There are over 1600 temples and shrines in Kyoto – this place is like porn for Spiritualists and Culture Vultures.
With so much choice, there is no way that you can do it all so it’s a good idea to take a look at which you may be interested in before you arrive so you can plan your time accordingly.
For me, I decided to do a blend of those “must see” temples I’d found through research (reviews, travel guides, etc) and those which were personal favourites of the Japanese people I met in Kyoto. (I like to avoid the crowds where possible and stumble across ‘undiscovered’ places.)
Fushimi Inari Taisha
The best things in life come free… much like Fushimi Inari; When I speak to people about Kyoto, I always mention this place, to the extent that I’m sure my friends think that I’m getting royalties from it!
The thousands of famous red Torii gates lead the way to the top of Mount Inari, past smaller Shinto shrines, a bamboo forest and stunning woodland.
This is so much more than just a shrine – the mountain trails were the highlight for me (there are multiple so you can ascend via one path, and come down via a completely different route)
To reach the top takes 2-3 hours: two if you’re a healthy sod, three if you eat a lot of cake like me, and stop every five minutes to take a photo.
You can turn back at whatever point you like and the Yatsutsuji intersection is where many hikers stop. (Views are still brilliant from here and actually, the number of shrines and gates decreases quite a lot from this point so don’t be disheartened if you get here and you’ve had enough!)
It’s better to go early in the day and not still be climbing down the mountain when it gets dark, there is no lighting on the hiking routes and you can be quite isolated on the trails close to the peak. I nearly fell all my length tripping over a Snake (yes snake!) in the Bamboo Forest in the dark… but I’m sure you have more common sense than I do!
This place is B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L! Beautiful.
If you’ve ever watched Memoirs of a Geisha, it’s the place at the end of the film where that bloke she fancies (sorry I only watched it the once – what’s his name?) is telling her he fancies her too and he wants a slice but only as a side chick because she’s slutted about… Ring any bells?
Heian Jingu is famous for its huge red gate but it’s the Japanese gardens that make this place. Entrance is free to the temple, but admission to the gardens is 600 Yen (but worth every penny)
From the outside, this doesn’t really look like much in comparison to the other temples in Kyoto, and actually if I was walking past it, I may have carried on walking had I not known what was inside.
Sanjunsangen-Do was recommended to me by a friend who was living in Kyoto, and had visited a large number of temples here during his time, yet referred to this as his favourite by far.
Inside is a large hall, home to 1001 depictions of Kannon, Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. The statues were carved in the 12th and 13th century and this is the only remaining hall of its kind.
Each statue has 42 arms, displayed in rows of ten. As you can imagine, seeing all 1001 of these in a dimly lit hall, with incense burning and the oriental music of the Koto makes for a wonderful experience.
Sadly you are not permitted to take photographs inside the Kannon hall – to the extent where there are guards positioned throughout the hall watching you like hawks… so I guess you have to go and discover its beauty for yourself.
Admission: 600 Yen
Recommended to me by Hidemi, my Kyoto host, this temple is pretty much by-passed by tourists. It’s simple, but still very beautiful.
Located at the foot of Kyoto’s Higashiyama mountains, Shoren-In has beautiful gardens and a trail leading up to a tea room and shrine.
You can walk freely around the temple and its adjoining buildings and the drawing room makes a nice, peaceful place to sit on a tatami mat, look out at the lake and just reflect…
Admission: 500 Yen
Nanzen-Ji is considered one of the most important Zen Buddhist temples in Japan – home to extensive grounds and gardens. Temple entrance is free but fees apply to access the various temple buildings.
It’s all about personal preference I guess but I didn’t find this temple that spectacular – the gardens are big but nowhere near as beautiful as those at Heian-Jingu and size isn’t everything (oooh!)
Ginkaku-Ji (Silver Pavillion)
So there’s Ginkaku-Ji (Silver Pavillion) and Kinkaku-Ji (Gold), I opted for Silver because everyone seems to go to Kinkaku-Ji and I’m a Grouch who didn’t fancy wading through a sea of Chinese tourists and Japanese school kids on trips (Bah! Humbug!)
Ginkaku-Ji is still pretty popular and the grounds are stunning. Here, take a look – see…
Admission: 500 yen
Temple of the Goddess of Mercy, you can see Kiyomizu from afar floating amongst the trees.
It’s oh so very commercial as you must first fight your way through street vendors and tourists but still worthwhile and you have beautiful views of Kyoto from the temple.
A particular highlight of this place is the love shrine – walk from one stone pillar to another blindfolded and if you make it, you’ll find true love *scoff* it’s amusing to watch people stumble around as they attempt this!
Admission: 400 yen