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Temples in Japan | Japan Guide

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

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.
Example: Main hall of Todaiji in Nara.

Lecture Hall

Lecture halls are for meetings and lectures and often also display objects of worship. Lecture halls are called kodo.

Example: Lecture hall of Toji in Kyoto.

Pagoda

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.

Example: 3-storied pagoda of Kofukuji in Nara.

Gates

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.

Example: Sanmon Gate of Kenchoji in Kamakura.

Bell

On New Year’s Eve, temple bells are rung 108 times, corresponding to the Buddhist concept of 108 worldly desires.

Example: Great Bell of Kenchoji in Kamakura.

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.