5 of Japan’s Most Beautiful Shrines
As Air Canada begins to offer non-stop flights to Nagoya from Vancouver, making YVR even more of a hub for trans-Pacific flights, we look at some of the most remarkable shrines in five Japanese cities.
Atsuta Shrine, Nagoya
Amid ancient trees and quiet ponds in the Atsuta ward of Nagoya stands one of the most sacred shrines of the Shinto religion, a faith indigenous to Japan. Dedicated to the Five Great Gods of Atsuta, the shrine houses the sacred sword Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, one of three relics making up the Imperial Regalia of Japan. Although the sword hasn’t been on display since the seventh century, 9 million visitors continue to make the trek every year to attend one of Atsuta’s 70 ceremonies and festivals. Enjoy an afternoon stroll around the 200,000-square-metre complex and marvel at the Atsuta Jingu Museum’s collection of over 4,000 artifacts, including sacred garb, masks, documents and daggers.
Meiji Shrine, Tokyo
Located near the bustling Harajuku railway station, Meiji Shrine is a green oasis within Tokyo’s concrete jungle. Combined with adjacent Yoyogi Park, it makes up one of the largest forested areas in the metropolis. The structure, in dark, muted tones, enshrines the holy spirits of Emperor Meiji, Japan’s first emperor, and his wife, Empress Shoken. Blend in with the locals and participate in traditional Shinto activities like praying or writing a wish on an ema (a small wooden plaque). Visit on a Sunday for a chance to see an authentic Shinto wedding ceremony, where the bride and groom, dressed in formal wear – think white kimono for her and black robe for him – make their way beneath a scarlet umbrella.
Sumiyoshi Taisha, Osaka
This peaceful place, located in southern Osaka, is the oldest and most famous Sumiyoshi shrine in Japan. Built before the introduction of Buddhism to the country, the shrine is noted for its Sumiyoshi-zukuri architecture that stands in stark contrast to the flashing lights of the city. This unique Japanese design, observed in its purest form in only a handful of sites, is characterized by straight thatched roofs with protruding decorative logs (known as chigi and katsuogi). Looking to avoid crowds? Try not visiting around the New Year, when Japanese tourists flock en masse to Sumiyoshi for hatsumōde (the first shrine visit of the year).
Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), Kyoto
A magnet for design and architecture lovers alike, Kinkaku-ji is famous for its extravagant golden exterior. Each floor of this Zen temple showcases a different type of architecture. While the first floor remains sober, with white walls and simple wood pillars, the second and third floors are covered in gold leaf and influenced by lavish samurai residences and Chinese Zen halls, respectively. Due to the site’s popularity, visitors should be prepared to face long lines. But don’t worry – its location over a tranquil pond is sure to keep you feeling Zen among the crowds.
Hokkaido Shrine, Sapporo
Nestled on Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido Shrine is Sapporo’s biggest house of worship. The building enshrines four Shinto deities: Sukunahikona, Ookunitama, Ookuninushi and Emperor Meiji. Blessed with approximately 1,400 sakura trees (cherry blossoms), the area adjacent to Maruyama Park is a popular destination for hanami (flower viewing) in the spring. For a taste of the local culture, head to this shrine during Golden Week – the equivalent of March Break for Japanese workers – when the park turns into a large, convivial place for picnic barbecues.