10 of the Best Shrines in Japan

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Mao Goto is a Japanese freelancer who was born in Hayama, Kanagawa prefecture, and raised in Tokyo. Since 2016 she lives in the Taito Ward, home to a lot of Japanese culture hotspots such as Asakusa, Akihabara, and Ueno. She has been interested in the field of English education in Japan and got her Master’s degree in March 2020. A lover of photography, travel, sweets, and cross-stitch. Contact her via Facebook.

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Shinto is one of Japan’s two major religions which has had a great impact on the lives of the Japanese people. Even today, the rituals of Shinto are deeply connected with Japanese culture through festivals, hatsumode and other events. If you want to get a better understanding of Shinto when traveling in Japan, the best place to start is by visiting a shrine. From the moment you step through the torii gate, you will feel a solemn and sacred atmosphere surrounding you. There are countless shrines in Japan, each with its own distinct features and roots to its local community. This is a list of some of the most interesting and impressive shrines to visit during your trip to Japan.

1. Ise Jingu Shrine

z tanuki, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ise Jingu is a Shinto shrine located in Ise-Shima, Mie Prefecture, which has Amaterasu Omikami as its main deity. The shrine has a long history, and many people visit Ise Jingu Shrine every year. Surrounded by a quiet forest, Ise Jingu Shrine is enveloped in a mystical air adding to the worshiper’s spiritual experience. Trained and certified guides known as “Oise-san Tourist Guides” can introduce you to the highlights of Ise Jingu Shrine, and although this is a paid service, we highly recommend it to make the most of your visit. Tours are available even for just one person, but it’s advisable to inquire in advance regarding availability for groups or guidance in English.

Official website: Ise Jingu Shrine 

2. Meiji Jingu Shrine

Meiji Jingu cedar alley
Once you step through the torii gate of Meiji Jingu Shrine, it’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of Tokyo

You will see the entrance to Meiji Jingu Shrine located right in front of you as you exit JR Harajuku Station. It has become a very popular sightseeing spot, and the shrine is often buzzing with people. Meiji Jingu Shrine is an imposing structure dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his empress. The Harajuku area is known as a bustling mecca for Japanese youth and pop culture, but here at Meiji Jingu Shrine, the expansive grounds are covered in forest which gives a feeling of peace and tranquility. Incidentally, Meiji Jingu Shrine is also a popular spot for wedding ceremonies, and couples in Japanese wedding attire can often be seen here.

Official website: Meiji Jingu Shrine

3. Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

Fushimi Inari Taisha senbon torii
The senbon-torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine are a must-see when visiting Kyoto

No other city has as many shrines as Kyoto, but one of the most famous shrines is Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is the head shrine of about 30,000 inari shrines in Japan, and its history dates all the way back to 711. The shrine is dedicated to the god of business prosperity and family safety and is very popular with both Japanese and foreign tourists. The most impressive feature of Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine is the senbon-torii, a series of beautiful vermilion torii (shrine gates). Featured in countless magazines, on postcards and social media, the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine and its senbon-torii is a place not to be missed when sightseeing in Kyoto!

Official website: Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine

4. Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine

Kumano Nachi Taisha
Admire Japan’s tallest waterfall at Kumano Nachi Taisha

Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine is located halfway up Mount Nachi in Wakayama Prefecture, near the impressive Nachi-no-Otaki Falls. This shrine worships Nachi-no-Otaki Falls as a deity of nature, and the waterfall is regarded as sacred. This shrine is also considered good for marriage wishes, and is therefore often visited by couples looking to get married. The exterior of the shrine building shines with a bright vermilion color, and at a nearby photo spot you can snap a picture with one of the stunning buildings with the majestic Nachi-no-Otaki Falls in the background. Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine is a wonderful place to feel the power of nature!

Official website: Kumano Nachi Taisha

5. Izumo Taisha Shrine

Izumo Taisha shimenawa
Izumo Taisha is home to Japan’s largest shimenawa

Izumo Taisha Shrine is a large shrine in Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture, dedicated to the god of marriage. This shrine has four torii gates, each made of a different material: stone, steel, iron and copper. After passing through these four torii gates, one arrives at the main shrine. The present wooden main hall is said to be the largest wooden shrine structure built after the war and is designated as a national treasure. One of the most famous features of Kaguraden (神楽殿), located within the massive shrine compound, is one of the largest shimenawa (sacred rope) in Japan which never ceases to wow visitors with its impressive dimensions.

Official website: Izumo Taisha Shrine

6. Itsukushima Shrine

Miyajima torii
Miyajima is known as one of Japan’s three most scenic views

Located in western Japan, Hiroshima is mainly known for its tragic history, Atomic Bomb Dome and related sites, but there is another place well worth visiting in this area: the island of Miyajima. Miyajima has long been called “The Island of God” and is a place of worship. Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima is located by the sea, and its beautiful red torii gate standing alone off the coast is famous throughout Japan as a symbol of Itsukushima Shrine and Miyajima. The deep blue sea and the bright vermilion torii gate create a breathtakingly beautiful scene, earning Miyajima the title as one of the three most scenic views in Japan, along with Amanohashidate and Matsushima.

Official website: Itsukushima Shrine

7. Nezu Shrine

Nezu Shrine azalea
Nezu Shrine is one of the best places to see azaleas in Tokyo

Nezu Shrine, located a 5-minute walk from Tokyo’s Nezu and Sendagi stations, is a very old shrine with a long history of more than 1,900 years. All of the buildings constructed during the Edo period still stand to this day, and all are registered as nationally important cultural properties. The area of worship at Nezu Shrine is decorated in red and gold, a beautiful contrast. Nezu Shrine is also known as one of the best places in Tokyo to view azaleas in May, with approximately 3,000 azaleas of 100 different varieties blooming beautifully on the shrine grounds and attracting many visitors every year.

Official website: Nezu Shrine

8. Motonosumi Shrine

Motonosumi Shrine
Motonosumi Shrine has an incredible seaside location

Motonosumi Shrine in Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture, is a relatively new shrine, built in 1955 by a local fisherman who was told to do so by a white fox that appeared at his bedside. Since the shrine is built near the ocean, it is said to be a good place to pray to the guardian deities for prosperous business, big catches and safety at sea. The 123 red torii gates, put up over a period of 10 years, are arranged in a long row and make for amazing photo opportunities.

Official website: Motonosumi Shrine

9. Heian Jingu Shrine

Heian Jingu
The impressive Heian Jingu is located in the middle of Kyoto

Heian Jingu Shrine is located in Kyoto and offers a beautiful combination of traditional religious buildings and natural scenery. The shrine is surrounded by a magnificent Japanese garden and is a place that can be enjoyed throughout the year with many seasonal flowers blooming on the grounds.

Official website: Heian Jingu Shrine

10. Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine

Shibuya246, (CC BY-NC 2.0), via flickr

The last shrine to be introduced here is Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine in Fukuoka Prefecture. Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, the god of learning, and many students come here to pray for academic success. The approach to Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine is lined with souvenir stores, and one of the most popular souvenirs is the “umegae mochi” sold at Kasanoya. Although the word ume (Japanese plum) forms part of its name, the mochi does not contain ume, but is rather a baked, savory rice cake filled with red bean paste. Kasanoya also has an eat-in space, so you can take a break here and enjoy some snacks after visiting the shrine.

Official website: Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine

Japan is home to countless shrines, but the 10 shrines listed above are some of our favorites. All shrines have their own distinctive features, but did you know that there’s more to do here than just admire the impressive architecture and gorgeous surroundings? After praying at the shrine, you can try some unique shrine experiences, such as getting an omikuji or purchasing omamori. Which shrine would you like to visit on your trip to Japan?

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