Chogakuji Temple hondo.
If you are planning a trip to Japan, visiting some of the ancient temples and their gardens is a good way to start. These pages contain photos of many of those places, and others mentioned in ancient Japanese literature.
Ancient temples and shrines by region
Japanese temples dating from the Nara (710-794), Heian (794-1195),
Kamakura (1195-1333) and Muromachi (1333-1460) periods are often very
beautiful and there is a large number of them clustered around the
ancient capitals of Nara, Kyoto and Kamakura. Although most temples
were destroyed in the Onin Wars (1467-1477), many have been rebuilt
several times following their original design.
Temple names and buildings
Japanese temple names have the suffix "dera, ji, in", or
occasionally "an". The first two indicate a main temple, with "dera"
being the Japanese reading of the characters and "ji" being the
original Chinese reading. The "in" suffix normally indicates a
sub-temple, and "an" denotes an arbour or cottage. Gardens usually have
the suffix "en". A "do" suffix, or occasionally "den," is added to the
names of halls within a temple.
Originally introduced from Korea in 538, Japanese Buddhism is of the
Mahayana (Greater Vehicle) tradition. The Nara period saw massive
temples built in the capital and increasing political power wielded by
priests. Six schools of Buddhism flourished at this time - Sanron,
Jojitsu, Hosso, Kusho, Ritsu and Kegon - based mostly on the study of
commentaries or treatises on particular sutras. After the capital was
moved to Kyoto in 794, only two temples were allowed in the city, Toji
and Saiji. New forms of Buddhism were then brought back from China by
Japanese monks. Saicho founded the Tendai sect on Mount Hiei, northeast
of Kyoto, and Kukai founded the Shingon sect, initially at Toji and
later centred on Mount Koya. Tendai was based on the Lotus Sutra and
Shingon was a development of Chinese esoteric teachings. Both sects
were patronised mainly by the aristocracy. Their temples were in the
mountains and the sacred images displayed in dim halls or
hidden from view.
A wide variety of Buddhist statuary can be seen in Nara and Heian
period temples. These can be categorised as buddhas (nyorai,
enlightened beings), bodhisattvas (bosatsu, beings who have
postponed their final enlightenment to help others) and "guardians of
Buddhism" (Hindu deities imported into Buddhism). Pure Land temples
generally enshrine an image of Amida Nyorai while Zen and Nichiren
temples revere images of Shakyamuni
(Shaka Nyorai). The principal object of worship in a temple is known as
Buddhist Pilgrimages played an important part in the lives of
Heian-era Japanese aristocrats and later became popular with the common
people. The most famous temple circuit - which dates from Heian times -
is the Saigoku Kannon pilgrimage
of 33 temples in Western Japan. Another well-known circuit is the
88-temple pilgrimage dedicated to Kobo Daishi (Kukai) on the island of
Shikoku. And there are many more. A more recent circuit is the Kyoto Jusan Butsu, a
pilgrimage dedicated to the 13 sacred buddhas and bodhisattvas
(butsu) of the Shingon sect. Each temple enshrines one of these
Kyoto City Temples
There is no surviving Heian-era architecture in Kyoto City as everything was razed to the ground during the Onin Wars of the 15th century. However, there are many temples and shrines of great historical interest and a number of famous Zen temples. Kiyomizudera temple is well-known as a pilgrimage destination and for the magnificent view from its large open platform. Toji temple stands out for its huge buildings and statuary, reminiscent of the Nara style.
Kyoto Prefecture Temples
Outside Kyoto City there is a number of temples and shrines in beautiful rustic settings. To the north lies Kurama and Kibune, to the northwest Kiyotaki, to the northeast Ohara, and Uji to the south. Uji's Byodo-in temple is the only surviving Heian-era temple architecture in the prefecture, and Daigoji temple's pagoda is the oldest wooden structure in Kyoto prefecture.
Shinto is the native religion of Japan, its main practice being the
worship of clan deities and local deities inhabiting mountains, rivers,
and other natural features. It has no doctrine or scriptures and the
most well-known shrines belong to the imperial and old aristocratic
clans. Shinto shrines have the suffix "jingu, taisha" or
"gu", with "jingu" indicating an imperial shrine. Typically,
Shinto shrines are in a beautiful natural setting but the buildings are
rarely very impressive and the grounds feature large expanses of
gravel. The deity (kami) of the shrine resides in the main
sanctuary known as the Shinden or Honden, but there is no image on
display. Anciliary buildings are the offering hall (Haiden) and