Meiji-jingu. Sensoji. Kotoku-in. Sound familiar? Then you already know three of the Tokyo area’s most famous temples and shrines. Anyone visiting Japan, and even people who have lived here for some time, know that Japan’s religious sites are some of the best places to visit. You don’t really get to do anything, but being there is enough. (Just make sure you know the correct temple etiquette!)
Are you tired of going to those overcrowded, tourist-filled places? Here are 10 lesser-known temples and shrines in Tokyo and the surrounding area. The name of the closest station is next to the name of the temple or shrine in parentheses.
1. Nogi Shrine (Nogizaka)commons.wikimedia.org
Nogi Shrine (乃木神社 Nogi-jinja) was built in 1917 and dedicated to General Nogi Maresuke after his death. It is located in Tokyo,Japan.
The shrine compound includes an example of Western architecture constructed during the Meiji period. It is famous as the site where General Nogi and his wife chose to kill themselves after the Meiji Emperor’s death.The shrine was opened soon after this event but was destroyed during the 1945 air raids.
There, Nogi Maresuke (乃木希典, 乃木希典大人之命?) is celebrated as a Shinto kami. There are several Nogi Shrines in Japan.
2. Bentendo Hall Temple (Ueno)tokyo30.sblo.jp
Bentendo Hall Temple is a Benzaiten Temple on an island in the the middle of Shinobazu Pond, which forms part of Ueno Park Tokyo. Bentendo Hall Temple was constructed in the early 17th century by Mizunoya Katsutaka, a feudal lord. The current Bentendo Hall Temple was built in 1958 after the original temple building was destroyed by allied bombing in 1945.
3. Kanda Myojin Shrine (Ochanomizu)wikipedia.org
One of the few Shrines that survived the WWII bombing, the Kanda Myojin has existed in its current form since 1934. (when it was rebuilt after being burned down by the fires of the Great Kanto Earthquake) The shrine was originally built over one thousand six hundred years ago.
Its area is rather large with several back streets and houses three main Gods as well as several other lesser Gods.
4. Togo Shrine (Harajuku)daviding.com
Amongst the hordes of teenagers wandering the streets of Harajuku, and rows of sheik shops, the last thing you’d expect to find is a serene traditional Japanese garden and Shrine.
This location is a unique combination of a Shrine, Japanese garden, pond, board walk and a winding wooded path. It is everything you could want all packed neatly into one spot. Although the square feet of the area is relatively small, it doesn’t leave you with any disappointment and, on the contrary creates a feeling of tremendous space, thanks to the enclosure of the area by trees.
5. Ana Hachiman-gu Shrine (Waseda)miq-hair.com
Part of the Shinjuku Ward, Waseda is a student neighbourhood between Kagurazaka and Takadanobaba. Everything there revolves around its university, one of Tokyo’s top three tertiary institutions, along with Tokyo University and Keio University.
The main tourist attraction, however, is the superb Ana Hachiman-gū Shrine (穴八幡宮), located between the university and Toyama Park, at the Babashitachō crossing (junction of Waseda Avenue and Suwa Street). Legend places its foundation in 1062, although documented evidence of the shrine only dates back to the early 17th century. Its Buddha image was donated by Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1649. It is an interesting example of fusion between Buddhist and Shintō beliefs. The shrine’s main gate has a clear Buddhist influence in its architecture. Furthermore, the Hōjō-ji Temple (放生寺) of the Shingon school of Buddhism is located on the same grounds. The shrine was recently renovated with lavish red lanterns and torii gates. Built on a wooded hill, it offers a bit peace and relaxation in the middle of the urban jungle of Shinjuku.
6. Jouren-ji (Shimo-Akatsuka)muza-chan.com
When some of my plans to visit big Buddhas around Japan had to be cancelled, I went searching for alternative big Buddhas in the Tokyo area. That’s when I found out about Tokyo Daibutsu (thanks Google!). Actually, almost everyone I mentioned it to (Japanese & non-Japanese) had no idea what I was talking about. I guess people don’t tend to visit Itabashi-ku for sightseeing, but it’s not so far away from central Tokyo and very easy to get to.
Tokyo Daibutsu is located in the grounds of Jourenji (a temple), along with a whole bunch of other very cool statues. If you’re in Tokyo and like temples and Buddhist statues, I can’t recommend Jourenji enough! Be careful though – I tried to go there yesterday and when I arrived it was after 4pm and already closed, so go there early.
7. Zojo-ji (Hamamatsucho)wikipedia.org
Zojoji (a temple very close to Tokyo Tower) is famous for its Jizo statues. Jizo is a bodhisattva regarded as the guardian of children, especially children who died before their parents.
Statues of Jizo are often dressed with colourful children’s clothes, especially bibs and hats, and placed at temples by grieving parents in the hope that Jizo will offer protection to their children in their journey through the underworld.
Jizo statues like this can be found all over Japan, but it is rare to see quite as many as there are at Zojoji. The statues here stand in lines which seem to go on forever, and are decorated with flowers and plastic windmills. While it is a sad place to visit, the colourful additions make the lines of little statues a sight worth seeing (just don’t forget to be respectful of other visitors to the temple, who may be grieving).
In the temple grounds you’ll also find the Mausoleum of Tokugawa Shoguns, which may be of interest to history-buffs.
8. Gokoku-ji (Gokokuji)traveljapanblog.com
One of Tokyo’s lesser known Temples, the Gokokuji is a fantastic example (and also one of the more picturesque temples) and it deserves far more recognition that it has been given, and so makes its way into our list of Essential Exploring.
One of the few temples to survive the bombing of WWII, and one of the even fewer to have also survived the Great Kanto Earthquake, the Gokokuji offers a rare look at a Buddhist Temple built before the twentieth century.
9. Gotoku-ji (Miyanosaka)willener.com
This little temple is situated away from the business and madness of Shinjuku in a quiet ward, amongst family homes and corner shops. Gotoku-ji is a very unique temple, in that it’s grounds are filled with hundreds of “maneki neko” or as many may know the little statues: Happy (or Lucky) Cats!
One of the most amazing things about Japan is the way the past and future live in harmony. You can walk down a neon flooded street in Shinjuku, feeling like you have stepped into the future, and then around another corner be thrown back hundreds of years in to Japan’s deep history. Just 10 minutes away from the Shinjuku, in the peaceful Tokyo ward of Setagaya this temple is about a 10 minute walk from Gotokuji Station.
The history behind the temple is quite fascinating, and part of what has made it so popular. Gotoku-ji is the birthplace of maneki neko, the beckoning cat, the statute of a cat waving you to come in that is at the entrance of countless stores and restaurants in Japan and all over the world.
10. Jindai-ji (Chofu)japan-fun.net
This temple of the Tendai sect, constructed in 733, is nearly the oldest in the Tokyo area, second only to Sensoji in Asakusa. Although the temple building itself is modest, the surrounding village of food stands, soba restaurants and waterwheels evokes an image of Edo-period Japan, and makes Jindaiji Temple a hidden gem in suburban Tokyo. The temple complex houses a bronze statue of Shaka Nyorai, a Buddha. The statue is said to date from around 700, and is housed in a separate concrete building.
The temple complex also contains the Jindai Botanical Gardens.
Something is always blooming in this large, all-season botanical garden. The park is divided into areas which feature specific plants such as plum and cherry blossom trees; the Japanese azalea garden and English-style rose garden are good. The main gate is on the west side is near the bus stop; you can also enter from the gate adjacent to Jindaiji Temple on the south side.