Many of Japan’s most famous shrines and temples are in the old capital of Kyoto. Tokyo, while not as historic as the city it replaced as the nation’s social and economic base, still has plenty of beautiful and important shrines and temples – hundreds even. Below is a selection of our top recommendations.
Completed in 1920, Meiji Shrine is one of the most popular shrines in the city. Built to commemorate the role he played in the restoration that also bears his name, this was once the resting place of Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) and his wife, Empress Shōken (1849-1914).
The shrine is located next to Yoyogi Park, and it is renowned for both the 12m (40ft) torii gates (pictured) and the inner garden, which is thought to have been designed by the Emperor Meiji himself for the pleasure of the Empress.
Said to be founded in 628, Sensoji is thought to be the oldest temple in Tokyo. Steeped in the feeling of the Old Tokyo area of Asakusa, it is a striking temple with a five story pagoda and bright red gates. It is believed that the Asakusa Kannon deity is enshrined there, and around 30 million people visit every year. It is also home to the Sanja Matsuri festivities in May.
- Where: 2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito
Yasukuni Shrine makes this list, not because of its beauty – although it is quite astounding and possesses one of the biggest torii gates in the country – but due to the interest surrounding its somewhat controversial nature. Established in 1869 by the Emperor Meiji, it is a shrine that both commemorates and houses the spirits, or ‘kami’ of Japan’s war dead, giving it a political significance similar to that of the Cenotaph in London. The controversy centers on some 1,068 combatants convicted of war crimes enshrined among the more than 2.5 million ‘kami’.
Constructed in 1274, Tennoji temple is one of the last remaining refuges for the Tendai sect of Buddhism. It is set in picturesque lawns, and perhaps most amongst the city’s places of worship best displays the aesthetic ideal of Buddhism. At the edge of the temple sits the Tennoji Daibutsu, a large statue of Buddha that has survived despite much of the temple being destroyed during the civil war of 1868.
- Where: 7-14-8 Yanaka, Taito, Tokyo
Nezu Shrine was originally built about 1900 years ago in Sendagi, then later moved to Nezu with construction thought to have been completed in 1706. It is an excellent example of Edo Period shrine architecture, and is nestled among the 6,600sqm Tsutsuji-en Park grounds, featuring carp ponds and pathways that are tunnels of small shrine arches. Spring is the best season in which to visit when the roughly 3,000 azalea plants are in bloom.
- Where: 1-28-9 Nezu, Bunkyo
Like Yasukuni Shrine, Sengakuji Temple makes this list on grounds of cultural importance more than beauty. The temple itself is small and somewhat unremarkable. Its famous for being the cemetery of the 47 ronin (leaderless samurai) who avenged the death of their master, and were forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) following their actions. These 47 ronin, held up as the epitome of samurai bushido code of honour, have been popularized in Japanese culture throughout the centuries, and recently in the West thanks to the 47 Ronin movie starring Keanu Reeves.
- Where: 2-11-1 Takanawa, Minato-ku
Differences between Shrines and Temples
In much the same way as a church is not the same as a synagogue, shrines and temples are not interchangeable terms for the same thing. Shrines (‘jinja’ 神社) are places of worship for Japanese Shintoism, whereas a temple (‘otera’ お寺) is for Buddhism.
For a more in-depth look into the differences and similarities, check out what The Japan Guy website has to say on the matter. Below is his simple break down.
Image: flickr.com "Meiji Shrine Torii" by sophietica (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) – Modified