As old as the country’s culture, you’ll find evidence of Shinto everywhere you go in Japan. Shinto is the nation’s native religion that recognises divine spirits known as kami. According to traditional folklore, there are over eight million individual divinities, inhabiting all things and controlling the forces of nature.
Shinto shrines are a must for Japan trips that explore local culture and are found in almost every location, especially the old capital city Kyoto. They were traditionally built in areas of outstanding natural beauty to provide a dwelling and place of worship for the kami, reflecting the intrinsic connection between nature and the divine.
Discover the top four Shinto shrines to visit in Japan. These staggering structures in striking surroundings are sure to be highlights of your holiday itinerary.
- Fushimi Inari Taisha
Fushimi Inari Taisha is arguably the most significant Shinto shrine in Japan. It’s considered to be the head shrine of the kami Inari and attracts millions of visitors from across the globe each year.
There is a main temple with characteristic red pillars and decorative roof, fronted by a centuries-old Romon Gate. The real highlight however is the mountain trails behind the temple that wind through woodland and up the 233m peak. These trails are lined by thousands of scarlet torii.
- Meiji Jingū
In contrast to ancient Fushimi Inari Taisha, Meiji Jingū was constructed in the 20th century in honour of the first emperor of modern Japan. Emperor Meiji and his wife became deified spirits upon their death, and their energy is thought to reside here.
Meiji Jingū is based in the heart of Tokyo, but you wouldn’t know that you were in the capital. The shrine sits within a large park containing over 100,000 trees donated by regions across the country which muffle the city sounds and provide a peaceful place to stroll.
The towering torii at the entrance to Yoyogi Park indicates the importance of this Shinto shrine. June is the best time to visit when the inner garden blooms with irises.
- Kumano-Nachi Taisha
Kumano-Nachi Taisha is part of the UNESCO-recognised Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes of the Kii Mountain Range, found on the south coast of Japan. This area of forest perfectly highlights how nature worship is ingrained in traditional Japanese culture.
The Kumano-Nachi Taisha is hidden halfway up the Nachi Mountain, next to a 133-metre waterfall where the kami Hiryū is believed to be. The shrine guards sacred tree that was planted in the 1100s by the warrior regent Taira no Shigemori.
Located in Nikkō, a small and beautiful city in central Japan just a couple of hours from Tokyo by car, Tōshō-gū is a Shinto shrine complex beloved for its extravagant decoration. The buildings are of an intricate design with wooden carvings and luxurious gold finishes unique to this site.
There’s evidence of Shinto and Buddhism here because the site is a mausoleum for the iconic ruler Tokugawa Ieyasu who was appointed shogun of Japan in 1603. The Tokugawa shoguns continued to rule the country for the following 250 years.