Japan has the holiest sites of any country in the world. Over 80,000 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines are scattered all around Japan.
This makes it difficult for visitors to plan where they should visit first.
But don’t worry! We have researched and come up with this list of the top 15 temples you should visit if you only have time to see five or fewer places in Japan.
So without further ado, here is our list:
1) Hokokuji Temple, Kamakura.
Hokokuji Temple is one of Japan’s most famous Zen temples. The Temple houses many exciting treasures, including the Kamakura Daibutsu (The Great Buddha).
Many visitors come here to see this giant statue of Buddha with a beautiful bamboo grove on its grounds.
This Temple is located in the old capital of Kamakura; Tengan Eko founded it during the Kamakura period (1185–1333 CE).
The Kamakura Daibutsu was cast in 1252 CE and stood at 13.35 meters (43.9 feet). It has remained the most giant bronze Buddha statue in Japan since its casting, and it is one of only three “great” statues from this period that remain in Japan today.
If you like to take pictures, there’s a good chance that this will be one of your favorite spots in Japan!
You can find Hokokuji Temple by taking a 60-minute walk from Tokyo Station.
For more information about Hokokuji Temple, click here! (Official Website)
2) Sensoji Temple, Tokyo.
Senso-Ji Temple (浅草寺) is one of the most famous temples in Tokyo. The Temple was founded in 628 and is one of the city’s oldest temples.
The Temple is dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy, located in Asakusa.
Senso-Ji has many beautiful buildings, like the five-story pagoda, which houses a giant bronze statue of Kannon and the Hozo-do.
The Honden is Senso-ji’s most crucial temple hall because it houses three national treasures: the Kaminari-mon Gate, the Akabashi Bridge, and the giant bronze bell.
It is one of Japan’s oldest temples and the oldest in Tokyo. For this reason, it is visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year.
You can find Sensoji Temple by taking a 5-minute walk south of JR Asakusa Station or the Ginza Line subway to Asakusa Station.
For more information about Sensoji Temple, click here! (Official Website)
3) Meiji Shrine, Tokyo
The Meiji Shrine is the Shinto shrine honoring the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken.
It was built in 1920 on the original site intended for it when Tokyo was being planned after the fall of Japan during World War II.
The shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji (Mutsuhito) and his wife, Empress Shoken, and it is visited by thousands of people every year.
You will see many different kinds of people here during this slow walk through the forested paths that lead to the shrine.
There are over 3,000 Japanese maple trees on the shrine grounds.
Along with Yasukuni Shrine (which honors Japan’s war dead), Meiji Shrine is the very spiritual center of Tokyo.
You can find Meiji Shrine by taking a 1-minute walk from Harajuku Station, Meiji Jingu Mae station, or the JR Yamanote train line to Harajuku Station.
For more information about Meiji Shrine, click here! (Official Website)
4) Fushimi Inari-Taisha, Kyoto
Fushimi Inari-Taisha is the head shrine of Inari, located in Fushimi-Ku, Kyoto.
The shrine complex comprises several buildings, including two main torii gates and the entrance of the sacred area.
It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates that span a 2.6-kilometer path up Mount Inari.
“Inari-zuka” is a small mound covering approximately 15 meters wide and 7 meters deep.
The mound is covered with vermilion clay from which the Fushimi Inari Taisha is named.
The shrine’s main hall was built in 1164 but burned down during the Onin War. It was rebuilt in 1499.
The shrine is dedicated to Inari, one of the seven Japanese gods of fortune.
For this reason, many Japanese come here to ask for financial success. There are more than 10,000 shrines all over Japan dedicated to Inari.
You can find Fushimi Inari-Taisha by taking a 5-minute train ride from JR Kyoto Station to JR Inari Station or Keihan Line train to Fushimi Inari Station.
From there, you have several options for getting up the mountain!
5) Yakushiji Temple, Nara
Yakushi-Ji is a Buddhist temple complex (Kokubun-Ji) located northeast of Nara Park.
The main attraction is the Kondo Hall, which houses Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of healing and medicine.
The Dainichi-do Hall contains the world’s most giant bronze statue of the Vairocana Buddha.
Yakushi-Ji Temple was one of the Imperial and government-supported temples rather than the Temple maintained by the Buddhist community.
The Yakushi-Ji Temple is representative of Indian architecture, which influenced Japanese architecture at that time.
The construction of this Temple underwent many stages throughout history. Most of the buildings were built in the late style, which was prevalent then. The Temple is categorized as one of “The Ancient Temples,” the oldest existing temples in Japan.
You can find Yakushi-Ji Temple by taking a 4-minute bus ride from Yamato Saidaiji Station.
For more information about Yakushi-Ji Temple, click here! (Official Website)
6) Shitennoji Temple, Osaka
Shitenno-Ji Temple is one of Japan’s oldest temples, initially built-in 593. It was destroyed by fire and reconstructed many times over the centuries.
The five-story pagoda (about 44 meters high) is designated as a national treasure.
The Temple includes several buildings, including the main hall, which houses two wooden statues of the Shitenno, Buddhist guardian deities.
The Temple is known as the “All Three Together Temple” because it glorifies the four heavenly kings and the Shitenno who protect Buddhism.
Near this main hall, you can see other buildings, including gateways and pagodas.
You can find Shitennoji Temple by taking the train from the Osaka subway line to Shitennoji-Mae Station.
For more information about Shitennoji Temple, click here! (Official Website)
7) Tenryu-Ji Temple, Arashiyama, Kyoto.
Tenryu-Ji Temple is located in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto. The Temple was initially built in 1339 by shogun Ashikaga Takauji.
It was burned down during an attack but reconstructed in 1591.
The main hall is a National Treasure and houses two statues of the Amida Buddha.
The Temple is well known for its Japanese garden, which covers approximately 100,000 square meters.
You can admire the changing four seasons in the park during your visit to this Temple.
Tenryu-Ji Temple has a “Koto Senjo Tour” (Sound and Light Show) in the summer.
They play music and light up the Temple and the garden to show you a different side of this stunning Temple.
You can find Tenryu-Ji Temple by bus from Kyoto or Arashiyama Station on the Keifuku Arashiyama Line.
For more information about Tenryu-Ji, click here! (Official Website)
8) Ginkaku-ji Temple, Kyoto
Ginkaku-Ji is a temple complex in the city of Kyoto. It was built in 1482 but was burned down when it became the site of battles during the Onin War.
The present buildings were reconstructed in 1955 based on drawings from older paintings.
The main attraction is the pair of silver pavilions known as “The Silver Pavilion.”
The pavilion’s interior is painted with gold leaf without walls or ceilings.
Depending on your position, you can enjoy different views, so you will need to visit this Temple more than once to take it all in!
The main hall, known as Kannondo Temple, has a hipped-and-gabled roof with a veranda to the front.
The walls are covered with white plaster that looks pale, called “Silver Pavilion” in English.
For more information about Ginkaku-Ji Temple, click here! (Official Website)
You can also take a virtual tour by clicking here.
9) Todai-Ji Temple, Nara
Todai-Ji is one of Japan’s most important temples. It was built in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples in Japan.
The main hall houses a gigantic bronze statue of Buddha, which is 13 meters high and weighs 500 tons! I bet you haven’t seen anything like it.
The Temple is known as the “home of Buddha” because it houses several Buddhist statues, including those from the Nara and Heian Periods.
Many national treasures are on display and annexes, such as a pagoda and a wonderful garden.
Todai-Ji is also well known as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the “Three Great Temples” in the Kansai Region.
You can find Todai-Ji Temple by taking the bus from JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station to Todaji Bus Stop.
For more information about Todai-Ji, click here! (Official Website)
10) Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto
Ryoanji Temple is a Zen temple in Northern Kyoto with a rock garden.
It was built in the 15th century and features 45 rocks of various sizes carefully placed on white sand within the temple walls.
The Temple’s name means “Temple of Peaceful Relieving” and represents much Buddhist philosophy, harmony with nature, and impermanence.
The most popular time to visit is during the spring and autumn, when you can enjoy beautiful cherry blossoms or leaves, but it’s also excellent in winter.
It has been ranked as one of the best zen gardens in Japan and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The stone garden features a moss-covered temple that overlooks a small pond. It is surrounded by dense forest, and the Temple is a quiet oasis.
You can find Ryoanji Temple by taking a 10-minute walk north of Ryoan-Ji Station on the Keifuku Kitano Line.
For more information about Ryoanji, click here! (Japan Travel Website)
11) Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, Kyoto
Kiyomizu-Dera is a temple in Eastern Kyoto.
It is one of Japan’s most popular and scenic temples and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994.
The area around this Temple features many elegant shops and restaurants, so you might want to head over there after your visit!
This temple got its name after its location on top of Kiyomizu Hill. The main hall is 33 meters high and built without nails, so it seems to float over the hill.
You can enjoy seeing the Temple from different angles as you walk through the streets or climb nearby hills.
You can find Kiyomizu-Dera Temple by taking the Tozai subway line from JR Kyoto Station to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station or Keihan Line from Sanjo Station to Keihan Kiyomizu-Gojo Station.
For more information about Kiyomizu-Dera Temple, click here! (Japan-Guide.com Website)
12) Horyu-Ji Temple. Nara
Horyu-Ji Temple is known for housing Japan’s oldest wooden buildings.
It was built in 607 by Prince Shotoku, who had a strong interest in Buddhism.
The main hall houses the world’s oldest wooden image of Buddha, which was made in 607.
There are also many other national treasures, including the world’s oldest wooden pagoda.
You can find Horyu-Ji Temple by taking bus 72 from JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station to Horyuji Bus Stop.
For more information about Horyu-Ji, click here! (Official Website)
13) Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto
The top two floors of Kinkakuji Temple are covered with pure gold, and an impressive large pond is in front.
Temple of the Golden Pavilion is the most popular tourist attraction in Kyoto and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
It is one of the best examples of architecture of the Muromachi Period (1333-1573), inspired by Chinese Zen temples.
Many visitors consider it “the symbol of beauty” because it reflects on the water pond like a golden jewel.
The Temple was built in 1482 by shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who loved to collect luxuries.
You can find Kinkakuji Temple by bus from Kyoto Station to the Kinkakujima-Gojo stop or Arashiyama Station to Kinkakuji-michi stop.
For more information about Kinkakuji, click here! (Official Website)
14) Ninnaji Temple, Kyoto
Ninnaji Temple is a large temple in Western Kyoto and was built in 888. It houses many national treasures, including the world’s oldest scroll of sutra written by Prince Shotoku, who founded Horyu-Ji Temple in Nara.
You can find Ninnaji Temple by taking a direct bus from Kyoto Station.
For more information about Ninnaji, click here! (Official Website)
15) Toji Temple, Kyoto
Toji Temple is famous for being one of the nation’s three significant pagodas and housing Japan’s tallest pagodas.
It is located on a large hill in Eastern Kyoto, regarded as the city’s outskirts during its time. You can climb up to see impressive architecture and enjoy great city views!
You can find Toji Temple by bus 32, 205, or 206 from JR Kyoto Station to the Toji-in Guchi stop.
What is the most visited Temple in Japan?
The most visited Temple in Japan is Senso-Ji Temple (浅草寺) in Asakusa, Tokyo. The Honden is Senso-ji’s most crucial temple hall because it houses three national treasures: the Kaminari-mon Gate, the Akabashi Bridge, and the giant bronze bell.
Where in Japan has the most temples?
Kyoto has the most temples of any city in Japan. It’s well known for its many beautiful Buddhist temples – like Kiyomizu-Dera Temple (清水寺) or Ginkaku-Ji Temple (銀閣寺).
Why is Fushimi Inari called the ‘Japanese Temple’?
Fushimi Inari is called the ‘Japanese Temple’ because it was initially built to worship the Shinto god Inari, and many torii gates stretch up Mt. Inari’s slopes. It was also given this name because these torii gates resemble those found at Buddhist temples.
Who built Fushimi Inari?
Toyotomi Hideyoshi built Fushimi Inari in the early 1600s CE. Many locals were upset about this decision because they worshiped Inari at another shrine. Still, when they eventually saw how beautiful it turned out, they agreed that Toyotomi Hideyoshi did an excellent job.
What is the name of Fushimi Inari’s main shrine?
The Fushimi Inari-Taisha is the main Inari shrine, where the approach to the Temple is lined by around a thousand torii. Typically, Inari shrines feature guardian figures of foxes or kitsunes as guardians. Many regard these messenger creatures as representations of Inari, even though this representation isn’t exactly correct.
What is the biggest Temple in Japan?
The biggest Temple in Japan is Todai-Ji Temple (東大寺) in Nara. It was built by Emperor Shomu, who ruled from the year 745 CE to the year 764 CE. The main hall at this Buddhist Temple houses an enormous bronze statue of Buddha over 15 meters tall! It’s so big that you can watch birds flying around its head.
What is the most famous Temple in Japan?
The most famous Temple in Japan is probably Senso-Ji Temple (or Asakusa Kannon) in Tokyo. It was built in 628 CE and attracted over 30 million visitors yearly.
Which city in Japan has the Ryosoku in Temple?
The Ryosoku in Temple is found in Kyoto. It was initially built to hold the remains of soldiers, but it became a Zen Buddhist temple during 1319 CE. This Buddhist Temple is famous for its moss garden, which has over 3,000 plants!
What is the oldest Buddhist Temple built in Japan?
The oldest Buddhism temple built in Japan is Horyu-Ji Temple (法隆寺) in Ikaruga, Nara. It was completed during the year 607 CE. This Buddhist Temple comes from ‘Hourai,’ a mountain in China where Buddha meditated for 1,000 years! The Main Hall at Horyu-Ji is famous because it houses a wooden statue of Buddha’s disciple, the Yumedono Kannon.
How many Buddhist temples are in Kyoto?
There are over 1,600 Buddhist temples in Kyoto. This city has many shrines and temples categorized by location, like Eastern Hokon, Western Hokon, Southern Hokon, and Northern Hokon.
What do Japanese people do in temples?
They may visit a Buddhist temple to learn about Buddhist teachings and rituals. Buddhists often pray at a temple or shrine as part of their daily routine. Some people also visit a temple to worship the Kami who live there.
Originally posted on October 12, 2021 @ 3:08 pm
As a lifelong traveler and founder of lovefortraveling.com, I, Alex Deidda, have always been driven by my passion for exploring new places and cultures.
Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to live in various countries, each offering unique perspectives and experiences.
My love for traveling led me to create lovefortraveling.com, a website and blog dedicated to helping people plan their trips.