There are literally thousands of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Kyoto. It’s great fun to take in the breathtaking scenery for each season and view the beautiful architectural structures. You can take a moment to learn the correct way to pray and also enjoy a casual trip to some of these wonderful places. Like Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines are places of worship. In Shinto, millions of gods which can be found everywhere are worshipped. Most of them contain the traditional gardens of the finest quality.
When you visit, please behave calmly and respectfully. Please watch for signs that indicate some places where photography is not allowed. Also, please be aware that smoking is not allowed anywhere on the grounds of temples and shrines.
Shrines are characterized by a “torii” gate at the entrance. At the purification fountain near the shrine’s entrance, take one of the ladles provided, fill it with fresh water and rinse both hands. Don’t transfer the water directly from the ladle into your mouth or swallow the water.
At the altar, throw a coin into the offering box, bow deeply twice, clap your hands twice, bow deeply once more and pray for a few moments. If there is some type of gong present, ring it once before praying. The numbers of bows and handclaps may differ between shrines.
Temples are characterized by a “sanmon” gate at the entrance. At large sanmon gates, you can show your respect by making a short prayer in front of the sacred object. Do so by tossing a coin into the offering box, followed by a short prayer. Unlike some other religious buildings, the primary purpose of a temple is not to be a place of worship. First and foremost, the purpose of a Japanese temple is the storage and sometimes the display of sacred objects. Buddhists will then come to pray in front of or near these sacred objects.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites are said to "represent a masterpiece of human creative genius" and have "outstanding universal value." The variety, historical span and sheer number of World Heritage Sites in Kyoto is unrivaled in Japan. Nijo-jo Castle and the sixteen temples and shrines below were selected as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1994. For over thirty five years the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has sought to name, catalog, and preserve the natural and man-made treasures of humanity.
The area of North Kyoto, also known as the old capital’s “Back Parlor,” is known for the mysterious aura that permeates its shrines and temples, and boasts one of the oldest shrines in all of Japan. Even though it is easily accessed from the main city, the mountains of North Kyoto are characteristically cool and refreshing all year round, making this area especially attractive to summertime visitors.
The Higashiyama area is one of the most “Kyoto-like” areas in Kyoto and is steeped in history. It is the home to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a World Heritage Site, as well as many famous landmarks and sights that attract visitors from across Japan and around the world.
This area begins at the colorful Heian-jingu Shrine and ends at the Metropolitan Museum. It includes sites such as Kiyomizu-dera Temple and its Otowa-no-Taki, the “Sound of Feathers Waterfall.”
This area features the Golden Pavilion and Arashiyama, unquestionably the most popular sightseeing spots in Kyoto. It attracts both Japanese and tourists from overseas in droves.
This area focuses on the center of the city. It is ideal for those with limited time thanks to the efficient and convenient transportation system.
This area is located 20 to 30 minutes from the city center. It includes such prominent temples as Tofuku-ji Temple and Daigo-ji Temple and Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine (O-Inari-san).
These areas comprise a selection of sites other than those listed above, including a number of "don’t miss" World Heritage sites in the areas of Ohara, Takao, Matsuo, Uji and Ohara-no.
Ohara is located in northern Kyoto City, and is also known as “Ohara Village”. Millions of people visit Nanzen-ji and Jakko-in Temples in the Ohara area annually. Ohara receives much more snow than the Kyoto City proper and is breathtaking in any season. Takao is located about an hour west of Kyoto City. Kozan-ji Temple, a World Heritage Site, is a well-known stop for autumn tourists. Other temples in the area include Jingo-ji and Saimyo-ji Temples. Matsuo is a lush, green region located in western Kyoto near Arashiyama and Koke-dera Temple, a World Heritage Site. Uji lies south of Kyoto City, and is home to Byodo-in Temple, the temple on the back of the ten-yen coin. It is also home to some of Japan’s most famous green teas, including Uji tea. Oharano is located in lush southeastern Kyoto, and is famous for Kippo-ji, Shoji-ji, and Jurin-ji Temples.