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Unique Tokyo Temples and Shrines Tours

Updated: Jun 6

Visiting Tokyo is a true assault on the senses. I saw all the jaw dropping, mind-bending modern Japanese attractions on my previous trip to Japan, so I opted to seek out more traditional places on my most recent visit.


Because it's such a modern city, finding Tokyo temples and shrines is not as common as you would think, but when you do find them they can often be overrun by tourists. So, here I share with you six I've either visited personally, stumbled upon, or researched so that you may try and find a tranquil haven of authenticity or well, a touristy but still amazingly Japanese experience all the same.


I've also included a few tours to help you get there, and some details on what to expect when entering a Japanese shrine.


Note: Always Pack Tissues represents many tried and tested travel sites as what is called an 'affiliate' partner. That means if you click on my ads I may get a commission from a resulting sale.


In this article you will learn about:




Purification Before Entering a Japanese Temple or Shrine


purification water with ladles at a Japanese shrine


Before entering temples and shrines in Japan you will typically see a water feature or chozuya, where people will purify themselves in a ritual hand washing. Take the ladle, wash the left and right hands, then put some to your mouth. I typically looked around to see what others were doing, but you can get a good infographic of how it works here.


purifying at a shrine in japan

Remember to obey the unspoken Japanese rules of etiquette while visiting a shrine, and be respectful of the place.



Saisen Offering Boxes or Bells for Prayer


wooden ornaments with prayers written on them

You may see a box for offerings or prayer cards, in which you can drop coins or a note in exchange for a fortune or prayer called omikuji.


Sometimes you write your own to leave with the coin, and sometimes your fortune is chosen at random from the box.


brown wood prayer boxes with drawers and Japanese writing

There may also be a bell, which is a little trickier. You will bow, ring the bell 2 or 3 times, and drop coins for the gods. Then, you really bow, like back bending all the way over bow, and there's some clapping.


Just try and fit in with what others or doing, or read up more here.


You may also encounter an opportunity to light some incense, which I imagine is similar to lighting a candle in a Catholic church.


people lighting incense in a large bowl with sand

Don't be shy, just be respectful and give it a go!



Now, let's explore 6 Unique Tokyo Temples and Shrines (and tours!), listed here from most authentic to most touristy.



Meiji Jingu Shrine

Shibuya City


torii gate at Meiji shrine

Think of the Mieji Shrine as the Central Park of Tokyo. Ok, that may also go to the Ueno Park area in Tokyo, but the point being that the Meiji Shrine is not just your standard temple complex, but instead it is a massive green space dedicated within the craziness of Shibuya and Harajuku areas of Tokyo.


Enjoy strolls through gardens, or simply breathe in nature as a respite from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.


strolling green spaces

Explore the shrine, and marvel at its majesty.


For a full day, pair the Meiji Shrine with a wacky stroll down Harajuku Street just outside the gates, full of teeny boppers, sweet treats and girls in crazy outfits.


Visit the Meiji Shrine and other traditional sites on a private one day tour to maximize your time. Learn more here.



Nezu Shrine

Bunkyo City


red torii gates leading up a hill

Can't make it to Kyoto? No problem! The iconic torii gates of Kyoto can be found here, albeit in a much smaller scale.


You can stroll through the gardens for a small fee (most popular for their Azalea Festival), or for free wander through the torii gates and admire the shrine and its grounds.


red torii gates with lush forest area

The Nezu Shrine is also located walking distance to the Yanaka Ginza neighborhood, which is said to be one of the oldest and most traditional Japanese neighborhoods in Tokyo.


If you are looking for a nice day of "something different" and off the beaten path for tourists, this would be a good add on, especially if you are into sweets. You will find many sweets shops in Yanaka Ginza.


For more about the Nezu Shrine and Yanaka Ginza neighborhood, otherwise known as the "old quarter", check out some of these organized tours:





Toshogu Shrine (Ueno Park Shrine)

Ueno Park


Tucked cleverly away from the city, Toshogu Shrine was more of a stumble upon, than a "I meant to visit" type of attraction. As we wandered Ueno Park during Cherry Blossom season, we found rows of vendors lined up in a carnival-esque atmosphere, serving up international street food.


vibrant street food stalls in japan

As we strolled the many delicious booths, we came up on what I am left to assume is the Toshogu Shrine, smack in the center of it all.


Being so hidden, it looked quiet and tranquil, and would have been worth a visit had we not been en route to Nezu Shrine (above).


shrine in Ueno park

It would certainly pair well with a day in Ueno Park, where there are many museums on offer including a zoo, art museum, the National Museum, nature and science museum and more.


Looking for a unique stay near Ueno Park? We stayed at Edo Sakura Ryokan, one of the only authentic ryokans in the city. Largely affordable ($110-150/night for a Tatami room), this traditional Japanese boarding house offers western rooms, or Tatami bed rooms. I highly recommend it if you are looking for something old school.



1000 Kosodate Jizo-son (Garden of Unborn Children)

Minato City


In my previous travels to Japan I visited a quiet mountain village of Koyasan near Wakayama where we strolled solemnly on a damp and foggy morning through a forest, or really a graveyard, of tombstones and Jizo statues at Okonuin Temple.


statues wearing red bibs

A stunning and downright moving place, the unmissable presence of the Jizo statue represents unborn babies, many of them donning bibs or crochet hats. It's quite the sight to see.

stone statue wearing bib and hat

Although my experience was not in Tokyo, there is a similar spot in Tokyo called Kosodate Jizo-son, or the Garden of Unborn Children. This place is for those who lost their children to miscarriages or whatever reason to come and mourn.


stone statue wearing bib and hat

I imagine that it is a beautiful place to heal or simply stroll. Note I have not visited this temple, but the photos I share from the mountain town's temple illustrates what you may encounter.



Gotokuji Temple (Cat Temple)

Setagaya City


Like cats? Oh how I wish I'd visited this one while I was in Tokyo. Buy a cat (maneki-neko) of any size, a lucky cat you see, and then place that lucky cat somewhere in the maze of thousands of other little lucky cats at this temple.


Honestly I think if you're up for a bit of a trek, this tacky cat haven is worth it for the Instagram photos alone. Go early so the cat statues don't sell out or the shop doesn't close (I read 3pm).






Sensoji Temple

Asakusa


crowded temple complex

Undoubtedly, this is the most crowded, most touristy temple on this list.


There are two gates on either end of the temple to enter the temple complex, and although largely impressive to see, with the midday tourists flooding the shopping lanes within the complex, it feels more like Disney World than an ancient Japanese temple.


shopping at sensoji temple

Nonetheless, this grand temple is a must-see for every tourist to Tokyo, for the epic introduction to temple traditions and rituals like what I shared at the top of this article, and for some great photos.


women in prayer at sensoji temple

Grab some pics and enjoy the souvenir vendors before heading out to find your new favorite Japanese store, Daiso (or 100 Yen Shop), followed by an incredible okonomiyaki lunch at Asakusa Okonomiyaki Sometaro.


After lunch take a fun rickshaw tour, and continue exploring the city!




Remember that due to the popularity of Sensoji Temple, the best time to visit is in the early morning or at night to avoid the crowds.




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