Temples and Shrines in Kyoto


By Noemi Gamel

There is no shortage of temples and shrines in Japan thanks to the long and diverse history of Zen, Buddhism, and Shintoism. If you like history, comparative religion, or architecture, you can spend days contemplating these amazing buildings. If you are traveling with children, however, it is easy for them to get “templed out”, as Tristan phrased it one day.
So if you are going to Japan with kids, make sure you get the highest yield to avoid temple fatigue. In Kyoto, some of the highlights include Fushimi Inari and the Arashiyama district in the western outskirts of Kyoto.
We spent one afternoon at Fushimi Inari, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the god of rice and patron of business. This is a great shrine for kids to visit because there are many activities, such as walking the pathway of hundreds of traditional gates and guessing the weight of a rock to make your wish come true. The scenery is also very beautiful.
I also highly recommend a day trip to do a walking tour of the Arashiyama district. Your first stop should be Tenryuji Temple, which is one of the largest and most impressive Zen temples in Japan. The gardens are elegant and breathtaking, as are the simple buildings in the temple complex. From there, walk through the bamboo groves to the villa of Okochi Sanso, a popular actor who died in 1962. Though not a temple, the grounds are very pretty and offer scenic views of the area. You will be treated to a sweet and matcha tea at the end. After the villa, take a walk through the back streets of Arashiyama to the Gioji Temple. This is a very small temple, especially compared to Teryuji, but the moss gardens are so beautiful and intricate that you cannot miss it. Afterwards go to the main street of the Arashiyama township to shop and eat.
One final note about each of the temples mentioned above. All of them are working temples where priests work and the devout come to pray and participate in ceremonies. Depending on when you arrive, you might have a normal visit or be treated to something special. Stay flexible and enjoy your time in Japan.