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Temples are the places of worship in Japanese Buddhism. Virtually every Japanese municipality has at least one temple, while large cultural centers like Kyoto have several hundred.

Temples store and display sacred Buddhist objects. Some temples used to be monasteries, and some still function as such. Structures typically found at Japanese temples are:

Main hall

Example: Main hall of Todaiji in Nara
The sacred objects of worship, such as statues, are displayed in the main hall. Main halls are called kondo, hondo, butsuden, amidado or hatto in Japanese.

Lecture hall

Example: Lecture hall of Toji in Kyoto
Lecture halls are for meetings and lectures and often also display objects of worship. Lecture halls are called kodo.

Pagoda

Example: 3-storied pagoda of Kofukuji in Nara
The pagoda, a structure that has evolved from the Indian stupa, usually comes with three (sanju no to) or five (goju no to) stories. Pagodas store remains of the Buddha such as a tooth, usually in the form of a representation.

Gates

Example: Sanmon Gate of Kenchoji in Kamakura
Gates mark the entrance to the temple grounds. There is usually one main gate, and possibly several additional gates, along the temple's main approach.

Bell

Example: Great Bell of Kenchoji in Kamakura
On New Year's Eve, temple bells are rung 108 times, corresponding to the Buddhist concept of 108 worldly desires.

Cemetery

Most cemeteries in Japan are Buddhist and are located at a temple. The Japanese visit their ancestors' graves on many occasions during the year, especially during the obon week, the equinoctial weeks and anniversaries.

The best cities to visit temples are Kyoto, Nara and Kamakura. One of the best places to overnight at temples is Mount Koya.

Best Temples in Japan

Page last updated: February 3, 2016