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Best Religious Sites in Tokyo

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Dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, this Shinto shrine was originally constructed in 1920 at the site of an iris garden that is known to have been favored by the royal couple. Emperor Meiji ascended to the throne in 1867, at the height of the Meiji Restoration, drawing Japan from the veils of feudalism and into the modern era. The traditional nagare-zukuri shrine is built amid a teeming, evergreen forest of over 10,000 trees from across Japan; a token of gratitude donated by the people. Simple, yet elegant, the Meiji Jingū is isolated from the hustle and bustle of the city, its verdant shroud softening the sounds of the vibrant metropolis that is Tokyo. Nearby lies the enchanting inner garden, a field of iris blooms in June. The Imperial Treasure House at the shrine also exhibits the coronation carriage and several other intriguing mementos of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. The shrine that stands today is a reconstruction of the original, which dates back to 1958 after its predecessor was destroyed during World War II.

This striking Buddhist temple is one of Tokyo's oldest, originally established in 645 CE in honor of the goddess Kannon. Legend has it that in 628 CE, two brothers found a small statue of the goddess in the Sumida River which miraculously returned to them each time they submerged the idol. The majestic Kaminarimon, or Thunder Gate, guards the approach to Kinryū-Zan Sensō-Ji, its most distinctive feature being a massive paper lantern painted in shades of red and black to resemble a storm cloud. Beyond this lies the Nakamise, a pathway lined with colorful stalls selling traditional crafts and snacks. The temple itself is a magnificent sight, its main hall a grand spectacle replete with intricate details, and large paper lanterns strung from a ceiling held up by towering columns. Set alongside a five-tiered pagoda, the shrine is a vividly vibrant place of worship which is also one of the city's best known. The original temple was damaged during the Second World War; the existing structures are recent additions.

A millennium ago or so the legend goes, the Hirokuma brothers found the statue of Kannon (the Bodhisattva of Mercy - the deity alleged to have great powers in purifying people and granting them true happiness) in their fishing nets, and the village chief dutifully enshrined it. The Asakusa Shrine was thus established in 1649 and the three persons in the legend were consecrated as gods of the shrine, hereby earning it the nickname Sanja-sama (the shrine of the three gods). Undoubtedly one of the most famous shrines in Tokyo, it also hosts the Sanja Festival in May.

Nestled in the recesses of Nagatachō, the iconic Hei Shrine upholds the spirit of the Shinto school. The temple enshrines Oyamakui-no-kami, its architecture comprising traditional elements like pointed roofs and scarlet, lacquered furnishings. Dating back to 1478, this revered shrine was originally built inside the Edo Castle to serve as protection from enemies. It was moved to its present site in 1659, with its role as guardian of the palace unfazed and unchanged. Although the facade is insignificant concrete, the torii gate bears inscriptions and glorious images of monkeys, which are believed to be messengers of the shrine's deity. A fine collection of Tokugawa swords and other relics are also on display in the shrine museum. An iconic sanctum in the midst of Tokyo's cosmopolitan din, the shrine does not just reverberate with an ardor which has shaped the religious course of the country, but also carries within itself legendary traces of the Kamakura eon.

The main shrine dedicated to the memory of Sugawara no Michizane (better known as Tenjin, the father of Japanese learning) is in the city of Fukuoka. However the local shrine here in Kameido is itself a popular place to visit. Both the garden and the heart-shaped pond are quite beautiful. The garden is famous for the vines from the wisteria trees that flank the two traditional drum bridges.

Tsukiji Honganji Temple was established in 1617 in the Yoshiwara area of Tokyo. It was relocated to Tsukiji after the great fire of 1657. The current architecture resembles that of Indian temples and was designed by Chuta Ota in 1935. Once a major complex of over fifty temples, Tsukiji Honganji is now noted for being the biggest temple in Japan made entirely of stone. This is the final resting place of the famous Edo Period artist, Hoitsu Sakai (1761-1828). The temple is also considered to be a pilgrimage owing to the artifacts of Prince Shotoku, Shinran Shonin, and Shonyō Shōnin preserved here.

Named after Kyoto's famous Mount Atago in Arashiyama, Tokyo's Atago Jinja Shrine is a picturesque Shinto shrine on the hill. The striking red gate of the shrine opens to a large complex which was originally built during the 16th Century and rebuilt in 1958. During the Edo period it was also a choice location for cherry-blossoms. To approach the hillside shrine you must make a choice between two sets of stairs--easy and a difficult! You will find the Benten shrine in the center of a pond. An added attraction is the teahouse for a well-earned rest and refreshment.

Built as a tribute to the soldiers and war heroes of Japan, the Yasukuni Shrine is a notable Shinto Shrine of the country. The shrine commemorates 2,466,532 people comprising of civilians and military and also including those from Taiwan and Korea who once served under the Japanese Emperor. Chinreisha, a separate shrine on the premise houses memorials for the soldiers who fought in opposition to Japan. The architecture of the wooden shrine is remarkable with green and gold embellished roofs and massive courtyards and quadrants dappled with cherry blossoms. The shrine has been a center of conflict, however, is also the hub for several festivals and events of the city. An intriguing site, the Yasukuni Shrine has garnered a lot of attention from locals as well as tourists.

A Zen temple and a Shinto shrine (dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of harvests) co-exist on this site. This scenario was common until the Meiji restoration, when temples and shrines were officially separated. In the compound is a small shrine in honor of a famous Edo Period administrator, Tadasuke Ohoka. Two fox statues flank the main temple, which is protected by many small Inari shrines. While the architecture and presence of Shinto deities is glaring, the temple remains largely Buddhist. The renowned feature of the temple is Reiko-Zuka or Hill of Foxes, the shrine dotted with hundreds of fox statues wearing red bibs around their neck. Reiko-Zuka is dedicated to fox who is considered the messenger of God.

This Inari shrine is located in the center of Shinjuku's commercial district. Originally the Hanazono family provided their garden as a site for this shrine. Previously located near the Isetan department store, the shrine was later moved to its present site. Hanazono is unusual in that it holds an annual "festival of the fowls" (tori no ichi), which is not typically celebrated at an Inari shrine. Other than that, New Years' celebration, Flower Festival and Setsubun Festival are some of the major cultural events held here.

Wreathed in many a myth and folklore, the Morinji Temple is one of the most revered sites in Tatebayashi. Originally established in 1426, the temple is greeted by a string of statues of eclectically-dressed raccoons (tanuki) lined along the entrance. Although bearing modest architectural nuances, the temple commands much religious significance. The temple is home to a museum which is a striking dedication to a fabled kama (teapot), and has also been the genesis of the country's famous folktale 'Bunbuku Chagama'. A beautiful canvas of blooming cherry blossoms come spring, Morinji Temple is eternally entrenched in a long-standing religious and historical ardor.

Imado Jinja Shrine was built in 1083. This shrine suffered damage due to war and earthquakes, however it has been rebuilt each time. Imado Shrine is a famous place of marriage, and many people who want to find their true love visit here. This shrine is the birthplace of "Manekineko," a figure shaped like a cat that is said to be a symbol of prosperity and happiness.

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