17 Stunning Temples in Japan That Will Have You Buying a Plane Ticket, Stat

When visiting Japan, there are a few things that absolutely need to be on your list: enjoying some (or a lot) of sake with the locals, ample time to explore all of Tokyo's nooks and crannies, and—if you're a lady who's into anime or manga—a quick visit to the girls-only otaku cafe in Osaka. Oh, and then there are the breathtaking temples and shrines you'll find around every corner in Kyoto. Each and every temple is special in its own rite—a space for housing sacred objects and worshipping. It's the places like this where locals and tourists alike gather to partake in a peaceful moment that really catch our eye. In fact, you don't even need to be in the presence of these stunning pieces of architecture to feel the effects—take a few moments to rest your eyes from the daily grind to take in some of Japan's wondrous (and most cherished) sites. Disclaimer: We're not responsible for any impulse airfare purchases as a result of this slideshow. Erika Owen is the Audience Engagement Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @erikaraeowen.

01 of 17

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Japanese Temples - Kiyomizu-dera Temple
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This Buddhist temple in Eastern Kyoto is part of a series of monuments in the ancient city that have been dubbed UNESCO World Heritage Sites. For worshippers, Kiyomizu-dera—which translates to "Pure Water Temple"—is the home of the Goddess of Mercy—a symbol that's been around for more than 1,200 years.

02 of 17

The Great Buddha Statue at Kotoku-In Temple

Japanese Temples - The Great Buddha Statue

Located in Kamakura in the Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan, Kotoku-In Temple is widely known for "Great Buddha", a bronze statue that greets people who visit the sacred space. No one knows exactly how old the statue is, but the guess is that it dates to at least 1252. The Great Buddha was preceded by a wooden monument of the same granduer that took 10 years of constant labor to complete. Today's landmark took its place after being damaged in a storm back in 1248.

03 of 17

The Silver Pavilion, Ginkaku-ji Temple

Japanese Temples - The Silver Pavilion
Stuart Black

Ginkaku-ji—which is located in Kyoto's eastern mountain region—was actually a retirement villa before becoming a temple in 1490. The Silver Pavilion was built by Ashikaga Yoshimasa in 1482, who constructed the home to mimic his great-grandfather's villa (now known as the Golden Pavilion).

04 of 17

Sanjusangendo Temple

Japanese Temples - Sanjusangendo
Jack Parsons

This temple in Eastern Kyoto is mostly known for its collection of 1,001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The temple was originally founded in 1164, but rebuilt in 1264 after a fire destroyed the original structure.

05 of 17

Yakushiji Temple

Japanese Temples - Yakushiji Temple
(c) Akira Kaede

Like Kiyomizu-dera, this temple is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the title "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara." Today, the temple is the Hosso School of Japanese Buddhism headlquarters—not a stretch considering it was once one of the Seven Great Temples of Nanto.

06 of 17

Todai-ji Temple

Japanese Temples - Todai-ji Temple
Sura Ark

This temple—which has been around since 728—has seen its fair share of trauma since opening as a training center for Buddhist monks. In 855, the head from the temple's Great Buddha statue tumbled to the ground during an earthquake (and shortly repaired afterward). Later on, a number of fires and lightning hits damaged the Lecture Hall. And in 1180, more than half of the compound was damaged in a fire during an attack on the Ancient Nara temples by Taira no Shigehira.

07 of 17

Rock Garden, Ryoanji Temple

Japanese Temples - Rock Garden, Ryoanji Temple
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Located in northwest Kyoto, this temple is part of the Myōshin-ji school of the Rinzai branch of Zen Buddhism. Ryoanji Temple, which translates to "The Temple of the Dragon at Peace," is considered to have one of the most impressive instances of kare-sansui, or dry landscape—a type of Japanese zen garden design.

08 of 17

Ninnaji Temple

Japanese Temples - Ninnaji Temple
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A good amount of the buildings in this temple complex date back to the 17th century—the most scenic being a five-story pagoda surrounded by dwarf cherry trees.

09 of 17

Byodo-In Temple

Japanese Temples - Byodo-In Temple
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This temple may not actually be located in Japan—you can find it in O'ahu, Hawaii—but it's a great example of the way the country's culture has reached new and different parts of the world. This shrine was built in 1968 and is a replica of a 950-year-old temple in Japan. This structure commemoriates the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants arriving in Hawaii.

10 of 17

Buddhist Temple in Hiraizumi

Japanese Temples - Buddhist Temple
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Hiraizumi is a town in the southern area of the Iwate Prefecture in the Tohoku region of Japan and is well known for its historic ruins and sacred buildings—many of the temples have been named World Heritage Sites. Visit any of the buildings and you'll be greeted with a serene space and bright, bold architecture.

11 of 17

Toji Temple

Japanese Temples - Toji Temple
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The five-story pagoda of this temple pavilion is the tallest wooden tower in Japan, measuring in at 54.8 meters high.

12 of 17

Horyu-ji Temple

Japanese Temples - Horyu-ji
(c) shashinkoubou

Translating to "Temple of the Flourishing Law," Horyu-ji is both a seminary and a monastery. The temple's pagoda is regarded as one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world.

13 of 17

Bamboo Path, Tenryu-ji Temple

Japanese Temples - Bamboo Path
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This temple, located at the western outskirts of Kyoto, has lived through eight separate fires before most recently being rebuilt in 1864. What is now located at the site is only one-tenth the original space after being confiscated by the government in 1877.

14 of 17


Japanese Temples - Asakusa Temple
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Sensō-ji is Tokyo's oldest temple, dating back to 645 CE, located in Asakusa. Legend has it that two fishermen found a statue of Kannon in the nearby Sumida River in 628. After showing it to the chief of their village, he remodeled his own home into a small temple to enshrine the statue for city-wide worshipping.

15 of 17

The Kinkaku-Ji

Japanese Temples - The Kinkaku-Ji
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It would be hard to find a more stunning temple than The Kinkaku-Ji. With its gold-leaf facade and reflecting pool location, this temple has found its way on to many a traveler's Instagram accounts. Fun fact: the temple's grounds were built to illustrate the "harmony between heaven and Earth" through various landscaping placements and other design details.

16 of 17

Daigo-ji Temple

Japanese Temples - Daigo-ji Temple
(c) Peter Adams

Daigo-ji is made up of three different structures: Sambo-in, Shimo-Daigo (Lower Daigo), and Kami-Daigo (Upper Daigo). The third section is location at the top of the area's mountain, only accessible by strenuous hike—you'll find far less tourists here than the other two sections.

17 of 17

Nanzen-ji Temples

Japanese Temples - Nanzenji temple
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After being built in 1291, the Nanzenji Temple was destroyed by fires three separate times before most recently being rebuilt in 1597. The site is actually a complex housing between nine and 12 temples throughout its lifespan.

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