Shinto & Zen: Exploring Kyoto’s Unmissable 7 Shrines and Temples

First we must establish a difference between the shrines and temples of Kyoto. Obviously this applies to Tokyo or any city in Japan you visit.

The simplest thing to recognize a temple in Kyoto is that it will not have a tori at its entrance since only the sanctuaries have one.

On the contrary, something that we will see in the temples but not in the sanctuaries is the symbol that many think is the swastika, but in reality it is Manji, which identifies Buddhist buildings.

We can also distinguish them by name. For example, in the case of temples they usually end in dera, ji, in. While in the case of shrines they end in taisha, miya, jinja.

Now you may wonder why know the difference? Good because each construction belongs to a religion. While the shrines are Shinto, the temples are Buddhist. Otherwise it would be like wrongly calling a synagogue a church, which is why it is good to distinguish them.

Ginkaku Ji Silver Temple, the first of the Kyoto temples that I visited

Also known as the Silver Pavilion, it was one of the first temples I set foot in Kyoto. Arrive on a bus that leaves you a few meters away and goes up the typical alley with shops on the sides. You only have to climb a few steps but the main temple is located in the lower part of the enclosure. In reality, the main temple, which is the one in the photo, cannot be accessed. It can only be seen from a few meters since the structure suffered several fires.

I found it prettier as a garden, covered by trees, some small ponds surrounded by plants and the occasional bridge.

Kyoto Temples: Eikando

It was one of the temples that I liked the most in terms of gardens because it is where I most appreciated the colors of the season. I won’t even tell you if you go in November when the fall colors are at their best. It is also a very peaceful place, it was one of the places where I sat down to write a little for the blog, to remember some places I had visited and what I do daily when I travel.

However, it is not allowed to take photos on the tour of the temple, only outdoors. To enter you have to take off your shoes.

Another thing that I found favorable was that there were several shady places where the wind was blowing a little, imagine that I was visiting these places with 50 degrees of thermal.

The temples are beautiful but we will always see the typical Japanese construction with the floors and windows that characterize them, the wood that creaks and what means that in some of us we do not begin to notice differences in what we visit. However, I consider that these places that I mention in the article must be known no matter what.

Kiyomizudera : temples in Kyoto

It is one of the temples that I photographed the most, perhaps also because it is one of the largest. In reality we did not find just one construction but several, more than 30 and that is what makes the route longer than the others. But know that you can at least get close to the entrance to also enjoy it with fewer people and take some photos of the doors.

Kinkakuji – Golden Temple

In this case Golden Pavilion, brother of Ginkaku, but as you can see more beautiful. Its route is also short and its entrance fee is lower, 400 yen. If I had to choose just one to visit, I would choose this one.

In this case, its name is related to its construction since the exterior walls of both floors are covered in gold leaf. In the other case the money does not appear anywhere.

In addition, the environment is unique, with that giant pond that offers magnificent reflections. Of course, everyone crowds over the edge of that shelf and sometimes it can be difficult to get a nice photo, unlike the silver one that usually receives fewer visits.

It can be visited from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. These 4 temples are the most recommended in Kyoto, obviously there are many more but they are the ones that I consider essential. The next 3 we mentioned are already sanctuaries.

Heian Jingu shrine

Something that made me differentiate the temples from the sanctuaries is that I did not have to pay to enter these. I don’t know if it applies to everyone but at least that’s how it was with the ones I visited. In this case, for example, you only had to pay if you wanted to access the sanctuary gardens.

As you can see, here we have one of the characteristics of the sanctuaries, the great tori as the entrance door.

This sanctuary is very important to the Japanese, taking place one of the best-known events in Kyoto.

What we must always remember is to maintain respect for these places, since for many city dwellers it is a place of worship.

It opens from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the gardens from 8:30 a.m., with a cost of 600 yen for the gardens.

Yasaka jinja temples in Kyoto

Something good about the sanctuaries, in addition to free entry, is that they are usually open 24 hours a day, so if you are an early riser, it is best to go very early to avoid the crowds. It is a fairly large sanctuary so it takes time to explore it and a visit to the large park in which it is located is highly recommended.

The main place of the sanctuary is the central courtyard that has in the center a stage where the festivals take place, adorned with hundreds of Japanese-style lanterns. Like the fushimi toris, these lanterns are offerings made to the shrine.

Fushimi inari taisha

And finally, the most famous in Kyoto, the one that has gone viral in photos for its 4 kilometer route of stairs covered in red toris. By the way, it is one of the most tiring, obviously because of the time it takes to get to the end. The subway leaves you 500 meters from the entrance, and from there prepare to go up and down stairs. I arrived at 8, a time when there were already quite a few people but I was able to take photos along the way, calmly. And also keep in mind that I was traveling alone and that I had to prepare the tripod every time I wanted to take a photo, so I just had to be patient.

Along the route they sell drinks, which increase in value as you go up… And yes, of course the Japanese are correct but not stupid. There isn’t much bathroom, keep that in mind, and to get out of the heat I found a kind of pipe from which water came out in abundance and I basically got under it, bathing with clothes. Even though you walk in the shade for 90% of the route, in my case the heat and humidity were unbearable, added to the fatigue that you accumulate.

In this case it is also open 24 hours a day, although I would be a bit uncomfortable going at night, it is good for those who are short on time and the photos should turn out incredible too.


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