Known for its wide array of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, the Japanese city of Kyoto is the perfect place to acquire a sense of what the Japanese call satorimasu (a peaceful state).
Tourists are welcome to explore the temples on their own. It’s quite easy, especially with any of the maps that can be found at most hotels or train stations. There are also many local tour companies that offer temple packages (some even including a tea ceremony), where visitors may be able to get a deal if they inquire with their hotel’s concierge desk.
Still feeling lost? Then check this compilation of the most notable temples (most of them designated as UNESCO world heritage sites) that are worth seeing during your visit.
To-ji Temple was founded in the late 700s after the capital of Japan was moved to Kyoto. Its most impressive attraction is its wooden pagoda, the tallest of its kind with five stories high. Kondo Hall- the main hall- is one of the original structures on the site, and houses a large statue of Yakushi Buddha. Next door, Kodo Hall houses 19 statues all imported from China. The admission fee includes entry to both Kondo Hall and Kodo Hall. Smaller Miedo Hall and Jikido Hall have free entry. Homotsukan Museum on the temple grounds holds numerous exhibits, and it only opens for limited hours with a separate admission fee.
Kinkaku-ji Temple (also designated as a UNESCO world heritage site) is one of the most impressive of all Kyoto temples. If you need another reason to book airline tickets to Japan, this is it. It’s named the “Golden Pavilion” because its two top stories are covered in gold leaf. The shimmering golden building is reflected in a mirror pond surrounding the structure. It was originally the home of a Japanese shogun and then became a Zen temple after the shogun’s death. Although the main building is not open to the public, the surrounding gardens have points of interest like a pond that is said to never dry up and statues rumored to bring good luck when coins are thrown at them. A small tea garden offers tea and snacks. The entrance fee includes admission to the grounds and the gardens.
Kozan-ji Temple’s charm is in its surroundings, a quiet and secluded location amid a mountain forest with an impressive stand of huge cedar trees lining the path to the temple. Founded by a monk in the 13th century, Kozan-ji is known for its four painted scrolls from the Heinan Period and for having the oldest tea field in Japan. Entrance to the grounds is free, but there you’ll have to pay to access the Seisujin-in Hall.
Ninna-ji Buddhist Temple was built in 888 by the Japanese emperor. Most of the current buildings date to the 17th century. Among its highlights are the impressive entrance gates and a five-story pagoda erected in 1637. The Treasure Hall includes exhibits of Buddhist statues, scrolls, textiles, and furniture, while its gardens feature a grove of cherry trees whose blooms attract many visitors around mid-April.
Founded in 1236, Tofuku-ji is one of the most important Kyoto temples for the Zen sect of Buddhism. Tofuku-ji Temple is especially famous for its autumn foliage (mid to late November is the perfect moment to pay a visit, due to its vibrant fall colors). The view from the Tsutenkyo Bridge encompasses a span of colorful maple trees. The 22-meter (72 ft.) temple gate is the largest in Japan. While there is an entrance fee for the bridge and gardens, several areas of the grounds are free.
Located on Mount Hieizan, Enryaku-ji Temple provides a picturesque view of the city of Kyoto. The temple is the headquarters of the Tendai sect of Buddhism in Japan. It was founded in 788 by a monk who introduced the sect of Tendai Buddhism to Japan from China. Over the years, the Enryaku-ji Temple complex has been expanded to include a variety of smaller temples connected by wooded walking trails. It encompasses three main areas of interest including the original monastery and two other halls added later. An entrance fee admits visitors to the three main areas.
Have you visited any Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Kyoto? Tell us where you went in the comments!