13 Best Traditional Shrines & Temples To Visit In Japan

by David & Intan

After a bunch of visits to Japan over the years, I’ve put together this Japanese temple & shrine guide to help you find the best ones!

There are more than 160,000 traditional Japanese temples and shrines scattered across the ‘Land of the Rising Sun,’ and usually they have a bunch of interesting history behind them, plus the buildings themselves are real works of art.

Kyoto is Japan’s ancient capital and cultural center, so it has most of the famous shrines in Japan, as well as many of the best temples to visit in Japan. You can also find some good ones in and around Tokyo city.

Read on for my complete Japanese temple guide!

Where To Stay In Kyoto


Best Traditional Shrines & Temples In Japan


1. Todai-ji Temple (Nara)

Todai-ji Temple is one of Japan’s biggest and most spectacular landmarks.

This massive ancient monument has a lot of cool history behind it. It was the world’s biggest wooden building for a millennium, and it houses the biggest bronze Buddha statue in the world. Even the doors are massive.

We’ve visited Todai-ji a couple of times and it’s a must-see. If you look around the Nara Park, it also has a bunch of other traditional Japanese temples and shrines.

Todai-ji was the biggest wooden building in the world for more than 1,000 years!

Nara was the ancient capital of Japan during the 8th century, and a bunch of important temples were built there.

Some of these, including Todaiji, were built to try to gain divine protection for Japan after a major smallpox epidemic devastated the country and wiped out 1/3rd of its population.

Todaiji took 15 years to build. After being finished in 752 AD, the main building at Todaiji Temple was the biggest wooden building in the world for more than 1,000 years.

It was destroyed by fire and rebuilt twice over the centuries, so even though the current building is huge, the original was actually 30 percent bigger!

The giant Buddha statue inside weighs over 500 tons, and more than 350,000 people were involved in making it. Both the temple and statue have been damaged by earthquakes and fires over the ages, but they’ve been faithfully repaired each time.

Nowadays, Todaiji is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site and it gets more than 2 million visitors per year.


Ancient Todaiji Nandaimon Gate in Nara

The ancient Nandaimon gate

Todaiji Temple sits next to Nara Park and a bunch of other interesting sights.

On the way to Todaiji, you’ll walk through the famous Nara Deer Park where hundreds of deer are roaming around freely in public.

They’re friendly to people, and you can pet them or feed them crackers that they sell for a small fee.

Epic! One of our favorite places in Japan.

Todaiji Temple is located just east of Nara city, and it’s easy to visit on a day trip from either Osaka or Kyoto.

From Kyoto, it’s a 30-60 minute ride south on one of the Kintetsu rail lines.

From Osaka, start at Namba Station and then it’s a 45 minute ride east on the Kintetsu lines.

2. Kinkaku-ji Temple (Kyoto)

The Kinkaku-ji Temple (also known as the Golden Pavilion) is one of the most iconic and famous places in Japan.

It’s the #1 most visited tourist site in Kyoto, and for pretty good reason! It’s almost impossible to take a bad photo here! This is the king of Japanese temples and shrines.

The best time to visit is in the morning before the wind picks up, then you can see reflections on the pond. Sadly when we went it was very windy, so no reflections.

Read More: Kinkakuji Temple

Kinkakuji Temple

The Golden Pavilion probably takes the cake for the nicest looking Japanese temple.


3. Ginkaku-ji Temple (Kyoto)

After you visit the Golden Pavilion, you might like to know that it also has a less famous twin called Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion! This one is located in eastern Kyoto (Higashiyama), but it’s not too hard to reach.

Also known as the Higashiyama Jisho-ji, this temple dates back to the 15th century, when it was originally built as a mountain villa for the shoguns.

It’s a beautiful building in its own way, and very photogenic, with a dry sand garden and raised cone that looks like Mount Fuji.

4. Tenryu-ji Temple (Kyoto)

This temple was built in the 14th century and it’s located in Kyoto’s Arashiyama district.

It has a nice landscape garden and incredible fall colors if you come near the middle of November.

Tenryu-ji also borders the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, so chances are you’ll be near it anyway if you’re visiting the top tourist sites of Kyoto.


5. Senso-ji Temple (Tokyo)

Sensoji is the biggest and best known temple in Tokyo. It’s also the oldest, since it was built in the 7th century.

If you only visit one traditional Japanese temple during your time in Tokyo, this is the one to see! On the outside, it has a giant Torri gate, a five-story pagoda, and an oversized paper lantern that’s fun for photos. There’s also a huge main temple building that you can go inside.

The original building was destroyed in the firebombing of Tokyo in World War II, so the current temple is a reconstruction, but it still looks just as impressive as it did back in the day.

Travel guy standing by the gate at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

Sensoji Temple is the oldest and most famous temple in Tokyo

Nowadays, Sensoji is one of the most visited religious site in the world, bringing in over 30 million people per year. You will have to fight the crowds, but it’s worth it.

The paper lantern is cool, but there’s another one later on at the main temple that’s just as big. It’s best to skip it and do your photos at the main temple instead.

By the way, Sensoji happens to be a great place for souvenir shopping. The approach to the temple takes you through a street lined with almost 100 souvenir and snack shops. Yes, it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but I have to admit we found lots of great stuff in the street shops surrounding the temple.

The shops sell everything from A to Z. Paper fans, kimonos, straw sandals, Japan fridge magnets, Godzilla boxers, minion keychains, and of course just about every kind of Japanese candy imaginable.

Crowds by the giant paper lantern at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

The giant paper lantern at Sensoji

After dark, the whole Sensoji temple complex is lit up and makes for some nice night photos. This is a great time to get some unique pics of the temple when the crowds are a lot smaller.

Sensoji Temple is located in the Taito ward, near central Tokyo. Using the rail network, it’s easy to reach from most parts of Tokyo. It’s just a short walk from Asakusa Station.

The hours below are just for going inside the main hall of the temple. The rest of the temple grounds are open 24/7.

  • Summer Hours: 6 AM – 5 PM (April to September)
  • Winter Hours: 6:30 AM – 5 PM (October to March)
  • Days: Open every day
  • Admission: Free

Night lighting of the main hall at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

Senso-ji is lit up at night


6. Kawasaki Daishi Temple (Tokyo)

Kawasaki Daishi is one of the nicer temples in the Tokyo area, in Kawasaki City.

It may not be quite as big and famous as the one at Sensoji, but it’s worth a stop if you’re looking for more things to see in Tokyo.

This one was originally built in the 12th century, but it was mostly destroyed in World War II. Even though the current building is a reconstruction, it’s still pretty impressive and looks authentic.

The approach to the temple takes you through a narrow street lined with dozens of cool shops selling souvenirs and food. At the end of the street you’re greeted by the huge main temple hall, along with a big five-story pagoda and gate.

The temple is located in Kawasaki City, just south of Tokyo, or about 7 kilometers (4 miles) from Haneda Airport. It’s pretty easy to reach via Japan’s rail network, and the train station is just a 5 or 10 minute walk from the temple.

Main gate at the Kawasaki Daishi Temple In Tokyo, Japan

Kawasaki is more than just a motorcycle brand


7. Hase-Dera Temple (Kamakura)

This is a hill temple and Japanese shrine in Kamakura that may date back to the 8th century.

There are lots of interesting statues at this one, including a 9-meter tall Kannon figure that is one of the biggest wooden statues in Japan. At the top, there’s a viewpoint where you can look out over the city and see Sagami Bay in the distance.

Hase-Dera is very close to the famous Great Buddha statue in Kamakura, so you can easily visit both in the same day.

little praying statues

Quirky little praying statues at Hase-Dera Temple


8. Arakura Sengen Shrine (Fuji)

The Fuji Five Lakes area is spectacular and you can visit it on a day trip from Tokyo. Mount Fuji is the highest peak in Japan, and it’s also one of the country’s most beloved icons.

Among other things, the Arakura Sengen shrine at Fuji is home to the picturesque Chureito Pagoda, which was added to the complex in 1963 as a peace memorial.

Chureito is a beautiful red five-story pagoda that you can photograph with Mount Fuji in the background, and it’s easily one of the most recognizable Japanese shrines and temples you’ll ever see in pictures!

Book Now: Mount Fuji Day Trip / Private Tour


9. Fushimi Inari Shrine (Kyoto)

This is an 8th century Japanese shrine in south Kyoto with more than 1,000 orange torii gates surrounded by forest.

It’s fun to wander around the maze of gates and there are some nice mountain trails too.

This place can get very crowded with tourists though, so it’s best to come in the early morning or late afternoon.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Bright orange Torii gates at Fushimi Inari, one of the most unique shrines in Japan.


10. Kiyomizu-dera Temple (Kyoto)

This is probably Japan’s most celebrated temple, and it’s a great place to see fall colors too.

Most people take pictures of the main building, but our favorite part was actually the orange pagoda next to it. In any case, there are loads of good photo ops all around this Japanese temple!

Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple that was built in eastern Kyoto in the 8th century.

Kiyomizudera Temple pagoda

The photogenic orange pagoda at Kiyomizu-dera Temple


11. Byodo-in Temple (Uji)

This is an underrated temple located in Uji, a small city between Kyoto and Nara.

Byodo-in Temple was originally built in 11th century, and today it’s even featured on the Japanese 10 yen coin.

The surprising thing is that Byodo-in Temple actually has a twin building in Hawaii that looks just like it and shares the same name!

Byodoin Temple

Byodoin Temple strangely has a twin building in Hawaii that looks just like it.


12. Yasaka Pagoda (Kyoto)

It’s impossible to visit the Higashiyama district in Kyoto without seeing this iconic pagoda sticking out above the rest of the buildings.

The Yasaka Pagoda has 5 stories and even though it was built in the 15th century, it’s part of a temple that dates back to the 6th century.

The best photos are on the outside, of course, but you can also go inside (up to the 2nd floor of the pagoda) for a fee.

kyoto town pagoda

Yasaka Pagoda in the Higashiyama ward


13. Great Buddha Statue (Kamakura)

The giant Buddha statue at Kamakura is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks.

This bronze statue is part of the Kotoku-in temple, but it sits in the open air ever since a tsunami washed away the main building in the 15th century.

Kamakura is one of the closest day trips you can take from Tokyo since it’s just 1 hour south of the Tokyo city center.

Kamakura Buddha

The famous giant Buddha statue at Kamakura is easy to visit from Tokyo


Japanese Temple Etiquette

Most traditional shrines and temples in Japan are open to tourists, but there are a few basic rules and things to know:

  • Always be calm and respectful, not noisy — especially when you’re indoors.
  • To go inside of temple buildings, you may have to take off your shoes. This means leaving them at the entrance, or sometimes they’ll provide plastic bags for carrying them with you.
  • You can take photos on the temple grounds, but usually not inside of the buildings. If pictures aren’t allowed, it’ll be sign posted.
  • Most Japanese temples and shrines are free, but some are not. If there’s an entrance fee, it’s normally less than 500 Yen ($5 USD) per person and tickets are good for the whole day.
  • There are lots of kimono rental shops in Kyoto and Tokyo, and you can wear these to a Japanese temple. If you ask the locals, they aren’t offended by foreigners wearing their traditional dress for pictures, and you’ll see lots of them doing the same.

Japanese Temple Kinkakuji       Kamakura Buddha

Best Time To Visit

Japanese temples and shrines are especially spectacular in the autumn and cherry blossom seasons, but that’s also when they’re the most crowded.

The timing for these seasons is different every year, but you can generally see the sakura season (cherry blossoms) in the last week of March, and fall colors peak around mid November (for the Kyoto area).

Generally the best time of day to visit is early in the morning and late in the afternoon, because the temples can get extremely crowded by midday, especially during holidays and peak seasons.

At any of the temples with ponds (like Kinkakuji), you’ll want to be there early in the morning anyway to capture the reflections on the pond before the wind picks up.

Happy travels!

Fall colors Japan

Fall colors in Kyoto


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Kyoto Hotels


More Japanese Shrine & Temple Guides

Thanks for looking! I hope you enjoyed this list of some of the best temples to visit in Japan.

Don’t forget to check out my complete travel guide on the best things to do in Japan, where you can find more tips, info, and photos!

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