6 Unique Temples and Shrines in Japan
There are plenty of shrines and temples throughout Japan, but some of them are rather unique. Here are 6 shrines and temples with buildings or objects of worship that you won't see anywhere else.
Official name: Entsu Sansodo
Aizu Sazaedo, built on the mountain side of Mt. Iimori in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima, is a 16.5m tall six-sided 3 story building from 1796. This temple is made in a double helix structure of two one-way paths in which up and down are separate. Visitors do not pass each other inside the building, and you walk through from entrance to exit without ever walking down the same path twice. It's a very unique building. There are no other wooden structures with a similar architectural style anywhere in the world, and that rarity was recognized in 1995 when it was registered as a national important cultural property. Aizu Sazaedo is a building that was built with the fruitful imaginations and high architectural talents that people in the past had, so please experience this surprising building for yourself.
Official name: Kasamoriji Kannondo
The architectural style of building structures on steep cliffs or on the sides of mountains is called "kakezukuri" or "kengaizukuri," and it's a unique style of architecture to mountainous Japan, where flat land is rare. There are structures of this style all around Japan, including Kyoto's Kiyomizudera Hondo (main temple) and Nara's Todaiji Nigatsudo. However, Kasamori Kannon in Chiba's Chonan is Japan's only "shiho-kakezukuri," a building constructed on top of a boulder. It's registered as a national important cultural property. There are 75 steep stairs leading up to the front of the Kannondo, and it looks like it's floating in mid-air. The view of the mountains on the Boso peninsula from the path all around the temple is gorgeous! It's worth seeing in person.
This shrine, built more than 1,400 years ago halfway up Mt. Haruna, is in Takasaki. The deities of fire and land are enshrined here, and it's a good place to pray for good luck, an abundant harvest, and success in business. In recent years, it's been popular as one of Kanto's leading power spots since it's surrounded by nature. A clear stream runs down the road approaching the shrine, and within the grounds are massive strangely shaped rocks, so this shrine has a unique atmosphere. The rock called Misugata-iwa behind the main shrine is particularly impressive. It's huge and you should definitely feel a ton of energy coming off of it! Pray properly to recharge your energy before going home.
Omiya Shrine, in Sakurai, is one of Japan's oldest shrines and is a very rare temple in that the mountain itself is the deity worshiped here. Since the deity is Mt. Miwa itself, there is no main temple to enshrine it, so once you pass the 3 torii gates past the front shrine, you pray to Mt. Miwa from far away. Since ancient times, it was prohibited to climb Mt. Miwa since it was considered a sacred mountain that contained deities, but in recent years it's been allowed. The auxiliary shrine, Sai Shrine, on the grounds is where you can get permission to climb the mountain. If you decide to climb the mountain, make sure to treat it not like any other mountain. Go up to pray with a pious feeling.
Munakata Shrine in Fukuoka is the general term for the three island shrines of Okitsugu on Okinoshima, Nakatsugu on Chikuzen Oshima, and Hetsugu on Tashima. It has revered the deity of water traffic safety since ancient times, so many people have prayed here. On Okinoshima, everything except the port is part of the grounds of Okitsugu, so it's believed that the entire island is the enshrined deity. Because of that, it's a sacred island so the rules still state that women cannot visit and outside of Shinto priests doing their ministry, the only time those with permission can visit is during the yearly large festival. Around 80,000 relics from ancient people's festivals such as rings and bronze mirror remain on Okinoshima. This whole thing is registered as a national treasure, and some of them are displayed in the Shinpokan in Hetsugu. If you go to see them, you'll be able to understand the history and culture of ancient Japan.
Udo Shrine in Nichinan has its vividly painted vermilion main shrine inside a cave on the tip of Udo Cape jutting out into the Pacific Ocean. To pray there, you must go down the stone steps on the side of the cliff. Having the main shrine at the bottom of the stairs is called "kudarimiya," and it is rare for a shrine. Around the cape are strangely shaped rocks, and they come together with the blue sky and white foamy waves for a beautiful sight. On the seashore below the main shrine is a turtle-shaped sacred stone called Reiseki Kameishi. There's an indentation on top of it, and if you throw a ball called an "undama" (lucky ball) towards it (men with their left hand, women with their right), it's said that if it enters the indentation then your wish will come true. After you pray, why not try your luck?
Please use these as a reference and visit interesting shrines and temples on your travels!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.