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Top 4 National Treasure Buildings in Kyoto That You Can’t Miss!

You can see paintings and other works of art even you are abroad, but it's different with buildings because unless you come to Japan, then you won’t be able to see the magnificent buildings in the country. Here are four buildings that have been designated as National Treasures that you absolutely have to see when you go to Kyoto.


1. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is, together with Dazaifu Tenmangu in Fukuoka, the main shrine of the approximately 12,000 shrines and temples nationwide that are dedicated to Sugawarano Michizane, the deity of learning. Having been built in 942, it is definitely a shrine with a long history. The shrine building that has been designated as a National Treasure was built in 1607 in the gongenzukuri-style, a shrine construction style in which the main shrine and the front shrine are connected by a room called the ishinoma. It is a building that represents the luxurious and gorgeous architectural buildings during the Momoyama period. This building is filled with impressive features, such as the karahafu (a decoration placed on the roof, which is characterized by its graceful curves and decorativeness), lavish decorations, and detailed sculptures. Aside from those, there are many nadeushi statues - statues of cows that is said to make people smarter when you rub their head. So make sure to rub the nadeushi's head if you go!

1. Kitano Tenmangu Shrine

2. Rengeo-in Sanjusangendo

Rengeo-in, which is more commonly known as Sanjusangendo, was built by the order of the retired Emperor Goshirakawa in 1164. The main temple building seen today that was completed in 1266 is the longest wooden structure in Japan, measuring approximately 120 meters. Within the Rakuchu (currently the area within central Kyoto), it is the second oldest building next to Daihoonji Temple. The inside and outside of the shrine may be unpainted today, but when it was repaired in 1930, gorgeously colored patterns emerged, so it was concluded that temple was quite colorful at the time that it was built. What are famous about Sanjusangendo are the orderly lined wooden standing statues of Senju Kannon. You'd surely be surprised when you see that all 1,001 images of Kannon have different faces. They say that if you look closely, you will see a Senju Kannon statue with the face of a person you want to meet. So, when you visit the shrine, look at the faces of the Kannon images and find that one person you want to see.

3. Senbon Shakado Daihoonji

Opened in 1221 by Giku, Daihoonji, also known as Senbon Shakado, is a Buddhist temple of the Chizan School of the Shingon Sect. The main temple building was built in 1227, making it one of the few buildings from the medieval period in Kyoto, and leading to its designation as a National Treasure for being the oldest building in all of Kyoto. Senbon Shakado is known for the many outstanding Buddhist sculptures inside it. The Reihoden Hall on the west side of the main temple building is where numerous Buddha statues, which were made by sculptors from the Kei School and represent the Kamakura period, are enshrined. You will rarely find the opportunity to see such realistic and dynamic Kamakura sculptures in Kyoto, so you shouldn’t miss seeing them at this temple!

3. Senbon Shakado Daihoonji

4. Toji Kyo-o-gokoku-ji Temple

Toji was a state-sponsored temple that was built in 796 to guard the city. In 823, Emperor Saga bestowed the temple to Kukai, who learned esoteric Buddhism from Tang (a Chinese dynasty that ruled in 618 – 907), thereby turning it into Japan’s first esoteric Buddhism temple. Toji is home to a lot of national treasures, including five buildings such as the Goju no To (5-Story Pagoda) that has become a major symbol of Kyoto, the Kondo which is the main temple building, and the Goeido (hall dedicated to the founder of the Buddhist sect) where Kukai resided, as well as the eight areas with 21 Buddha sculptures, paintings and crafts. Kanchi-in Temple, a subsidiary temple, has a reception hall that was built in 1605 and is only open to the public when there are treasure exhibits in the spring and fall, so make sure to check the schedule first before heading out to the temple.

4. Toji Kyo-o-gokoku-ji Temple

Kyoto has 72 buildings in 51 complexes that have been designated as National Treasures. Some of these structures may have limited opening/viewing periods and some are not even open to the general public, but all of them have historical and educational value. So if you find yourself in Kyoto, try to visit these spots.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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Writer: HITODE 3

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