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The Best Japanese Gardens, Temples and Shrines

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You could easily spend your entire time in Japan roaming between gardens, temples, and shrines—and it would be time well spent. Meander through Kyoto’s moss and rock gardens or explore Tokyo’s Imperial palace garden. Stay the night in an ancient temple and eat among Buddhist monks or visit one of Japan’s three great Shinto shrines situated in Tokyo, Ise, and Nagoya.
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1 Kinkakujichō, Kita-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 603-8361, Japan
The Golden Temple in Western Kyoto is one of the most frequently visited sites in the city. It is beautiful and I'm glad I had the chance to see it again (I was here before as a young child) but I prefer the smaller, less touristy temples where...
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294 Kiyomizu 1-chōme, Higashiyama-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 605-0862, Japan
Most of the days during our March 2010 Japan whirlwind were overcast, but the sun came out while we were visiting the colorful Kiyomizu Temple that overlooks the city. Breathtaking.
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68 Fukakusa Yabunouchichō, Fushimi-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 612-0882, Japan
My first glimpse of Fushimi Inari was from the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. Yes, I admit it. I was smitten by the scene of Chiyo running along the Shinto shrine's paths surrounded by vermilion torii, or gates. I had a chance to visit on a brisk,...
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2 Ginkakujichō, Sakyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 606-8402, Japan

Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), not to be confused with Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion; both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto), is set up against the eastern mountains. Most tours go to Kinkakuji, because it’s close to Ryoanji, but the...

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406-1 Zōshichō, Nara-shi, Nara-ken 630-8211, Japan

Huge and imposing—in fact, one of the largest wooden buildings in the world—the Todaiji was founded in 752 C.E. As big as the structure is now, it’s still only two-thirds of what it originally was. Besides being notable for its...

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2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tōkyō-to 111-0032, Japan
On a rainy night in Tokyo, the red and gold of Senso-ji illuminates the dark.
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1-1 Yoyogikamizonochō, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 151-8557, Japan
Meiji Jingu, Ise Jingu, and Atsuta Jingu are the three great Shinto shrines of Japan. Meiji Jingu is located in central Tokyo northwest of Harajuku station. It was built in 1920 in honor of Emperor Meiji, who was largely responsible for Japan's...
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11 Naitōmachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyō-to 160-0014, Japan
After reading a series of recent posts on Afar that say things like "travel has taught me X,Y,and Z," I got to thinking: what has travel really "taught" me? Has it taught me to be nicer to people? More tolerant? More..."worldly" or educated? I...
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2301 Sannai, Nikkō-shi, Tochigi-ken 321-1431, Japan
Nikko Tosho-gu is a large Shinto shrine in Tochigi Prefecture just north of Tokyo. It is dedicated to the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Ieyasu Tokugawa, whose remains are entombed within. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it can be reached in...
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1 Ujitachichō, Ise-shi, Mie-ken 516-0023, Japan
A visit to the Ise Grand Shrine begins in the nearby old town of Ise where for centuries pilgrims have come to pay respect to one of Japan's most holy Shinto shrines. You can purchase small gifts of offering in the quaint shops and enjoy a...