12 most unforgettable shrines and temples in Japan

Have you visited any of these shrines in Japan?

Kinkaku-ji is also known as the Golden Pavilion. (Photo: Klook SG)
Kinkaku-ji is one of the shrines in Japan, also known as the Golden Pavilion. (Photo: Klook SG)

In Japan, the two main religions are Shinto and Buddhism as most Japanese consider themselves Buddhist, Shintoist or both. While religion does not play a significant role in the everyday life of most Japanese, it is usually most prominent during ceremonial rituals, such as those during birth, weddings, funerals and events like the New Year and festivals.

Both religions have influenced each other and sometimes coexist in Japanese religious practices, but they have fundamental differences in their origins, beliefs, and practices.

Shinto is the indigenous animistic religion of Japan and is deeply rooted in the myths, folklore, and traditions of Japan. On the other hand, Buddhism originated in India with Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) around 500 BCE and was introduced to Japan in the 6th century CE via China and Korea.

Shinto is also characterised by the worship of kami, which are spirits or deities that inhabit natural elements, objects, and ancestors. However, Buddhism primarily revolves around the teachings of the Buddha and may involve the veneration of bodhisattvas, enlightened beings who choose to remain in the cycle of birth and death to help others.

One of the most visible differences between the two major religions is their places of worship: Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Shinto shrines are often marked by the red torii gates and are typically located in natural settings, whereas Buddhist temples are marked by pagodas and statues of Buddha, and are often located in urban areas.

If you love the Japanese culture and want to delve deeper into their religions, be sure to check out these amazing shrines and temples the next time you visit Japan.

Japan has a rich cultural and religious heritage, with numerous shrines and temples scattered throughout the country. While it's difficult to definitively say which are the "best" since it often depends on personal preferences and interests, here are some of the most famous and historically significant shrines and temples in Japan:

Shrines to visit in Japan

1. Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu)

Located in Tokyo, Meiji Shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. It is known for its serene forested surroundings and large torii gate.

Meiji Shrine. (Photo: Klook SG)
Meiji Shrine. (Photo: Klook SG)

Tokyo Walking Tour from S$92.19

Tokyo City, Meiji Shrine, Sensoji, & Shibamata Tour from S$55.29

2. Fushimi Inari Taisha

Located in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Taisha is famous for its thousands of bright red torii gates that form winding paths through a dense forest. It is dedicated to the Shinto god of rice and prosperity.

Fushimi Inari Taisha. (Photo: Klook SG)
Fushimi Inari Taisha. (Photo: Klook SG)

Kyoto Temples & Shrines Day Tour from Kyoto: Fushimi Inari-taisha, Arashiyama, Kiyomizu-dera & More from S$64.55

3. Ise Jingu

Located in Mie Prefecture, Ise Jingu is considered one of the holiest Shinto shrines in Japan. It is dedicated to Amaterasu, the sun goddess.

Ise Jingu. (Photo: Klook SG)
Ise Jingu. (Photo: Klook SG)

Ise Grand Shrine, Okage Yokocho, VISON One Day Bus Tour from Osaka from S$96.79

4. Itsukushima Shrine (Miyajima)

This iconic shrine on the island of Miyajima is known for its “floating” torii gate, which appears to be floating on the water during high tide.

Here’s a shot of the “floating” torii gate I took during my recent trip to Hiroshima. Scroll to the second photo to see how it looks like during low tide.

Hiroshima & Miyajima Group Day Tour from Kyoto from S$485.70

Hiroshima & Miyajima One Day Tour (Round trip from Osaka) from S$479.25

5. Izumo Taisha

Touted as the home to Okuninushi no Okami, the creator of the land of Japan, Izumo Taisha is one of Japan’s oldest and most sacred Shinto shrines. During the tenth month of the lunar calendar, it hosts the week-long Kamiari Festival, which is believed to draw all the Shinto gods to its grounds.

Izumo Taisha. (Photo: KKday SG)
Izumo Taisha. (Photo: KKday SG)

The Spiritual Land Journey in Shimane 2 Days Bus Tour from Nagoya from S$362

Temples to visit in Japan

6. Kiyomizu-dera

Another famous site in Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera offers panoramic views of the city and is known for its wooden stage that juts out from the main hall.

If you're visiting Kyoto this autumn, consider going for Kiyomizu-dera's special night viewing, happening from 18 to 30 November.

Kiyomizu-dera special night viewing in autumn. (Photo: Lim Yian Lu)
Kiyomizu-dera special night viewing in autumn. (Photo: Lim Yian Lu)

Kyoto Temples & Shrines Day Tour from Osaka from S$65.80

7. Horyu-ji

Located in Nara, this temple is one of Japan’s oldest and contains some of the world's oldest surviving wooden structures.

Horyu-ji. (Photo: Gettyimages)
Horyu-ji. (Photo: Gettyimages)

Nara / Ikaruga Town | Horyuji, Horinji, Hokiji Trike tour from S$41.56

8. Ryoan-ji

Known for its Zen rock garden, Ryoan-ji in Kyoto is a place of contemplation and reflection.

Japanese rock garden in Ryoan-ji. (Photo: Gettyimages)
Japanese rock garden in Ryoan-ji. (Photo: Gettyimages)

9. Senso-ji

Located in Tokyo's historic Asakusa district, Senso-ji is Japan’s oldest and most revered Buddhist temple.

Senso-ji. (Photo: Gettyimages)
Senso-ji. (Photo: Gettyimages)

Asakusa & Ueno (Ameyoko) Food Tour from S$92.19

10. Todai-ji

This temple in Nara houses a massive bronze Buddha statue and is one of Japan’s most historically significant temples.

The massive bronze Buddha statue in Todai-ji. (Photo: Klook SG)
The massive bronze Buddha statue in Todai-ji. (Photo: Klook SG)

Kyoto and Nara Day Tour from Osaka/Kyoto from S$92.15

Arashiyama & Nara Todai-ji Day Tour from Osaka from S$65.80

11. Kinkaku-ji

Also known as the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji is a striking Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. Its shimmering gold leaf-covered exterior set against a tranquil pond creates a stunning reflection.

Kinkaku-ji. (Photo: Klook SG)
Kinkaku-ji. (Photo: Klook SG)

Kinkakuji & Kiyomizu Temple & Fushimi Inari Shrine Kyoto Tour丨Osaka from S$61.09

12. Byodo-in

Byodo-in, an iconic Buddhist temple in Uji, near Kyoto, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is also the temple you see on the 10 yen coin.

Byodo-in. (Photo: Klook SG)
Byodo-in. (Photo: Klook SG)

Kyoto Uji World Cultural Heritage Day Tour | Depart from Osaka and Kyoto from S$100.15

Uji Byodo-in Temple & Nara Park & Todai-ji Autumn Leaves Day Tour from S$161.99

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