Shrines, along with temples, are the most common national treasures found in Japan. In fact, there are over 150,000 shrines in the country, which is twice as many as there are temples. Shinto shrines are often located in natural, sacred areas of immense beauty, such as mountains, forests, waterfalls and rivers, making these places awe-inspiring, real-life fairytale locations. If you have the time and money to go on a shrine-hunting adventure, these are the places of worships you shouldn’t miss!
1. Tosho-gu Shrine [Tochigi Prefecture]
Credit: PixabayNikko Tosho-gu is a Shinto shrine originally designed to serve as a mausoleum, only to end up becoming a mega religious complex and a World Heritage Site a few centuries later. Today, Tosho-gu consists of a few dozen opulent buildings surrounded by forest hills. The majority of the shrine is covered in gold leaf; in fact, the entire area contains around 400 kg of gold and 300 kg of silver! Both Shinto and Buddhist elements can be seen in Tosho-gu, something rather unusual in this type of buildings.
Address: 2301 Sannai, Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture 321-1431Access:By bus: take a local bus to the shrine from either Tobu or JR Nikko stations.Recommended period: Anytime.Contact:Tosho-gu ShrineWithin Japan: 288-54-0560
2. Kumano Nachi Taisha [Wakayama Prefecture]
Credit: flickrThere are few landscapes in the world as scenic and evoking as that of Kumano Nachi Taisha and the Nachi waterfall in the background—the tallest waterfall in Japan. Kumano Nachi Taisha is one Wakayama’s Three Grand Shrines, found along the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route. As such, it has been a sacred place of veneration for centuries. The Shinto shrine co-exists with a Buddhist temple, the Seigantoji, both of which used to work as a sole religious institution back in the day.
Address: 1 Nachisan, Higashimuro-gun, Nachikatsura-cho 649-5301, Wakayama PrefectureAccess:By bus: take a bus from either Kii Katsuura Station or Nachi Station.Recommended period: Anytime.Contact:Kumano Nachi Taisha ShrineWithin Japan: 735-55-0321
3. Itsukushima [Hiroshima Prefecture]
Credit: Wikimedia CommonsMiyajima’s ‘floating’ wonder, just a short ferry ride from Hiroshima, is the image most often found in Japanese postcards and brochures. The huge, red Torii, standing right over the Seto Inland Sea, is a national landmark and the most instagrammed spot in Hiroshima. The intense red hues of the shrine’s rooftops and pillars create a beautiful contrast with the deep blue of the ocean, to make for what might possibly be the most picturesque place in Southern Japan. Watch out for the deer that roam around the island freely—they might try to steal your belongings!
Address: 1-1 Miyajimacho, Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture 739-0588Access:By ferry: get on a high-speed boat from Hiroshima Port to Miyajima Island via the Grand Price Hotel.By tram: get on tram line number two and get off at the last stop (Miyajima).Recommended period: Anytime.Contact:Itsukushima ShrineWithin japan: 829-44-2020
4. Kotohira-gu Shrine [Kanagawa Prefecture]
Credit: Wikimedia CommonsAlso known as Kompira Shrine, Kotohiragu is a Shinto shrine located halfway to the top of Mount Zozu, at 521 meters. In order to get to the last shrine and temple, visitors must climb up over a thousand steps! But the experience, in the end, is worth the effort. The shrine offers stunning views of the valley and the Seto Inland Sea, and it’s a popular getaway for devoted hikers and pilgrims. On the way to the shrine, at the base of the mountain, there are lots of little souvenir shops, restaurants and museums to make the climb more pleasant.
Address: 892-1, Nakatado-gun, Kotohira-cho 766-0001, Kagawa PrefectureAccess:By train: the entrance to the main gate is a 10-minute walk from JR Kotohira and Kotoden Kotohira Stations. From there, you can either walk to the top (approximately 45 minutes) or get on a bus to Kompirasan (it will drop you off halfway up to the main hall).Recommended period: Anytime.Contact:Kotohira-gu ShrineWithin japan: 877-75-2121
5. Fushimi Inari Shrine [Kyoto Prefecture]
Credit: Wikimedia CommonsFushimi Inari Taisha is known for its 1,000-Torii path, featured in Memoirs of a Geisha. The shrine, dedicated to the god of rice, sits at the base of Mount Inari, and it’s the biggest in a collection of a few thousand shrines scattered along the vermillion path through the sacred forest. Fushimi Inari is, without a doubt, the most touristic spot in all of Kyoto, and one of the most renowned overseas.
Address: 68 Yabunouchi-cho, Fukakusa, Fushimi-kuAccess:By train: 5min walk from Inari Station, on the JR Nara line.Recommended period: Anytime.Contact:Fushimi Inari ShrineWithin japan: 75-641-7331by Virginia Gonzalez