Japan's Temples and Shrines

Japan's Temples and Shrines

When you get to Kyoto, or even Tokyo, you find yourself immersed in a land of temples and shrines. So many you start to get temple fatigue by the third one. And with 17 temples, shrines (and one castle) in Kyoto alone, trust me, they start to blend in. But what sticks with you, if you let them, are the architectural details.

In these photos I tried to capture something different about the temples and shrines, beyond their imposing gates and walkways, though you will find a photo or two of those as well. As I walked the sacred grounds I found myself practicing mindfulness behind the camera lens, looking at a moment from all angles, soaking it in, letting it pass. You must visit a Japanese Zen temple or Shinto shrine at least once if your life. Ideally, do a temple stay so you can experience the buildings as they were intended: living sanctuaries. Go outside of the World Heritage list if you can. My favorites, not all captured on photo here, I've listed in the details below.

 

 
 Fushimi Inari. Kyoto. 

Fushimi Inari. Kyoto. 

 
 Hokkaido Shrine. Sapporo.

Hokkaido Shrine. Sapporo.

 
 
 

Purify your body and mind as you wash your hands at the shrine entrances: left hand, then right, then left, then sip, then tilt the laddle.

 
 Hokkaido Shrine. Sapporo. Visitors performing a Shinto purification. 

Hokkaido Shrine. Sapporo. Visitors performing a Shinto purification. 

 
 
 

As you walk the sacred grounds, don't forget to turn around. Look behind you. Look up. Look down.

 
 Fushimi Inari. Kyoto. Ah, the moon.

Fushimi Inari. Kyoto. Ah, the moon.

 
 Fushimi Inari. Kyoto. View from behind and on the descent.

Fushimi Inari. Kyoto. View from behind and on the descent.

 
 
 

Practice meditation as you stare out onto the meticulously groomed rock gardens and sparse interiors. 

 
 Ninna-ji. Kyoto. 

Ninna-ji. Kyoto. 

 
 Ryoan-ji. Kyoto.

Ryoan-ji. Kyoto.

 
 
 

Soak up the rays of burning candles.

 
 Kiyozmizudera. Kyoto.

Kiyozmizudera. Kyoto.

 
 
 

Make friends with the four-legged guardians.

 
 Fushimi Inari. Kyoto.

Fushimi Inari. Kyoto.

 
 Todai-ji. Nara. The famous wild deer of Nara freely roam the temple (and eat tickets, so, beware..)

Todai-ji. Nara. The famous wild deer of Nara freely roam the temple (and eat tickets, so, beware..)

 
 
 

Lose yourself in the undulating patterns.

 
 Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto.

Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto.

 
 Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto.

Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto.

 
 
 

Marvel at the tiny details. 

 
 Ninna-ji. Kyoto. The chrysanthemum crest of Japan bedazzles a small window fixture.  

Ninna-ji. Kyoto. The chrysanthemum crest of Japan bedazzles a small window fixture.  

 
 
 

Contemplate impermanence as you watch raindrops and petals fall into the lakes.   

 
 Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto. Go for the gold roof, stay for the lake. 

Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto. Go for the gold roof, stay for the lake. 

 
 Ryoan-ji. Kyoto. Wind away the afternoon in the wisteria lakes.

Ryoan-ji. Kyoto. Wind away the afternoon in the wisteria lakes.

 
 
 

Don't forget to go off the beaten path for the lesser known temples. 

 
 Seiryuden Temple. Kyoto. It features a glass temple installation on its observation deck. 

Seiryuden Temple. Kyoto. It features a glass temple installation on its observation deck. 

 
 Seiryuden Temple. Kyoto. It offers breathtaking views, far better than Kiyomizudera. 

Seiryuden Temple. Kyoto. It offers breathtaking views, far better than Kiyomizudera. 

 

 

I enjoyed every temple and shrine I visited. That said, of all the ones I visited throughout the country, these are my top five Japanese temples and shrines I'd recommend:

  • Seiryuden Temple. Kyoto. Be sure to read more about my forest bathing at Seiyuden Temple.
  • Taiyoji Temple. Outside Tokyo. You can do a temple stay with four heavenly labradors.
  • Hokkaido Shrine. Sapporo. Here, you will understand the meaning of the word "awesome."
  • Ryoan-ji Temple. Kyoto. Fall in love with most beautiful lake. 
  • Fushimi Inari-taisha. Kyoto. Get lost in a thousand, and more, torii gates.

 

And don't forget to get yourself a gushoin notebook and a hand drawn calligraphy stamp at every temple. Stamps at each temple run around 300¥ ($3 USD) but are well worth the expense. 

 
 Todai-ji. Nara. Woman stamping my gushoin notebook.

Todai-ji. Nara. Woman stamping my gushoin notebook.