Japanese Temples

by Kevin R Burns
(Kanagawa, Japan)

Japanese Temples and Religion, what religions are practiced in Japan and how are they practiced?


The two most popular religions in Japan are Shinto and Buddhism. There are other religions followed by a smaller proportion of the population including Christianity.

It is estimated that around 2,000 people in Japan practice Judaism.

Small minorities of people follow Islam, Sikhism and the native religion of Okinawa, Ryukyuan.

Japanese will often state they are not religious but nevertheless be married by a Shinto priest and be cremated before a Buddhist monk.

What Are The Beliefs Of Japanese Buddhism?

Japanese Buddhism is but one branch of a world-wide movement that originates from Asia. In plain words, the history, beliefs, and symbols of Buddhism.

Japanese Temples

Japanese temples range from being interesting to absolutely beautiful. Stunning in fact! I enjoy going to see them, or spending time contemplating life at one.





If you come to Japan on holiday though, you may tire of seeing them or in my terminology: "become templed-out." So see them as they are worth seeing, but perhaps don`t schedule seeing temples every day of your trip. Go to Kyoto and see temples for one day, then do something else on the next day ie) shopping or see some other historical sights.



To me, Japanese temples are places you go to contemplate God, life or perhaps simply to enjoy the beauty of the temple. Indeed Japanese temples are good places to meditate or even to experience zazen (zen) meditation, where they will whack you if you fail to focus!

(Pictured, Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto)



Japanese Temples -- Best Temples and Shrines to See in Japan


Toshogu Shrine (Nikko) It`s a World Heritage Site. Often thought to be the most opulent shrine in Japan. It is located in a large national park and the shrine is decorated with a lot of gold leaf. Nikko is a very beautiful area initself so it is great to see the temples, shrines and the waterfall there. Don`t be surprised if you see a ghost in the falls, many have!


Meiji Jingu Shrine (Tokyo) Called by Japan expert, IanL. McQueen the best temple in Japan. Located near Harajuku Station (Yamanote Line).


Sensoji Temple (Asakusa, Tokyo) In a great, old area of Tokyo and a very lively, interesting temple area, with many kiosks selling various souvenirs, and this temple and Asakusa ingeneral always give me a feeling of old Japan.


Saijoji (Minamiashigarashi, Kanagawa)

It is located in Minamiashigara City, Kanagawa.It is also known as Daiyuzan. Imagine a whole temple complexthat is just as beautiful as any you will see in Japan, but thisone is different. It isn`t in the middle of a huge city likeKyoto or Tokyo, it is nestled amongst a huge forest of old growth cedar trees. One of the most underrated temples in Japan. It often seems only the Japanese know about it, judging by all the tour buses that go there. Stay at a ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) in the area and go to the Only Yu hotspring to soak. Traditional Japanese food served in the restaurants all around Daiyuzan Station (Daiyuzan Line).


Kotokuin Temple (Kamakura) Worth seeing for the temple and the Giant Buddha. We have pictures of it here and at some of our other sites on Japan. I spilled extremely hot coffee all over myself at the McDonald`s near the Buddha. Sorry to spoil the image! You should spend a day going around Kamakura to see all the temples of this former capital of Japan.



Mount Koya (Koyasan) is a temple town located on Mount Koya. Stay the night and experience the traditional ambience of a real Buddhist town. You can stay at a real temple (shukubo)--which means temple lodging. There are over 50 temples on the top of the mountain you are welcome to attend.



Kokufuji Temple (Nara) This temple is the symbol of Nara.It is often depicted in books and magazine articles. There is a five story and a three story pagoda here. Both are Japanese landmarks.



Todai-ji Temple (in Nara) is the largest wooden building in the world. I like this temple complex and not only because Nara is more quiet and more relaxed than Kyoto but because the temple structures are very interesting and they even have deer all around the temple. Very friendly deer!


Horyuji Temple (Nara) full of ancient Buddhist art and history.


Kiyomizudera (Temple): (In Kyoto) The temple is beautiful and so is the view. The temple is located on a hill in the old part of Kyoto. The whole area is fun to explore and I recommend staying in a ryokan, minshuku or hotel in this old area. Visit Jishu Shrine, dedicated to the God of Love -- on the same grounds.


Kinkakuji (Kyoto) The Golden Pavilion was constructed in the 14th century and is covered in gold leaf. Has a very nice garden surrounding it too. Beautiful on a sunny day!


Toji Temple (Kyoto) I loved seeing the pagoda here.I love pagodas! Toji is Japan`s tallest pagoda and this temple was established in 794 when Kyoto became Japan`s capital.Enjoy the lively, flea market on the 21st of each month. Toji is a UNESCO heritage site.



Ise Shrine (Ise, Mie Pref.) Most famous Shinto shrine complex in Japan. Located in Mie prefecture. I was lucky to see formerJapanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa (now deceased) payinghomage to the Gods here.


Itsukushima Shrine (Miyajima) near Hiroshima. Famous for the iconic image of Japan -- the huge read torii (gate) in the waters of the Seto Inland Sea. You can see this photo in guidebooks to Japan and at our site. It is considered one of Japan`s top scenic spots. It is lit up at night.



Japanese Temples -- Top Temple Cities in Japan

The cities with the most Japanese temples are Kyoto, Nara and Kamakura. You should go to Kyoto of course, but for quiet and temple viewing, I recommend the latter two smaller cities. Mount Koya is great if you want to stay overnight and experience a true Buddhist experience on top of a mountain.
Japanese Temples: Japanese Need to ask, Why are we Here?

Yuko Kawanishi in her book, "Mental Health Challenges Facing Contemporary Japanese Society, The `Lonely People,`" writes much about the absence of a Japanese self in recent times.



Japanese people are disillusioned and in psychological crisis, a crisis never seen before, with rampant suicides-as many as 100 a day, and death from overwork and other problems. She states that perhaps Japanese need to ask the "most fundamental question: why are we here?"



She goes on to say that post-war materialism managed to destroy something that Japanese had held dear, a faith in the intangible.

"Even without monotheistic tradition, Japanese life was guided by many internalized virtues and by a faith in something greater than human existence. It was a sense of personal spirituality that would allow each individual to find a space in the universe to give him or her an ultimate reason for living. One may be able to find it today in an established religion such as Christianity,Buddhism, or through other sources sucha as philosophy and nature, or through one`s own experiences."

--Yuko Kawanishi, "Mental Health Challenges Facing Contemporary Japanese Society, The `Lonely People,`"p.160



Kawanishi goes on to argue that it is important for Japanese to find their spiritual core, something:

"...he or she can call an ei-en no dohansha, an eternal companion, to borrow Kawai`s expression. Otherwise, the Japanese will continue to live a lonely and lightless existence."

--Yuko Kawanishi, "Mental Health Challenges Facing Contemporary Japanese Society, The `Lonely People,`"p. 160.

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