Perhaps one of the best ways to experience Japan’s tradition-rich culture is by visiting some of its numerous historic religious temples and shrines. The old imperial capital of Kyoto has some of the nation’s oldest and best-preserved examples of this unique Asian architecture.
Located in the south-central area of Honshu Island, Kyoto is a vibrant modern city with an atmosphere laden with ancient Japanese culture. Kyoto’s colorful heritage is exemplified in the many temples and shrines capturing the city’s past. Admission to many of the temples and shrines is free, but some do charge nominal admission fees, usually about US $5 per person. The following are among Kyoto’s more popular visitor attractions.
Kiyomizudera Temple is located in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto. Known as the “Clear Water Temple,” it was founded in the 8th. Century by a Buddhist priest. The temple buildings are spread over a steep hillside offering panoramic views of the Kyoto metro area. Most of the present buildings and towering pagoda were constructed in the early 17th. Century. Visitors seek out the temple waterfall for its pure water, said to have curative powers for all illnesses. Kiyomizudera is one of Kyoto’s most visited temples.
Zen and the Peaceful Dragon
Ryoanji Temple (Temple of the Peaceful Dragon) was established in 1473 in the Ryoanji area of Kyoto. This Zen temple is most famous for its rectangular (100 ft. by 33 ft.) rock garden, created in the 16th. Century. The garden is composed of 15 rocks set into a field of raked white gravel and is considered a masterpiece of Japanese culture. Foot paths lead through the temple grounds and around the Kyoyochi Pond, providing varied views of the beautiful gardens and temple grounds. Visitors sit quietly on the walkway surrounding the Zen garden, meditating and contemplating peacefully. Ryoanji Temple (Temple of the Peaceful Dragon) was established in 1473 in the Ryoanji area of Kyoto.
Located in the Sagano district of Kyoto, Tenryu-ji Temple (Temple of the Heavenly Dragon) has a long histor; its landscaped garden is a designated United Nations World Cultural Heritage site. The Sogenchi Garden is one of Japan’s oldest. The temple was established in 1339 and has undergone several reconstructions. The present buildings date to the Meiji period of 1868-1912. However, the site was originally occupied by the first Zen temple in Japan, dating back to the ninth century. Be sure to take in the magnificent ceiling painting of the “Cloud Dragon” in the Dharma Hall and stroll through the adjacent giant bamboo forest.
Daikakuji Temple, originally a palace of the Emperor Saga during the 9th. Century, was later converted to a Shingon Buddhist Temple. The temple buildings are noted for their exquisite traditional sliding doors and paneled paintings depicting scenes of early Japan. Fronting the main building is an imperial court-styled garden flanked with orange and plum trees. The grounds are beautifully landscaped, with Osawa Pond adding to the serene atmosphere. Daikukuji Temple is in the Sagano area of Kyoto city.
The Golden Pavilion
Located in Kyoto’s Kita-ku district, the Kinkakuji Temple boasts the famed Golden Pavilion. The complex features meandering pathways through extensive gardens that are a World Cultural Heritage site. The temple dates from the 1300s, but the elegant Golden Pavilion is the only original building. The handsome three-level pagoda tower is covered with gold-leaf on lacquer, providing a shining reflection over the tranquil waters of Kyoko-chi Pond. The Golden Pavilion is one of Kyoto’s major attractions and attracts large crowds. Pathways course through the temple grounds and around the pond, offering varied views of Kinkakuji.
Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto’s suburban Fushimi-ku district is a large temple complex spread over a wooded hillside. This large Shinto shrine complex is one of Japan’s most important. Pathways through wooded slopes pass through tunnels of bright red-orange torii gateways, the temple’s most noted feature. There are numerous small shrines devoted to various deities. Many locals come here to pray, make offerings and ask for the blessings of the gods for the success of business endeavors.
Todai-ji Temple is located in Nara, an hour’s train ride southeast of Kyoto. This temple complex dates from the 8th. Century. Due to wars, fires and natural disasters over the years, many of the current buildings date from the 16th. and 17th. centuries. The Hall is 187 ft. wide by 164 ft. deep and 157 ft. high. It had to be big in order to house the magnificent bronze statue of the Vairocana Buddha, the largest bronze statue in the world, at 53 ft. high and weighing 550 tons.
Kyoto, the ancient imperial capital of Japan doesn’t disappoint. Thoroughly modern in every way and reflecting the fast-paced urban environment of today’s Japan, Kyoto retains its reputation as a center of Japanese culture and heritage. Kyoto’s magnificent temples are among the best examples of Oriental architecture and provide unique insights into Japan’s rich culture and heritage.