Top 10 Unique Shrines and Temples in Japan
Do you know the difference between a temple and shrine in Japan? They’re not interchangeable so be careful which word you use! Simply speaking, shrines are Shinto places of worship while temples are Buddhist places of worship. Two totally different religions!
Apart from religion, shrines and temples look a bit different. If the place has a red gate (torii) it’s a Shinto shrine. If it has incense burners or Buddhist statues, it’s a temple. Japanese people visit both for different reasons and there’s no religious competition between the two.
As a visitor to Japan, you definitely need to check out the old and traditional shrines and temples. But make some time to check out these more unique (though still old and traditional) shrines and temples in Japan.
From Saitama to Kyoto, these quirky shrines and temples are located all throughout Japan. The temple capitol of Japan, Kyoto, has good number of them. So if you’re visiting Kyoto, definitely check them out.
If you’d like to go on a guided tour, here are my recommendations. Remember, book through Rakuten Ebates and get 4% cash back!
Sanko Inari Shrine - Inuyama, Aichi
Sanko Inari Shrine is a historical shrine located at the foot of Inuyama Castle in Aichi prefecture. Besides this shrine, the town has gotten a lot of publicity lately on TV because there’s a lot of yummy restaurants in the area.
As you can see from the hearts in all the pictures, the main point of a visit tothis shrine is to pray for marriage, love, and relationships. For this reason, it’s always crowded with young couples and women who are looking to date. In addition to love, you can pray for security and success in business.
[Name] Sanko Inari Shrine
[Address] Kitakoken 41-1, Inuyama, Inuyama-shi, Aichi 484-0081
Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine - Kawagoe, Saitama
You can get your fortune drawn at Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine. You can go fishing for your lottery, choosing from either a fortune about your love life (あい鯛みくじ) or one about your entire year (一年安鯛みくじ). Of course, you could pay to do both if you like! Note that they are all in Japanese.
Apart from fishing for your fortune, the shrine has a tunnel of ema wooden plaques which is oddly peaceful to walk through. In the summertime, they also hang wind chimes and pinwheels too!
[Name] Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine
[Address] 2-11-3 Miyashitamachi, Miyashita-cho, Kawagoe-shi, Saitama 350-0052
Kawai Shrine - Sakyo, Kyoto
Kawai Shrine may sound like “kawaii” which is the Japanese word for “cute” but it’s a different word entirely! The shrine is dedicated to the guardian deity of women. Many women come here to pray for ease while giving birth, child care, successful marriages, and long life.
The standout feature here is the shrine’s “ema” (small wooden plaques). Rather than the standard rectangles seen at most shrines, these ema are faces! At this shrine, you can apply your own makeup to the ema and pray for beauty.
[Name] Kawai Shrine
[Address] 59 Shimogakisengawa-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 606-0807
Higashi-Tenno Okazaki Shrine - Sakyo, Kyoto
Another Kyoto shrine! The symbol of Okazaki Shrine is a bunny so if you’re a fan of rabbits then you’ll need to make a stop here. You can buy rabbit amulets, ema, and fortunes here. The rabbit amulets are extra cute because they come in a variety of poses.
There are rabbits everywhere you look here, so you can guess why people visit this shrine. You can come here to pray for marriage and childbirth.
[Name] Okazaki Shrine
[Address] 51 Okazaki Higashitenno-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 607-8305
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine - Fushimi, Kyoto
I was iffy on whether or not to include Fushimi Inari Shrine in this list. On one hand, it’s one of the most popular shrines in Japan so I’m sure many people reading this are already familiar with it. But on the other hand, it is such a unique experience that I felt it should join these ranks.
The draw to this shrine is the 10,000 red torii gates. That number is actually still increasing so who knows how many gates there’ll be in the future. But there are so many that they form a tunnel up the mountain.
❗ Since it’s such a popular spot (especially for photos) trekking up the path can take a long time due to crowds and waiting for people to pose for photos. If you want a photo, wait until you’re farther up and there are less people. If you want to make it to the top, do so early in the morning and you can even catch sunrise!
[Name] Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine
[Address] 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchi-cho, Fushimi, Kyoto, 612-0882
Yasaka Koshindo Temple - Higashiyama, Kyoto
The tiny yet colorful Yasaka Koshindo Temple (full name: Daikokusan Kongoji Koshin-do Temple) has gained a lot of popularity because of its “Kukuri Monkeys” (くくり猿). These monkeys aren’t alive or even much like monkeys. They’re actually similar to colorful beanbags! Write your wish on one and your wish is said to come true.
I’m not sure why they’re called monkeys. Supposedly, when the beanbags are tied up, they’re supposed to represent a monkey bound by its hands and feet which symbolizes punishing greed. So, in order for your wish to come true you must push greed aside.
[Name] Yasaka Koshindo
[Address] 390-1 Kinen-cho, Higashiyama, Kyoto 605-0828
Shojuin Temple - tsuzuki, Kyoto
Out of all the Kyoto locations, this one is the most difficult to get to because it’s out of the city. But the trip may be well worth it, depending on if you’re heading to Uji City.
Most people come here to see the heart shaped window. Besides that, the other draw is the painted ceilings. There are 160 pictures depicting Japanese scenery that are truly a sight to see!
[Address] 149 Okuyamadakawakami, Ujitawara, Tsuzuki, Kyoto 610-0211
Nanzen Temple - Sakyo, Kyoto
Nanzen Temple has a mountain bridge that looks like it’s from a totally different world. You can really see the history through every brick. Be sure to head out early if you want to get some good pictures because it can really get crowded.
[Name] Nanzen Temple
[Address] 86 Nanzenji Fukuchi-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8435
Hosenin Temple - Sakyo, Kyoto
While Hosenin Temple has a lot of beautiful landscapes, the highlight of this temple are its beautiful picture windows. While they’re not actually windows but pillars instead, the open air plan lets you see right into the greenery. It seriously looks straight from a movie.
Peek through and get a wonderful view of this “framed garden.” Catch the spring blossoms, lush gardens, changing leaves, or snowy scenes here. No matter what season you visit, it’ll be breathtaking.
[Name] Hosenin Temple
[Address] 637-2 Oharashorinin-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 601-1241
Rurikoin Temple - Sankyo, Kyoto
If you can’t make it to Hosenin Temple, check out the similar Rurikoin Temple instead. It also boasts huge “windows” that look out into a beautiful garden. The garden is a bit different, so it may be worth it to check out depending on which views you prefer.
The floor of Rurikoin is so polished it creates a mirror effect and reflects the scenery back. Try coming in autumn to get the best colors!
[Name] Rurikoin Temple
[Address] 55 Kamitakanohigashiyama, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-0067
So, what did you guys think? Have you been to any of the places I’ve recommended here? If not, which one of these would be an absolute must-see for you?