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Road to Shrine by rocky coast in Japan

Historical & Spiritual Sites

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Japanese ancient castle
Rurui dera temple garden famous for Japanese maple folliage
Kasuga no taisha deers in Nara, Japan
family seal, Kamon

Historical & Spiritual Sites

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Some historians estimate that there were over 25,000 castles that once existed in Japan. Now, there are only around 200 castles and ruins remaining throughout the country. Twelve castles are still original, while others have been either restored or remodeled. The castles are fortresses and act as the central government for each region. Many of them were built throughout the 1500 and 1600s. They are often situated on the top of hills for defense purposes and are surrounded by moats with beautiful gardens.

Recommended Resources

  • All About Japan has a list of 12 original castles. 

  • Encyclopedia Japan has good descriptions and a history of Japanese castles with a list of most visited sites. 

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Shinto shrines & Buddhist Temples

Shinto Shrines & Buddhist Temples

The major religions of Japan are Shintoism and Buddhism. Shintoism and Buddhism practice customs and traditions deeply connected to Japanese culture. There are over 84,000 shrines and 77,000 temples in Japan. That’s more than the number of convenience stores or schools in the country combined. Because of the number of shrines and temples, it’s hard to recommend just a few. Japan Object shows you the most significant shrines and temples, and from here, you can brose and decide where to visit.


Ohenro Pilgrimage in Shikoku Island

If you live in the US, you might have seen “Sacred Journey” on PBS. It’s about the Ohenro Pilgrimage, which is a walking journey across 88 temples and sacred sites on Shikoku Island in 40-60 days. The journey is about 1200 km or 745 miles. It’s one of the oldest and longest spiritual pilgrimages in the world. In recent years, it has gained popularity among international visitors. No matter what religion you practice or believe, you’re most welcome to participate in this unique pilgrimage. It is known to be one of the most spiritual experiences of many people’s lifetime. 

Recommended Resources

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Collecting Shuin stamp


Though not everyone will visit the 88 temples of the Ohenro Pilgrimage, you can still get a Goshuin as a souvenir. A Goshuin is a stamp you collect on a special notebook as proof of your pilgrimage to a particular site. With each unique design, you receive an elegant handwritten note of the name of the temple/shrine and the date of your visit. Some unique stamps are seasonal and available only at a limited time of the year. Some people plan ahead specifically to visit those temples for unique stamps. Tokyo Weekender has a beginner’s guide to Goshuin.

Zen meditation

Zazen/ Zen Meditation

Imagine yourself sitting in a wooden hall overlooking a beautiful Japanese Zen garden. The air is crisp and filled with sandalwood incense.  You experience nothing but serenity and peacefulness. Many people seek out Zen Meditation experiences  during their travels in Japan. I highly recommend you check out Tsunagaru Japan’s article about Zen meditation. It lists places you can practice Zazen in the Greater Tokyo area. If you want to experience it in the ancient capital of Kyoto, Traditional Kyoto has a list of places where you can participate.

Sutra copying

Shakyo/Sutra copying

Shakyo is a technique for hand-copying the religious scripture of Buddha’s teaching. Each character is very complex and ornate. Focusing on copying them is meant to bring you a sense of peacefulness. Things To Do in Kyoto has a video of Shakyo in Shorinjii Temple. Many significant temples offer Shakyo.

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Temple lodging

Shukubo/Temple Lodging

If you would like to experience being a monk and immerse yourself in the world of Zen, you can stay in a temple and practice Zen. They offer monk cuisine called Shojin Ryori, which is a special type of vegetarian meal. 

One of the most well-known places is Koyasan. It is UNESCO a World Heritage site. It’s in Wakayama Prefecture and is one of Japan’s most significant Buddhist sites. It’s recognized as the center of Shingon Buddhism, and was introduced in 805 by Kobo Daishi/Kukai. He was one of the most influential religious figures. They have temples that allow lodging. The amenity includes Free WiFi. You can find all Koyasan Shukubo locations here. 

Recommended Resources:

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Torii, Japanese traditional gate, or arch in temples and shrines
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