger carrying its cubs across a pond, while others believe it symbolizes an abstract concept like infinity.
You can get to the Ryoanji temple by boarding a 30-minute bus at the Kyoto Station or through the Keifuku Kitano Line.
Prince Shotoku is most credited for founding the Horyuiji temple in 607. The prince also played an integral role in the early promotion of Buddhism in Japan, making the Temple one of the oldest temples made from wood.
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In 1993, it was designated as a world heritage site and attracted more and more foreign visitors.
Most of the structures in the Horyuji temple are made from wood, including the main hall and the central gate.
Two old statues of Kongo Rikishi guard the Temple’s central entrance, while the main hall houses some of the oldest Buddha statues in Japan.
Some of the Japanese temples are dedicated to specific gods. Dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, the Hasedara temple remains dominated by the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism.
It is most famous for housing an eleven-headed tall wooden sculpture of the goddess. The site’s history recognizes a monk who carved the twin sculptures from a camphor tree.
The complex houses a small museum with all the treasures of Japanese Buddhism, creating an opportunity to understand the Temple’s history better.
Other amenities like restaurants and open fields are available, making it possible to soak in the green environment after a cool drink.
The fantastic view of Kamakura also contributes to Hasedara being among the most famous temples in Japan.
The most important Temple in the Arashiyama district is the Tenryuji. It is among the first 5 major Zen temples currently considered a world heritage site.
Built in 1339, the Temple has served as a worship and education hub, featuring its school around the Rinzai Zen sect.
Most of the buildings within the Tenryuji temple were repeatedly destroyed in wars and fires over the years. The Tenryuji gardens survived in their original form even as the other buildings were destroyed.
A central pond surrounded by pine trees, rocks, and the Arashiyama mountains are part of the beautiful landscape garden.
The tallest pagoda in Japan can be found in the Toji temple. It is also known as the East Temple and serves as the capital’s guardian temple, flanking the south entrance to the city.
The Kondo Hall is among the wooden structures established by Kobo Daishi to act as the Temple’s largest building and main hall. In 1486, the hall was destroyed by a huge fire and reconstructed in the early Edo Period.
Kobo Daishi also constructed the Kodo Hall in 825, serving as a lecture hall for the Temple. Other structures like the five-storied pagoda and the Miedo hall can be found within the Temple’s boundaries, making it a worthwhile destination.
On the 21st of each month, a popular flea market is held from the morning hours up to around 4:30 in the evening.
The Ginkakuji, or the Silver Pavilion, is a beautiful temple not covered in silver as its name suggests. The Zen temple was originally a retirement home for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa that then converted to a worship site after his death in 1490.
Yoshimasa was an art-obsessed shogun, making the area a center of contemporary culture, termed the Higashiyama culture.
In addition to the Silver Pavilion, Ginkakuji includes a beautiful moss garden, a unique dry sand garden, and other temple buildings.
Most buildings on the site have succumbed to fire and earthquake damage over the past centuries, except for two buildings and the pavilion is one. You can access the Temple from Kyoto station by boarding direct bus numbers 5, 17, or 100.
Religion is highly valued in Japan, and the number of worship centers is enough to prove it. Temples and shrines make good locations to spend your vacation time in the region, making it essential to have worthwhile sites at your fingertips.
Our list of famous temples in Japan is a practical guide to guaranteeing a satisfactory experience.