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The Voice of Tokyo for over 50 Years

JAPAN’S NO.1 ENGLISH LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE

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10 Serene Temples and Shrines in and Around Tokyo

Be sure to consider these spots in your future travel plans

By Nora Westgeest

There’s just something about the quietude of Japanese temples and shrines in the midst of a bustling city.  Though by now you may have visited the most splendid buildings of Meiji Shrine and enjoyed the grandeur of Sensoji, there are a lot of little gems, secluded and mystical, scattered around the city and beyond. We’re talking about some of the most charming and picturesque spots there are.

Whether you’re curious about Shintoism or Buddhism, into Japanese history, crave some peace and quiet, or simply want the aesthetic pictures, you’ll want to save these 10 temples and shrines for your next trip or outing.

1. Jindaiji Temple

Supposedly founded in 733, Jindaiji Temple is the second oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. With its traditional buildings and rich landscaped nature and waterways, it’s sure to transport you right back to ancient Japan. It’s usually not that crowded and therefore an ideal getaway from the bustling city center.

Places Nearby: Quaint soba restaurants line the streets to the temple, well-known for their locally made buckwheat noodles. Another highlight has to be the Jindai Botanical Gardens, filled with a lush expanse of flowers, trees and plants.

Editorial credit: Ned Snowman / Shutterstock.com

2. Akagi Shrine

Hidden in the bustling shopping streets of Kagurazaka lies the modern Akagi Shrine, which branched out from Gunma Prefecture’s Mount Akagi. Although the shrine itself is from 1300, the current complex that houses the temple offices was built in 2010 by famous architect Kengo Kuma. The light wood and glass window constructions, alongside the magnificent view, are like a breath of fresh air.

Places Nearby: Close to the shrine lies a lifestyle store called La Kagu, also redesigned by Kengo Kuma. It is a beautiful shop (and café) with lots of designer and unique brand home bits.

 

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3. Shinjuku Rurikoin Byakurengedo

At first sight, you may not even think this is a temple. It looks more like a white concrete spaceship than anything considered traditional Japanese. Built in 2014 by architect Kiyoshi Takeyama and Toyota Group, the temple stands monumentally in the middle of Shinjuku. It features state-of-the-art facilities and services, including an automated cemetery with blue-lighted Buddha lockers that hold the remains of the deceased. You can visit part of the temple for free or book a more elaborate tour online.

Places Nearby: A must in the Shinjuku area is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which has an observatory on its top floors where you can glimpse Mount Fuji on a clear day and enjoy a dazzling view of the city lights at night.

Nina Alizada / Shutterstock.com

4. Nezu Shrine

One of the oldest shrines in Japan, dating back to the early 18th Century, is the Nezu Shrine. It’s known for its picturesque vermillion torii gates that are similar to Kyoto’s famous Fushimi Inari Shrine. The shrine also features a distinguished rock called Bungo no Ishi that is said to bring creative inspiration, as it inspired acclaimed writers Soseki Natsume and Ogai Mori.

Places Nearby: A bit further toward Ueno Park lies Kabaya Coffee, a vintage coffee shop in a 1920s building that serves delicious Japanese desserts and coffee.

 

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5. Kotokuji Temple

At the foot of Akigawa Valley lies an old Zen temple from 1383 with ginkgo trees guarding its entrance, making it the most spectacular view in Autumn when the trees are in full bloom. You almost wouldn’t believe us when we say this is still Tokyo, since the lush nature and the tiny villages around convinces you you’re already in the countryside.

Places Nearby: Near the temple, you’ll find a natural park called Komine Park with picnic and hiking spots. 

6. Inokashira Benzaiten Shrine

This shrine is dedicated to goddess Benzaiten and stands on a small artificial island in the glimmering water of the pond in Inokashira Park in Kichijoji. In the Meiji Era (1868–1912), the pond used to be the private property of the Imperial Household and only opened to the public in 1917. It’s a tranquil park where in spring, the cherry blossoms bloom lovely shades of pink, while in fall, the leaves turn a golden brown. A myth surrounds the water, as it is believed that couples who row on it are cursed by the jealous goddess. Do so at your own risk.

Places Nearby: There are lots of restaurants and cozy cafés in Kichijoji if you just feel like a stroll around. There’s an amazing Thai restaurant called Cafe Amrita and in the park, you’ll find a good coffee and sweets store called Inoka.

7. Shinmei Hikawa Shrine

Almost hidden in Nakano’s residential area, amidst the apartment buildings and cafés, lies a small shrine. Although an urban area, the shrine ground is packed with trees, evoking the feeling of being in a dark forest. Various lion statues guard the shrine. It’s just a refreshing little nook to escape city life.

Places Nearby: Just 30 minutes on foot from the shrine is one of Japan’s best ramen shops: Aoba. It’s been open for over 25 years. 

8. Todoroki Fudoson Temple

Perhaps one of the most serene temples in Tokyo, this one is located right in Todoroki Valley, a popular photography spot. Greenery and bamboo surround the area, bathing the temple in tranquility. A nice matcha ice cream from a stall on the temple’s premises will refresh you from the steep steps you had to take to get there.

Places Nearby: The Todoroki area really makes this temple, so take your time walking around the Ghibli-esque valley, spot the famous waterfall and simply breathe in the fresh air. If you’ve had enough of nature, head on to Jiyugaoka, about half an hour’s walk, where there are lots of fun and upcoming cafés and bakeries.

 

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9. Kasamori Kannon Temple

This one-of-a-kind temple built on 60 pillars is located in Chiba, 70 kilometers from Tokyo. It is best reached by car, as public transport may take up to two and a half hours. Built in 1028, it’s devoted to Kannon, Goddess of Mercy. This architectural masterpiece is still standing in its original state, gracefully cloaked by the surrounding nature park. Be aware that it closes when rainy, to avoid slippery falls.

Places Nearby: You can hike in the forest behind the temple to enjoy more of the lavish greenery of the national park.

10. Hokokuji Temple

If you love bamboo, then this one is for you. Hokokuji Temple is alternatively called the Bamboo Temple and lies secluded in east Kamakura, about a 40-minute walk from the station or a 10-minute bus ride. For some extra admission fee, you can enjoy a cup of matcha in the midst of this serenity. 

Places Nearby: To keep in the trend of hidden things, 10 minutes from the temple lies a quiet and remote café and clothing shop called Sawvi. It uses amakoji, or fungus to ferment the rice in its food and drinks. Although secluded, it’s quite popular, so a reservation is advised.

 


Feature image credit: kuremo / Shutterstock.com