That's my torii and I'm sticking to it · Jul 6, 07:17 AM

By the end of 10 days in Japan we felt thoroughly “shrined out”. However, looking back, we didn’t really see that many Shinto shrines and/or Buddhist temples—at least, not as many as we could have…

It seems that shrines are always Shinto, and they always have a particular kind of tall open gate called a torii at the entrance. Temples always Buddhist, and seem to be the only ones whose names end with the suffixes ”-en” and ”-dera”. However, confusingly, there is often a Shinto shrine on the site of Buddhist temples. The way it was explained to us is that the Shinto shrine is honors the spirit that is helping to protect the temple from harm. Long live syncretism!

Day 1 – Tokyo

  • the Meiji-jingu, “Tokyo’s premier Shinto shrine” (per The Rough Guide to Japan) – dedicated to the Emperor Meiji, who re-opened Japan to the world in the mid-1800s. It has the most fabulous iris garden I’ve ever seen, pictures of which are up on this website.

Day 2 – Tokyo

  • the Yasukuni Shrine – a controversial place, as it’s seen as a center of Japanese nationalism, even militarism. There’s a military museum right next door (the Yushukan).

Day 3 – Kyoto, part I

  • the To-ji, which is a bright spot in otherwise dull south Kyoto. We could see its five-story pagoda (originally built in 826 AD) from our hotel.

Day 4, part 1 – Nara (home of the “pesky” deer)

  • the Todai-ji, which includes the Daibutso-den, the “Great Buddha Hall”. Japan’s largest Buddha (15m/48.75 feet) can be found there, as well as lots of tame deer and touring schoolchildren. It also has a large column in the back of the building that has a small hole for people to pass through for good luck. Most of a school group was in the process of squeezing through said hole when we were there.
  • the Kasuga Taisha (“Kasuga Grand Shrine”). It was much less overrun than the Daibutso-den; Christian took lots of pictures of the bright orange archways and hanging lanterns.

Day 4, part 2 – Uji

  • The Byodo-en, which seems to be the only temple or shrine that’s more than 500 years old that hasn’t suffered fire damage and/or burned down completely. It’s actually over 1000 years old and features on the back of the 10-yen coin.

Day 5 – Kyoto, part II
This is where I get confused. We saw a lot of places in a relatively short period of time. Hopefully I’ll get it right…

  • the Ryoan-ji, which has the original Zen “dry” garden, i.e. rocks and raked gravel. It would have been a more meditative experience had it not been for the crowds.
  • the Kinkaku-ji, the “Golden Pavilion”, which in addition to being a fantastic, dreamy building has fabulous gardens and ponds full of lilypads and lotuses.
  • the Koto-en, the most quiet and peaceful of all of the shrines we visited that day.
  • the Ryogen-ji, which has two small, lovely dry gardens and an intriguing moss garden.
  • the Kiyomizu-dera, which was a mob scene touristically speaking, but is interesting in terms of its architecture. It’s built on a steep hill and part of the structure is supported by several meters of terracing that climb down the slope.

Days 6, 7, and 8 – Tokyo
No religious buildings that I can remember, just museums and gardens, although the latter frequently feel like religious experiences to me.

Day 9 – Nikko

  • the Toshu-gu, which originally was built in the 1600s but was partly reconstructed in the early 1800s due to fires and such (fire seems to be a frequent theme – a hazard when wood is your primary construction material).
  • a quiet cemetery we wandered into while looking for a way to walk along the Daiya-gawa river. It wasn’t a shrine or temple per se, but it had a fountain in the entryway for purification, may have had a torii and certainly there were lots of Buddha-type statues and possibly even a small temple.

Day 10 – Tokyo
I wouldn’t have minded going into the Meiji Shrine again, but we had other things we needed to do – like get to the airport on time.


  1. Your lead title is a real groaner. Who’d you learn to do that from?!<br /> <br /> Love, Mom

    — Mom · Jul 8, 09:02 AM · #

  2. Them apples don’t fall far from the tree, Mom!

    — Susan · Jul 8, 10:23 PM · #