The hustling and bustling capital city of Tokyo attracts many tourists for its neon lights and nightlife, but it is also full of culture in the forms of shrines and temples. While it’s not as abundant as the ones in Kyoto — a lot of them were destroyed during World War II — the ones that remained are still worth the visit. Here are the top 15 temples and shrines to visit in Tokyo!
Temple vs Shrine – What’s the difference?
But before we get into it, let’s get this question out of the way: what’s the difference between a temple and a shrine? It’s fairly simple. Temples are Buddhist, and shrines are Shinto. In Japan, the locals subscribe to either Buddhism or Shintoism.
The easiest way to distinguish a shrine is by its torii gate at the entrance, and a temple has a sanmon gate instead.
1. Sensoji Temple
The first temple on the list is the Sensoji Temple. Also known as Asakusa Kannon Temple, this is the oldest temple in all of Tokyo. It was completed in the year 645 and is one of the most popular temples in all of Japan. Other than the temple grounds itself, the highlight of this temple is the giant lantern at the “Thunder Gate” entrance.
Location: Sensoji Temple
2. Meiji-Jingu Shrine
One of the most popular shrines in all of Japan is the Meiji-Jingu Shrine. Located in the Harajuku neighbourhood, next to JR Harajuku station, this shrine is tucked in among a forest of trees as well as next to Yoyogi Park. Over three million visitors visit this shrine on New Year’s for the year’s hatsumode (first prayers)!
Location: Meiji-Jingu Shrine
3. Gotokuji Temple
Also known as the “Cat Temple”, the Gotokuji Temple is definitely one of the most Instagrammable places in Tokyo!
This temple has over 1,000 cat statues on the temple grounds! You can buy these cat statues at the temple. It is said that those who have their wishes come true after visiting the temple would come back and purchase a statue to display. So the more statues you see, the more wishes had come true!
Location: Gotokuji Temple
4. Kanda Shrine
A historically important shrine, Kanda Shrine is the host of one of three great festivals in Japan, the Kanda Festival. Every two years in May, the shrine hosts a huge parade that starts and ends at the shrine grounds. Over 200 portable shrines known as the mikoshi, along with hundreds of dancers and musicians, parade around the streets.
Location: Kanda Shrine
5. Zenkoku-ji Temple
In the Kagurazaka neighbourhood, you can find Zenkoku-ji Temple. It is also where a lot of neighbourhood festivals are held. It is also a famous attraction for fans of the Japanese boy band Arashi as well as other pop stars belonging to the Johnny & Associates entertainment group. This is possibly because of the 2007 Japanese drama ‘Haikei, Chichiue-sama’ that was filmed here.
Location: Zenkoku-ji Temple
6. Nezu Shrine
Nezu Shrine can be found in the traditional area of Yanesen in Tokyo. The shrine grounds are very peaceful and serene. If you’re not able to visit Kyoto on this trip to visit the temple with the lined red torii gates (Fushimi Inari Taisha), you can just visit this shrine instead. Nezu Shrine has its own row of torii gates!
Location: Nezu Shrine
7. Yushima Seido Temple
Yushima Seido Temple is located in the Akihabara neighbourhood. It is more of a Confucian temple, and this temple is a testament to one of the ways Chinese culture and history influenced Japanese culture, as Confucianism is a philosophical import from China.
Location: Yushima Seido Temple
8. Yasukuni Shrine
Yasukuni Shrine is said to be a dedication to those who lost their lives fighting for Japan during the war. However, it has become a source of controversy as many of them honoured at this shrine-war memorial are listed as Class-A war criminals. Nonetheless, it’s still worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Location: Yasukuni Shrine
9. Togo Shrine
Named after the famous marshal “Heihachiro Togo”, Togo Shrine can be found in the neighbourhood of Harajuku. The shrine was built after the death of the marshal, who was victorious against the Baltic fleet during the Russo-Japanese war in the 1940s.
Location: Togo Shrine
10. Inokashira Benzaiten Shrine
Inokashira Benzaiten Shrine is tucked away in the lush greenery of Inokashira Park in Kichijoji. This small red Shinto shrine is devoted to the goddess of the same name, who is the deity of all things that flow. This shrine is definitely worth a visit when you’re in the area, strolling in the park or visiting the nearby Ghibli Museum.
Location: Inokashira Benzaiten Shrine
11. Tennoji Temple
A popular attraction during spring due to the cherry trees in the vicinity, Tennoji Temple is over 800 years old and is at the edge of Yanaka Cemetery. The bronze, large Buddha statue can be found at this temple as well, known as the “Tennoji Daibutsu” by the locals.
Location: Tennoji Temple
12. Ryusenji Temple
Originally built in 808, Ryusen-ji Temple can be found in the Meguro neighbourhood. Also known as Meguro Fudoson, this temple was built based on Feng Shui, and is believed to have special powers for curing diseases and bringing good health.
Location: Ryusenji Temple
13. Narita-san Fukuyama Fudo-Do
Narita-san Fukuyama Fudo-Do, also known as Fukagawa Fudoson, can be found on the east side of Tokyo. This temple is a famous Buddhist temple where one goes to pray for anything related to traffic and road safety. You might be able to see a lot of cars waiting in the forecourt to be blessed.
Location: Narita-san Fukuyama Fudo-Do
14. Asakusa-jinja Shrine
This shrine is often overlooked because its neighbouring temple, Sensoji, is a more popular attraction. However, Asakusa-jinja Shrine has quite the historical and cultural significance. This shrine honours the three men who founded the neighbourhood, and they are enshrined there as deities.
Location: Asakusa-jinja Shrine
15. Sengakuji Temple
Last but not least, Sengakuji Temple can be found in the Minato ward and has an extensive history. It is known to be the resting place for the 47 Ronin (47 Samurai), an inspirational legend in Japan. The temple also has a modern museum that showcases actual clothing worn by these ronins!
Location: Sengakuji Temple
I hope you enjoyed this selection of the best temples and shrines in Tokyo!
This article highlights only 15 temples and shrines, but despite the modernity of the city, Tokyo is full of them tucked away on random streets. You’ll often walk by a few of them when you’re out and about strolling through a neighbourhood — that’s the beauty of this city. Be sure to take note of the shrines and temples that interest you the most for your next Tokyo trip!
For more historical and cultural places to visit, feel free to check out our list of the best Japanese castles and the best Japanese gardens in Japan.