8 Must-Visit Temples and Shrines in Tokyo

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Alicia Joy

Tokyo Writer

Tokyo, a metropolis renowned for its cutting-edge technology and modernity, also harbors a quieter side marked by the serenity of its ancient shrines and temples. These sacred sites, though often reconstructed due to historical tumults, have retained their awe-inspiring splendor. From the historic Meiji Shrine to the bustling Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, each site offers a unique blend of tranquility and cultural richness. As we embark on a journey through Tokyo’s spiritual gems, we’ll explore not only their architectural magnificence but also the best times to witness these revered landmarks at the height of their seasonal beauty and significance.

1. Zōjō-ji, Tokyo

Buddhist Temple

Zojo-Ji Temple, Tokyo
Luis Benito / Unsplash
San’en-zan Zōjō-ji is an important temple to Jōdo Buddhists. During the Tokugawa Shogunate, it was the burial site of six former shoguns, and today you can find those graves in the Taitoku-in Mausoleum or the cemetery out back, with two designated as Important Cultural Properties of Japan. Parents also come here to choose a statue in the garden to decorate in order to say goodbye and ease their child’s transition to the afterlife. While businesses and surrounding enterprises have reclaimed much of the temple’s original property, it still retains much of its former glory and is worth a visit when in Tokyo.

2. Meiji Shrine

Shinto Shrine

Meji Jingu Shinto Shrine, Tokyo
Tim Foster / Unsplash
Perhaps the most well known temple in all of Tokyo, the Meiji Shrine is surrounded by park lands in the west-central portion of the city. The Meiji Shrine is dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife, and houses fascinating memorabilia relating to the couple. It’s construction was started in 1915, after approval from the Japanese government, and a large-scale public building effort ensued. Later, the spot was totally destroyed in World War II, only to be reconstructed in 1958. To date, the spot has also hosted countless VIPs and heads of state from across the globe. Recommended by Laura Walkley.

3. Sensō-ji, Tokyo

Buddhist Temple

Senso-Ji temple at night in Tokyo, Japan
Dana Andreea Gheorghe / Unsplash
Located in the historic Asakusa neighbourhood, directly beside the famous Asakusa Shrine, Sensō-ji is the oldest and most visited temple in the city with visitors coming from both Japan and abroad. The path to the temple is lined with stalls, small shops and vendors selling traditional wares and snacks and is an area popular among tourists looking to dress up in kimono. The grounds of the Buddhist temple are also home to Chingo-dō, the Tanuki Temple. Tanukis are Japanese raccoon dogs thought to bring good luck and protect homes and businesses from fire and theft. You can access the Tanuki Temple via a separate entrance on Dembō-in-dōri.

4. Yasukuni Shrine

Shinto Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo, Japan
mos design / Unsplash

The Imperial Shrine of Yasukuni honours the souls of those who lost their lives in war while fighting for Japan. Unfortunately, the shrine-war memorial has become a source of controversy, especially among neighbouring Asian countries, since many of those enshrined and honoured here are listed as Class-A war criminals. For instance, Justin Bieber was forced to apologise to Chinese fans after posting a picture of himself visiting the controversial memorial. Despite this, Yasukuni Shrine plays host to multiple religious and festival occasions throughout the year, including an annual spring festival and Mitama Festival, where visitors come to pray to their lost relatives and friends.

5. Kanda Shrine

Architectural Landmark

Kanda Shrine is a Shinto shrine located in Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan
Xtra, Inc. / Unsplash

The iconic red Kanda Shrine, also known as Kanda Myojin, has played an important role in Tokyo Shinto worship since the Edo Period. The shrine is situated in downtown Chiyoda-ku, and the kami (spirits) enshrined here include two of the Seven Gods of Fortune, making this an ideal place to pray for wealth and success in business. Interestingly, due to its proximity to Akihabara, Kanda Shrine has also become popular with the tech crowd, who purchase charms to ward off damages to their electronics.

6. Inokashira Benzaiten Shrine

Shinto Shrine, Buddhist Temple, Park, Shrine

Lake in Inokashira Park, Tokyo, Japan
Note Thanun / Unsplash

Nestled among the lush greenery and landscaped water features of Inokashira Park lies the Benzaiten Shrine, a small red Shinto shrine devoted to the goddess of the same name who is the deity of everything that flows, including knowledge, water and music. Benzaiten, adapted from the Hindu goddess known as Saraswati, is recognised in both the Buddhist and Shinto faiths. The Inokashira also plays host to the famous Ghibli Museum that showcases Japanese animation.

7. Nogi Shrine, Shinto Shrine

Shrine

In 1912, General Nogi Maresuke and his wife Shizuko committed ritual suicide in this spot after learning about the death of Emperor Meiji. The two are now enshrined here, and the general is worshipped for his honour and nobility. Having been designed in the 20th century and rebuilt after World War II, Nogi Shrine reminds us that not all shrines and not all kami must be centuries old in order to be worthy of worship.

8. Tennoji Temple

Buddhist Temple

Set within a huge cemetery lined with cherry trees, the beautiful location of this temple alone makes it well worth a visit. At over 800 years old, the beautifully landscaped surroundings here complement the marvelous Tennoji Temple itself, and make it a very tranquil place amidst sprawling, bustling Tokyo. Also of note is the looming statue of the Buddha; cast in bronze, oversized and melding perfectly with the serenity of the environs. Recommended by Laura Walkley.

For something a little different, discover our guide to the best karaoke bars in the city, or see where you can pick out a good read in these bookstores.

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