A range of temples, castles and shrines are free to visit all over Japan – at least the ones I visited are. Some of the most famous ones are on this list but at least you’ll get an idea of where you should go to while visiting these regions.
Kansai (Osaka and Kyoto):
Some of Kansai’s most famous historical buildings are the Osaka Castle and Fushimi Inari Shrine among many historical sites to go to.
Fushimi Inari Shrine:
Kyoto’s famous Fushimi Inari is beautiful and is known for leading people up to the sacred Mount Inari through the wooded forest. See if you can reach the top of the mountain but it will take you a while even when you do it in late summer such as September as it is still pretty hot.
Mostly what I did and most other tourists was take pictures by the Torii gates. Each torii gate along the way is donated by individuals and companies, and you will find the donator’s name and the date of the donation inscribed on the back of each gate. The cost starts around 400,000 yen for a small sized gate and increases to over one million yen for a large gate.
Osaka Castle is one of the famous castles known for being Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s castle back in the 1600’s. It was the largest castle at the time. The castle’s tower has been rebuilt for tourists and is surrounded by secondary citadels, gates, turrets, impressive stone walls and moats.
I quite enjoyed going to this castle as it not only prompted me to play Samurai Warriors, but I wanted to learn the history more. If there is a book similar to Romance of the Three Kingdoms (for the Han Dynasty era), I need someone to link me to where I can buy the book for the Sengoku period.
Originally I didn’t plan to go Nagoya. But after seeing two friends and having a good time being shown around the city, it was a nice experience.
Nagoya Castle is a little bigger than Osaka in my opinion and is the castle home to the Tokugawa family. The history behind it briefly tells that it was built in the beginning of the Edo Period as the seat of one of the three branches, the Owari.
Since 2009, the castle’s palace is being reconstructed but some parts have been available to view since 2013. Full completion should be finished Spring 2018. The castle is also a popular spot for hanami.
Kyushu (Hakata and Tenjin):
Kyushu will always be my favourite region primarily for the atmosphere in Fukuoka and the fact Hoenn is based in this nice region. Some shrines you should visit are Tochoji Temple and Kushida Shrine both located in Hakata.
Tochoji Temple was dedicated to the Buddhist saint Kukai who built it in 806. In the temple cemetery Tadayuki (a second lord of the Kuroda clan in the Edo period), Mitsuyuki (the third lord) and Harutaka (the eighth lord) are interred.
Tochoji Temple has the largest wooden statue of Buddha seated on a pedestal in Japan on the second floor. As I had one of the temple guides show me around, she told me you are not allowed to take pictures.
After Tochoji Temple, I walked to Kushida Shrine. It is apparently the most famous shrine in the area. It was founded in 757 when Hakata was the point of arrival and departure for trade and diplomatic missions between Japan, China and Korea.
There are also Torii gates similar to the ones in Fushimi Inari, Kyoto. I was surprised to see these and thought it was a replica of the Fushimi Inari gates sharing a link somehow.
There are tons of statuary of several huge rounded stones said to be anchors from the Mongol invasion fleet which I found interesting to see.
Just by the Tenjin station, there is a small shrine you can go to. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name too well. But it is near the bus station where you can catch the bus no. 506 to Hakata station.
Kanto (Tokyo and Kanagawa):
The main island of Japan has so many famous historical sites to go to. Even Tokyo, one of the most popular cities in Kanto has a big range of sites that I would recommend you should go to.
Sensoji in Asakusa is one of the biggest shrines you’ll ever see in Tokyo. It is one of the most popular and crowded Buddhist temples you will ever visit. The shopping street, Nakamise is right in front of the temple for tourists to buy authentic souvenirs and I highly recommend shopping here for those kind of gifts.
Meiji Jingu Shrine:
Meiji Jingu Shrine is another popular one located in Harajuku. It is known for dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken.
It’s definitely popular as the Doll festival is held here as well as during New Years, it is said more than 3 million go to pray at this shrine. Many people write messages on these tablets as well more than any other shrine I’ve been to.
This one I stumbled one while writing this article for my travel writing job. Nezu Shrine is one of Japan’s oldest shrines and certainly one of its most attractive as it is surrounded by nature. It is also a popular spot for weddings.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine:
Kamakura is mostly known for its Great Buddha which is an amazing feat and I’d recommend you go to it. But in terms of shrines, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is one you should go to as it is Kamakura’s most important shrines.
The shrine is dedicated to Hachiman, the patron god of the Minamoto family and of the samurai in general. Like Meiji Jingu, it is popular for New Year’s to go to with an estimated two million people going. I was lucky to see a wedding reception during my time in 2015 when my Yokohama friend took me around.