Thousands of Buddhist temples dot the Japanese countryside and inhabit its cities. According to one resource, “virtually every Japanese municipality has at least one temple, while large cultural centers like Kyoto have several hundred.” Many are hundreds of years old, others well over one thousand.
Temples typically consist of a number of halls and structures. Gates mark the edges of the temple grounds. The main hall of each temple is used to display sacred objects, such as statues of Buddha, gods, or goddesses; pagodas are used in a similar manner. Lecture halls are used as places of meeting and teaching. Some temples are still used as monasteries, home to Buddhist monks.
Kiyomizudera is one of the most celebrated temples of all Japan
Located on a hillside overlooking a valley and the city itself, Kiyomizu-dera temple is the most visited temple in Kyoto. It was built in honor of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. Special events are often held here, including occasional pink nighttime illumination of the temple for breast cancer awareness, traditional ceremonies, and various stage productions.
Hours: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nighttime admission is available for special events.
Address: 1-294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Kinki, Japan
How to Get There: From Kyoto Station, take bus number 206 or 100 to either the Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stops. From the stops, the temple is a ten-minute uphill walk.
Kinkakuji was originally built in 1397 as the home of a shogun, or military chief. The building was covered entirely in gold leaf, giving it the title of the Golden Pavilion. Its gardens are meant to represent an earthly paradise.
Legend has it that two brothers repeatedly tried to return a statue of the goddess Kannon to the Sumida River. Each time, the statue had returned by the next day. Senso-ji Temple was built in that location in honor of the goddess. The temple is at its most beautiful in the evening when nighttime illumination highlights its intricate architecture.
Also called the Takedera Temple, the temple grounds house bamboo forests, delicate moss covered carvings, and ponds of brightly colored koi. Authentic Japanese matcha served with sweets is available until 3:30 p.m.
The Todai-ji Temple in Nara is the largest wooden building in the world. It also houses an immense statue of Buddha. Attempting to portray the scale of this image, one visitor recalled, “a medium-sized human could fit through one nostril!” Many visitors also enjoy the friendly herds of deer that roam the site.
Formerly called Rengeoin Temple, this temple is unique for the sheer number of religious statues it contains. The Great Hall houses 1,001 “life-sized” images of the goddess Kannon.
One of Japan’s oldest temples, Shitennoji was built more than 1,400 years ago. The temple is famous for its symmetrical architectural style. Subsequent temples built in this style are said to have the “Shitennoji style temple layout.”
Wherever your travels in Japan take you, you are certain to observe the intriguing architecture of its many temples and the beauty of their gardens.