Temples in Japan: 5 Hidden Gems You Must Visit

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Mention Japanese temples, and the world-renowned Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto and Todai-ji in Nara come readily to mind. No doubt, these World Heritage-listed temples are a magnificent sight, but there are many other temples that are lesser known but will yield you unique experiences that are off the beaten path. Here are five hidden gems that should not be missed.


Risshakuji Temple in Yamagata

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Situated in the sky-piercing mountains northeast of Yamagata City, Risshakuji Temple requires a bit of physical exertion on the part of travelers as they need to climb up 1015 stone steps from the mountain entrance before they reach it. However, once you reach the temple, you get to savor a picturesque panoramic view of the sapphire-blue sky and lush mountains.

by mrhayata, CC BY-SA

“Ah, it is all worth it,” you will say to yourself. Aside from its unique location, Risshakuji Temple’s claim to fame is a rock inscription of a poem crafted by arguably Japan’s most famous haiku poet, Basho. Apparently, Basho stopped over at Risshakuji temple in the late 1600s and composed this haiku, struck by the poignant silence of the area. A temple that is the gateway to both natural beauty and human sentiment? Head over there to recharge yourself both mentally and spiritually!

-English Name: Risshakuji Temple
-Japanese Name: 立石寺
-Address: 4456-1 Yamadera, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata
-Open Hours / Closed Day: 8:00-17:00 / No closing days
-Budget: 300 yen (regular fee)
-Lat/Long: (38.312208, 140.436025)
-Phone number: 023-695-2843


Nihonji Temple in Chiba

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Want to see a Buddha statue (Daibutsu) that is even taller and larger than the Buddha statue in Todaiji Temple (18.18m)? What’s more, this Buddha status was painstakingly crafted on rock, thus accentuating the positive? If this sounds like your cup of tea, take the Nokogiriyama Ropeway from JR Hamakanaya Station and walk for about five minutes. Towering at 31 metres and beautifully framed against the mountains, this Buddha statue will take your breath away. It is a compelling image of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of healing and medicine.

by *_*, CC BY

And as if one huge statue isn’t enough, you will get to see another impressive Hyakushaku-Kannon statue if you continue to explore the trail! Carved as a memorial for the victims of the Second World War, this Hyakushaku-Kannon statue now attracts devotees who come to pray for safety.

-English Name: Nihonji Temple
-Japanese Name: 日本寺
-Address: 184-4 Motona, Kyonan-machi, Awa-gun, 299-1901
-Open Hours / Closed Day: 8:00-17:00 (5:00-17:00 on New Year’s day)
-Budget: 600 yen
-Lat/Long: (35.156403, 139.832131)
-Phone number: 0470-55-1103


Hieizan Enryakuji Temple in Shiga

by go.biwako, CC BY-SA

A distinctive feature of this temple is its Eternal Light in the Konponchudo Hall, the central hall that has remained lit for more than 1,200 years! Feel the weight of history as you see this light burning brightly to illuminate the way for us mortal souls. As the head temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism founded by Dengyo Daishi Saicho in 788, Hieizan Enryakuji Temple’s illustrious history made it a natural choice to be recognized as a World Heritage-site in 1994. Establishing itself as a thought leader in Buddhism, it allows devotees to get in touch with their spiritual selves by conducting meditation sessions and lectures on Buddhist sutras.

-English Name: Hieizan Enryakuji Temple
-Japanese Name: 比叡山延暦寺
-Address: 4220 Sakamotohoncho, Otsu City, Shiga
-Open Hours / Closed Day: 8:30 – 16:30
(Sometimes until 16:00. Seasonal changes.)
-Budget: 700 yen for adults
-Lat/Long: (35.017893, 135.854607)
-Phone number: +81-77-578-0001


Ishiteji Temple in Ehime

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Shikoku Island stands out from the other three main islands, in that it is home to 88 sacred temples. Hence, Japanese and foreigners alike eagerly embark on a pilgrimage to EACH of the temples in summer in a bid to heal and rejuvenate their soul. You are not likely to have time to undertake such a pilgrimage yourself, so you may want to pay Ishiteji Temple a visit. Since it’s located near Dogo Onsen Station, you can visit it first before heading over to the revered Dogo Onsen for a dip! When you reach this temple, you will be able to find a tunnel, where striking stone statues representing all the 88 temples will meet your eyes! Don’t forget to pause briefly before each statue before adjourning to the next, because doing so is considered as a shortcut to completing the pilgrimage!

-English Name: Ishiteji Temple
-Japanese Name: 石手寺
-Address: 2-9-21 Ishite, Matsuyama-shi, Ehime
-Open Hours / Closed Day: Visit and pray anytime
-Budget: Free in the temple precincts Houmotsu-kan (Treasury Hall): 200 yen (regular fee)
-Lat/Long: (33.847613, 132.797269)
-Phone number: 089-977-0870


Nanzoin Temple in Fukuoka

Nanzoin Temple in Fukuoka
by chris_harber, CC BY-SA

Want to see something that is of the same size as the Statue of Liberty in New York – in horizontal form? Nanzoin Temple in Fukuoka boasts the sight of the world’s largest reclining Buddha statue, otherwise known as the Nehanzo. Cutting an impressive figure with its emerald green facade and intricate gold-carved patterns, the Nehanzo has an enthralling background. Apparently, Nanzoin Temple has close ties with the Myanmar Buddhist Council; for many years, it has been contributing medicine and milk to Myanmar and Nepal in exchange for the sacred ashes of Buddha from the council. That’s why the Nehanzo was built in the first place – to enshrine these ashes. I suggest that you walk around the Nehanzo until you stand in front of the soles of his feet. Legend has it that if you manage to place coins between or on top of the gold-carved designs, you will have good luck with money, so be sure to do that!

-English Name: Nanzoin Temple
-Japanese Name: 南蔵院
-Address: 1035 Sasaguri, Sasaguri-machi Kasuya-gun, Fukuoka
-Open Hours / Closed Day: 9:00-17:00 / Open all year round
-Budget: Temple grounds: free; Prayer room in Nehanzou Statue: 500 Yen
-Lat/Long: (33.619927, 130.572923)
-Phone number: 092-947-7195

Nanzoin Temple
by chris_harber, CC BY-SA

There you go! Five unconventional Japanese temples that gift you refreshing experiences that you probably won’t get from run-of-the-mill temples. Have fun exploring these hidden gems!



Kai Le likes nothing better than exploring a foreign city and meeting fellow travelers along the way. He hopes to write about cross-cultural commonalities and differences.