There are a large number of Buddhist temples in Kyoto, Japan. Buddhism, the doctrine of Buddha, was first introduced from Korea in the 6th century. There are also hundreds of Shinto shrines. Shrines, like temples, are places of worship and the dwellings of Kami, or gods. How does a shrine differ from a temple you ask? Shrines are different in that Shinto is an animistic religion that believes gods exist everywhere around us. At shrines, for example, people pray for protection from evil or for the safety and prosperity of their families. Here are 5 temples and shrines that represent the cultural heritage of Kyoto.
Kiyomizu–dera Temple – A fixture in the minds of the Japanese and perhaps the most cherished of Kyoto’s temples is the Kiyomizu–dera Temple. The main hall, with its unique roof made of Japanese cypress bark, is home to the priceless statue of Kannon Bodhisattva, the goddess of mercy. Visitors to the temple enjoy fine views facing west over the city of Kyoto from the temple’s platform. The platform, supported by wooden columns, extends out of the side of a mountain. The best way to reach the temple is via a 20 minute city bus ride from Kyoto Station.
Fushimi–Inari Taisha Shrine – One of the most popular shrines in all of Japan is Fushimi–Inari Taisha. The seemingly unending path of about ten thousand bright orange “torii” gates that wind through the hills behind Fushimi–Inari Taisha Shrine are spectacular. Built in the 8th century to pray to the gods for abundant grain harvests, today the shrine is primarily a place of worship for business prosperity. Traditionally considered the messenger of the god Inari in Japan, the fox is represented with dozens of statues throughout the shrine’s grounds. From Kyoto Station, the shrine is a 20 minute ride on the JR Nara Line.
Kinkaku–ji Temple – This small, graceful temple with upper tier balconies and eaves covered in gold is perhaps the most widely recognized image of Kyoto. Originally built as the retirement villa for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, the building was converted into a Zen temple after his death. The site of the golden Kinkaku–ji temple reflecting in the adjacent mirror pond is truly breathtaking. To reach the Kinkaku–ji temple from Kyoto Station, you can take the subway or the city bus which each take about 25 minutes.
Nijo Castle – Nijo Castle was the local Kyoto residence of the succeeding Tokugawa shoguns who ruled Japan for over 200 years. Inside the palace are several masterpieces of Japanese art; most notably, the painted screens of the main chamber. Painted in rich colors, the screens portray images of trees, birds, flowers and tigers. The palace is also famous for its squeaky floors designed to alert guards of intruders. The Castle’s large grounds contain many alluring gardens and groves of plum and cherry trees. The castle is an easy 15 minute subway ride from Kyoto Station.
Ginkaku–ji Temple – Set on magnificent grounds at the foot of Kyoto’s eastern mountains is the elegant Ginkaku–ji Temple. Be sure to walk the trail to catch glimpses of the pavilion from different vantage points. The grounds are a perfect example of Japanese landscape architecture. Sitting on the landing beside the unique sand garden with its large silver cone is also a nice spot to observe the enchanting details of the temple. The temple is a 35 minute ride from Kyoto Station on the city bus.