Japan is a land filled with history, culture, and a deep spirituality. Shrines are considered the sacred places in Japan along with many famous Buddhist temples. Many visitors to Japan think that they should experience the history, mind-boggling architectures, rituals, and customs of a traditional Shinto Shrine. Are you ready to explore Japan’s 6 must-see shrines?

These shrines are incredible historical monuments to the highly varied cultural history of Japan. They are windows not only into the secular history of Japan but also can be a wondrous way to learn about traditional Japanese religion. Each and every famous shrine discussed in this guide is incredible wonders of Japanese architecture, with long histories. They have been built in many different eras of Japanese civilization. They show a variety of influences, from traditional Japanese Shintoism to mainland Asian Buddhism to the local cultural and architectural traditions.

A tunnel of torii gates, Fushimi Inari Taisha. Photo Credit: Mr Hicks46 at Flickr.

If you choose to visit any of these famous Japanese shinto shrines, be sure to respect all posted or spoken instructions. Remember that you are a guest visiting a place that has great significance to the local people. Specific etiquette and traditions must be followed by the visitors when visiting a shrine. As a general rule, the Japanese people are delighted to share the spirituality and culture manifested by their shrines with visitors and encourage you taking pictures. However, remember to be a courteous photographer to both locals and other visitors.

Let’s take a closer look at six of the most famous shrines to visit in Japan.

1) Fushimi Inari Shrine

The Romon Gate of Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto. Photo Credit: [cipher] at Flickr.
This shrine was built in the 8th Century by the Hata clan. It is dedicated to the god of rice and sake, Inari, who has also become associated with the prosperity of business endeavors as agriculture has become less significant to Japan’s economy.

The main draw of this shrine is the incredible trails leading up through the wooded forest mountainside of Mount Inari behind the shrine buildings. There are over 5000 of red torii gates that straddle these trails. Each of them is a gift from both companies and individuals that costs at least 40,000 yen. The name of the donating party is inscribed on the back of every gate. The rows of the gates are very dense and must be seen to be believed. Hiking through them is an amazing experience. The hike to the summit of Mount Inari takes about 2-3 hours, though there are also smaller shrines featuring smaller gates paid for by those with smaller budgets.

The trails also feature many statues of foxes, which are thought to be Inari’s messengers. Before you embark on the amazing hike up the mountain, be sure to stop at the shrine buildings to see the massive Romon Gate and make a donation at the shrine hall. You can reach the Fushimi Inari shrine by taking the JR Nara Line to JR Inari station in Kyoto. The shrine is a short walk away and admission is free.

2) Itsukushima Shrine

The iconic torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine, Hiroshima, Japan. Photo Credit: Christoph Rupprecht at Flickr.

Itsukushima Shrine was built in 593 BC by Saeki no Kuramoto. The name means ‘island of worship’. It sits on the water near Itsukushima Island, where the tide rises and falls. It was built in order to protect the place where the god of the island lives.

This shrine has been renovated several times throughout its history. It is an amazing sight to see, sitting in the water and surrounded by the beautiful Japanese mountain countryside. The vermilion gate (the great torii) of the shrine and elegant arches will capture your imagination. There are numerous sections of the shrine, dedicated to a number of deities. It is host to the Kangensai Festival every June 17th and has been listed as a World Heritage Site since 1996. The Itsukushima shrine changes a bit depending on the tides, though it never loses its elegance. At night, the shrine is illuminated and the lights are reflected back by the water.

The Itsukushima shrine is a ten-minute walk from Miyajima ferry pier. Its typical hours are 6:30 AM to 6:00 PM, though there can be some variance depending on the season. Admission costs 300 yen, with an additional 200 yen on top of that to visit the shrine’s Treasure Hall.

3) Toshogu Shrine

Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Japan. Photo Credit: Eiji Saito at Flickr.

Toshogu Shrine is the resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled over Japan from 1618 to 1868. It began as a simple mausoleum to the deified leader but was enlarged by his descendants in the early 1600s.

The shrine complex is lavishly decorated. It consists of more than a dozen buildings. You’ll see amazing wood carvings and a jaw-dropping amount of gold leaf. This is different from many other Japanese shrines, which stress elegant simplicity instead. It features many elements of both Shintoism and Buddhism.  Make sure to take pictures of the five-story pagoda in front of the entrance gate, as well as the many wondrous and imaginative carvings throughout the shrine complex.

You can reach the Toshogu Shrine by walking 30-40 minutes or taking a 10-minute bus ride from the Tobu and JR Nikko Stations. It is open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM from April to October, while it closes at 4:00 PM from November to March. Admission is 2100 yen to visit the shrine as well as the attached museum.

4) The Inner Shrine (Naiku)

Naiku. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

This shrine is one of the two shrines that compose the Ise Grand Shrine in Ise City. It is more formally known as Kotai Jingu and is thought of as Japan’s most sacred shrine. It is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami.

This shrine predates the influence of Buddhism in Japan, having been founded over 2000 years ago, and as such has a very unique architecture. It is rebuilt every 20 years according to Shinto tradition. Visiting this wonder will take you somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes. The trip includes a trip over the Uji Bridge and through the elegantly simple shrine grounds.

You can reach the shrine by bus from Iseshi Station and Ujiyamada Station. Admission is free. The shrine is open from 5:00 AM to 6:00 PM from January to April as well as September. It closes at 7:00 PM from May to August and at 5:00 PM from October to December.

5) Kumano Nachi Taisha

Kumano Nachi Taisha, Japan. Photo Credit: Tetsuhiro Terada at Flickr.

This is one of the three Kumano shrines, located not far from the coastal hot spring resort town of Nachikatsuura. It fuses Buddhist traditions with older Shinto ones to create an amazing example of architecture and Japanese spirituality.

Next to the shrine complex, there is a Buddhist temple known as Seigantoji. Both the shrine and the temple look breathtaking.

The three-story pagoda and the nachi falls. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The three-story pagoda of the temple Seigantoji rises up against a background of the spectacular waterfall of Nachi no Taki. If you have the time, you can hike up to the falls. They have been venerated by the Japanese people since ancient times.

You can access Nachi Taisha by a 30-minute bus ride from Kii-Katsuura Station and Nachi Station. There is also a parking lot nearby for those who want to drive. The shrine grounds are always open. Admission is free.

6) Izumo Taisha

The prayer hall of Izumo Taisha. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Izumo Taisha is thought to be the oldest shrine in Japan. No records exist of when it was built. It had already existed for 700 years by the time of oldest chronicled history of Japan. Enshrined here is Okuninushi no Okami, the Shinto creator of Japan. He is also the god of happy marriages and good relationships.

There are a great many traditions associated with this shrine. You can usually see the Kamiari Festival sometime in November, though this can vary with the lunar calendar. There is an elegant simplicity to the shrine grounds, rich with elaborate tradition.

You can reach Izumo Taisha by a 25-minute bus ride from Izumoshi Station or by a 5-minute walk from Izumo Taisha-mae Station via Ichibata Railways. The shrine is always open and admission is free.