With more than 1,600 temples in Kyoto, if you’re short of time or tend to suffer from #TempleFatigue due to trying to conquer too many temples in too short a time, here are my top recommended temples and shrines to include in your itinerary for Kyoto!
Top 3 favourite Kyoto temples!
1. Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺)
Originally founded in 780 and reconstructed in the 17th century, Kiyomizu-dera is famous for its wooden stage that protrudes from the main hall. The main hall, together with the stage, was built without any nails! At the main hall, there’s a small statue of Kannon (God of Mercy) inside.
Kiyomizu-dera is especially popular during the cherry blossom and autumn seasons. I was there during in autumn. Although it was already the end of the autumn season and it being a cloudy day, the autumn foliage view from this vantage point was still amazing.
Despite the crowds, there was a distinctive air of serenity being at Kiyomizu-dera temple with its surroundings. It was very lovely to stand here and soak in the peaceful ambience.
There’s a small shrine – Jishu Shrine– located behind the main hall. It’s dedicated to Okuninushi-no-mikoto, a god of love and matchmaking.
Over there, look out for two rocks on the floor. Legend has it that if you can close your eyes and walk from one stone to another successfully, you’ll have luck in finding love. I looked at the distance apart and…. didn’t even try, haha! 18m is actually very far apart to walk to with your eyes closed! #WalkOfFaith
At the base of Kiyomizu-dera, Otowa Waterfall’s water is divided into 3 streams: for longevity, success at school, a lucky love life. There will be people queueing to take the cups to drink from the streams. Pick one stream, not all three. If you drink from all 3 streams as I noticed some people did (probably just being unaware), it’s considered being greedy!
2. Kinkaku-Ji (Golden Temple)
The famous Golden Pavilion of Kyoto and a World Heritage Site, Kinkaku-ji is a mighty sight to behold with its gleaming facade richly decorated in gold leaf. Originally built in 1937 as a villa, then Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu became its owner and it became a retirement home for him. After he died, the shogun’s son converted it into a Zen temple.
Kinkaku-ji was destroyed by fire several times in war, then burned down again by a priest in 1950. The current building is a reconstructed temple.
If there’s no wind sending ripples down the mirror pond (Kyoko-chi), the temple’s reflection is the popular image you see on postcards. I saw it in a different kind of weather though — a cloudy and cold afternoon in autumn. Ducks were swimming in the pond, a scene of peace before my eyes.
Currently, Kinkaku-ji is used to contain sacred relics. You can’t enter the building. However, if you zoom in using your camera, you can make out at least one huge Buddha statue on the first floor.
Ever wondered why everybody’s photo of this temple looks similar? It’s because the photo is taken from this particular area across the temple! That spot gives the best vantage view of Kinkaku-ji.
3. Fushimi-Inari Shrine
Probably the most iconic place in Kyoto, Fushimi-Inari shrine is famous for its many torii gates that lead to the forests of Mount Inari. This shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. You’ll see many fox statues here because foxes are the messengers of Inari. Guess how many torii gates there are here? Not 10,000, but…
32,000! There are 32,000 gates and sub-gates (source) at Fushimi-Inari, wow!
At the back of the main grounds, you’ll start to see 2 densely rows of torii gates, splitting into 2 paths. Each of these gates was donated (financially sponsored) by companies and individuals, which explains the names and dates carved in black at the back of each gate. A small gate starts from 383,000yen (about USD$3300) to 1.3 million yen (USD$11,200) for a large one.
If you’re keen to hike all the way to the summit (good luck!), it’ll take you 2-4 hours to do that. However, if you’re not so ambitious and want to conserve your energy so you could visit other places in Kyoto, you can always turn back anytime and head back downwards anytime you wish. I headed back as soon as I got my photo, after climbing lots of steps for that small pocket of time where there’s NO ONE behind me!
When you head down, stick to the right-hand side. At the base, you’ll see souvenir shops selling lovely stuff, as well as a food bazaar with plenty of stalls selling food, snacks and drinks (light orange area in map below)! Just like that, my lunch of noodles and yakitori was easily settled, oishi (oishi means delicious in Japanese)! =)~
What’s your favorite temple/shrine in Kyoto?
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Visited: Dec 2015
Credits: Sunny shot of Kinkaku-ji was taken by Austin O. All other photos belong to me.
More article links: Fushimi Inari | Kiyomizu article by TheTrueJapan
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• Hanatouro – Arashiyama’s night light festival
• Where to see a geisha in Kyoto
• Getting delirious at my first onsen soak in Kyoto
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