Japan is home to some of the world’s technological and engineering marvels.
And yet, one thing I love about Japan is the country’s resolve to hold steadfast to its rich history and culture amidst this frenetic global technological race.
While travelling in Japan, it’s hard not to get overwhelmed by the sea of white-collar workers hustling up the up and down the busiest street crossings in the world. But if you take the time to pause, there are pockets of spaces that are the epitome of serenity.
Today we shine a spotlight on Japan’s capital of Tokyo, specifically at the historic shrines and temples you have to visit when you’re in the city.
1. Meiji Jingu Shrine
I remember leaving behind the noisy streets of Shibuya as I stepped through the massive torii gate at the entrance of the Meiji Jingu Shrine. The stretch ahead of me was paved with towering trees and a quietness that slowly dominated the deeper I ventured in.
An immensely popular shrine in the heart of Tokyo, the Meiji Jingu Shrine was constructed for the Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken.
Said to have 100,000 trees within its grounds, it is cooling and refreshing to take a slow stroll all the way to the temple hidden within where on the weekends, you may be able to chance upon a traditional Japanese wedding.
It’s so unbelievably tranquil and peaceful that it’s incredibly hard to imagine that it’s situated in Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s busiest wards.
2. Senso-ji Temple
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Finished in 645, Senso-ji Temple is Tokyo’s oldest temple, and an iconic historical place located in Asakusa.
Occupying a rather huge space, it’s bright red facade with imposing temple structures along with a five-story pagoda are the iconic defining features, no doubt aiding to the temple being one of Japan’s most-visited spiritual sites annually.
What’s unique about this Buddhist temple is a 200m shopping street, Nakamise, leading from the first gate of Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) to the temple’s second gate of Hozomon. Lined along Nakamise are shops that offer traditional local snacks and souvenirs, so there’s a lot to see and do even as you begin exploring Senso-ji Temple.
3. Gotoku-ji Temple
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Gotoku-ji temple is by far one of the most unique temples not only in Japan but around the world. The draw for many people towards temples largely fall within a few broad categories of religion, history, and culture.
You’ll immediately notice that Gotoku-ji Temple bucks that trend a little. Filled with Maneki-neko, or “luck-inviting cat” statues, it’s certainly an interesting sight as you chance upon these small “cats” sitting up with its front right paw.
While there are many variations to Maneki-nekos, the ones you can find at Gotoku-ji are symbols for good luck. Where my cat lovers at? Here’s a temple to visit the next time you’re in Tokyo!
4. Nezu Shrine
Nezu Shrine is a hidden gem just a short distance away from the ever-popular Ueno Park in Tokyo.
The shrine has ties to the Japanese Imperial family and perhaps that in part explains its opulence. The shrine’s structure follows what the Japanese call gongen-zuruki, a type of style in building Shinto shrines.
The path towards Nezu Shrine is serene and beautiful, set against a backdrop of lush greenery, ponds of carp, and small pathways framed with rows of bright orange torii gates similar to the ones at the famous Fushimi-Inari Taisha in Kyoto.
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We round off our list with yet another hidden gem in Tenno-ji Temple, located near the very picturesque Yanaka Cemetery.
Founded in 1274, Tenno-ji Temple is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the area but don’t let that fool you into expecting tall imposing facades. The temple grounds has gone through an uplift, with a contemporary-designed exterior wall enclosing a simple but elegant temple ground highlighted by a large, centuries-old stone Buddha.
Fun fact: Yanaka Cemetery used to belong to the temple but was later sectioned off after the Meiji Restoration which separated Shinto Buddhism and “imported” Buddhism.