There’s over 1600 Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples throughout all of Kyoto town and I’ve narrowed down the best one’s to visit in any season. Discover these beautiful buildings that are home to Japanese cultural and religious heritage.
Each of the following impresses for its own reason, though the overwhelming feeling is one of peace and harmony. Take a moment to re-centre your well being in the healing aura that effortlessly permeates these stunning shrines and their wonderful garden life around. Welcome to Kyoto and yes, you’ll be wanting to take, many, many photo’s.
Fushimi-inari Taisha Shrine
Located at the base of Mt Inari, the aptly named Fushimi-inari Taisha shrine is said to be the most important monument that honours ‘Inari’ – Japanese god of rice, fertility and tea. Here, the seemingly unending garden path is lined with thousands of red ‘Torri’ gates. It this magical display that places the Fushimi-inari Taisha shrine as one of most visited and recognised buildings in all of Japan. Explore inside the shrine’s ancient origins and wandering the enchantingly gated garden paths.
Note; the many fox statues on the grounds, said to be messengers of the Inari deity. To visit the astonishing Fushimi-inari Taisha is to enter an ethereal world of shrines and torri gates spread across an entire Kyoto mountain side. Don’t miss it!
Ryoan-Ji Temple features Japan’s most famous Zen garden. The garden is considered to be one the oldest surviving examples of kare-sansui, the art of dry landscape. The refined, minimalist Zen design is notable for the larger rock formations placed amid a ground cover level of small pebbles (polished river rocks), swept each day by the local monks.
The distinctive stone patterns are created to facilitate a meditative state and offer a strong visual insight into Buddhist life. The Temple itself, founded circa 15th century, offers a magnetising glimpse into many of Kyoto’s historical stories.
The Golden Pavilion aka the Kinkaku-ji Temple has to be one of the most photographed attractions in all of Kyoto. This iconic world heritage listed site sits majestically overlooking a large pond. In the right light it reflects a wonderous golden shine atop the water’s surface which makes the Zen temple a delight to see up close.
During the cherry blossom season, visitors can even capture a floral framed image of the pavilions irrevocable beauty. Guests are not permitted to enter the temple and may only view it from across the pond. However, guided tours offer a personal touch by way of visiting the sites adjacent Sekkatai Teahouse. Plus, you will be regaled with detailed factual tales of the Golden Pavilions Shogun, Samurai and Geisha influenced past.
The Kiyomizu-dera structure is highly celebrated temple throughout the whole of Japan. Kiyomizu-dera literally translates to ‘pure water temple’. It was founded upon the sacred Otowa Waterfall grounds in the remarkable wooded hills of east Kyoto way back in the year of 720. The temple is most renowned for its ‘stage in the sky’ setting; a wooden platform that juts out from the main building at 13 metres above ground level.
Behind the main hall visitors will find the Jishu Shrine which is dedicated to the Japanese deity of matchmaking and love. It is said that if guests can successfully make their way between the two huge stoned pillars (placed 18 metres apart) with their eyes closed they will ultimately find good luck in love. Admission is 40,000 Yen and gets you entrance to all the inspiring shrine sights, not to mention the brilliant views across the entire Kyoto city district.
Colloquially known as the Silver temple, Ginkakuji was originally built to be a Zen palace of rest and solitude for the then Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa. Worth noting is that his grandfather and former ruling Shogun founded the aforementioned ‘Golden Pavilion’ in the century prior. It is said that that was the architectural style that Yoshimasa was attempting to emulate. However, instead of golf leaf the exterior of the building was to be covered in silver foil. Some say this was never the case and the building was so named due to the way the moonlight reflected upon the darkened roof tiles, giving it a silvery glow.
Nowadays the Ginkakuji structure seems to have an unfinished appearance, congruent with the Japanese Wabi-Sabi (the acceptance of imperfection) quality. Back in the day the Silver Pavilion was a centre for the arts, thus there’s half a dozen more temple buildings here to explore, along with a lovely moss garden and unique dry sand garden.
*All of the prolific Kyoto shrines mentioned in this article are accessible to the public most days of the week for minimal entrance fees. For further detailed information, including shrine locations and transport options please see www.visitjapan.com