This shortlist was chosen by Japanese locals, but tourists from all countries can benefit from it!

Whether you’re visiting Japan for a short time or living in the country as a resident, it’s hard to resist the innate allure of a shrine or temple; the Shinto shrines with their vivid crimson torii gates and the temples with their Buddhist sculptures. Several of these places of worship are well-known even to casual travelers; Meiji Jingu Shrine, for instance, or Kiyomizu Temple.

If you want to see the cream of the crop, though, you have to ask the locals, and that’s precisely what the Japanese branch of travel website TripAdvisor did with their yearly aggregate of Japan’s favorite spiritual spots. Start the countdown!

10. Udo Shrine (Miyazaki Prefecture)
9. Sanjūsangen-dō Temple (Kyoto Prefecture)
8. Eikan-dō Zenrin-ji Temple (Kyoto Prefecture)
7. Itsukushima Shrine (Hiroshima Prefecture)
6. Enkōji Temple (Kochi Prefecture)

All the places listed have an undeniable charm and are well worth a visit; Udo Shrine‘s striking form can be seen at the top of this very article! However, the following five proved themselves to be a cut above the rest.

5. Rurikoin Temple (Kyoto Prefecture)

Despite its small size, it costs a pretty penny to get inside Rurikoin Temple: 2,000 yen (US$18.20) to be exact. If you’re willing to pay the price, though, you’ll be rewarded with a real-life slideshow of beautiful sights, especially come autumn, when you can watch the reddening of the leaves from the temple’s study room. You can even indulge your inner history buff by copying a sutra as you enjoy the views. A word of warning, though: Rurikoin is only open in the spring and autumn seasons!

4. Yudonosan Shrine (Yamagata Prefecture)

Few places in Japan can rival Yudonosan Shrine for its sheer spiritual significance. The shrine is the final stop on a monastic journey: a pilgrimage of rebirth. Pilgrims can journey through three sacred mountains known as Dewa Sanzan, and will realize upon reaching Yudonosan Shrine that it does not actually have a central building. Instead, the gates and ropes enshrine a sacred item — visitors must remove their shoes to enter, and photography is forbidden.

3. Izumo Taisha Shrine (Shimane Prefecture)

Izumo Taisha is one of the oldest shrines in the entirety of Japan, and is said to enshrine the deity Okuninushi, who saved the White Hare of Inaba. Fittingly, the shrine is dotted about with beautiful rabbit statues, but the most striking element is the shrine’s huge rice straw rope that adorns the entrance. Only one of the buildings is accessible to visitors, but the gorgeous grounds and beautiful architecture make it more than worth the visit. Every October all of the Shinto deities are said to assemble here to discuss the events of the mortal world.

2. Omiwa Shrine (Nara Prefecture)

Tucked away in a beautiful, verdant forest, Omiwa Shrine is another ancient shrine with as much character as it has history. True to its name, which contains the kanji for three rings, the shrine is decorated throughout with stacked Borromean rings and even triple torii gates, a rare feature not often found in Shinto shrines. Another unusual feature is the lack of a building to house a deity; this is because the shrine is built in honor of Mt. Miwa, which stands behind it.

The stage is set for the top contender, Japan’s finest place of worship as voted by Japanese TripAdvisor users. Those who use TripAdvisor Japan regularly may recognize it: after all, it has won the top spot for the last four years.

The number-one spot goes to…

1. Ise Grand Shrine (Mie Prefecture)

“You owe it to yourself to go here at least once, as a Japanese person,” states one TripAdvisor review. And indeed, there’s a reason that the Ise Grand Shrine has won Japan’s top pick for shrines and temples for four consecutive years. It’s known across the country as the “Soul of Japan,” because the Grand Shrine is dedicated to the highest possible figure in the Shinto pantheon: the sun goddess Amaterasu herself.

As you would expect of a shrine that honors the most important goddess in Japan, the shrine is incredibly grandiose. It’s actually a complex consisting of numerous smaller shrines spread throughout Ise City, with the two focal points being the Naiku (Inner) and Geku (Outer) shrines. Though visitors cannot enter the inner chambers of the primary shrines, they are able to walk around them, following a path along the Isuzu river and ultimately finishing at the Kotai Jingu, or main shrine.

Rich with nature, sprawling across a vast expanse, the Ise Grand Shrine is one of the most cherished and revered landmarks in Japan. Both the Naiku and Geka shrines are rebuilt once every twenty years and draw huge crowds each time, and even celebrate the months leading up to the rebuild with various festivals.

Is there a shrine or temple that’s close to your heart? Have you visited any of the ones on the list, and if so, what did you think of them? 2020 is a brand new year — and it’s the perfect time to go visit some of these highly recommended places!

Source: TripAdvisor Japan via Netlab
Top image: Pakutaso

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