Four World Heritage Temples in Kyoto

by Luke - TripleLights travel specialist

There are seventeen World Heritage Sites spread across Kyoto Prefecture, we have selected four of the best. They include the highest wooden pagoda in Japan, some of the best craftmanship of Buddhist imagary, and some stunning ponds and gardens. Read on for more information about four excellent World Heritage temples in Kyoto:

Ginkakuji Temple

Four World Heritage Temples in Kyoto

(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

Built in 1490, during Japan's Muromachi shogunate, by Yoshimune Ashikaga, the eighth shogun, who prospered in the Muromachi period, Ginkakuji is a structure in which the first floor section is built in a domestic style, and the second floor section is built in the style of a Buddhist temple.

Beyond the main gate of Ginkakuji, proceeding further inside is the Kannon-den, also called the Silver Pavilion. This has been designated a national treasure; the Silver Pavilion is also a building that preserves the hallmarks of the culture of the Muromachi Period.

It is said that the Muromachi period, in which Ginkakuji was built, was an age that blended the aristocratic culture of samurai warriors, monks and court nobles. Much of the well-known Japanese traditional culture that came to be cherished by many people these days, such as tea ceremony, Noh drama, flower arranging, etc., comes from this period. The Silver Pavilion is a two-storied structure.The lower level is the Shinkuden, or the Pavilion of the Empty Mind, in a domestic style; the upper level, called Cho-onkaku, or “Pavilion of the Sound of the Tide,” is in the style of a Buddhist temple.  In front of that stretches a garden, a circuit-style strolling pond garden, also representative of this Higashiyama culture. Built in the center of the pond, the Kogetsudai, or “Moon-viewing Platform,” a mound made of sand; and the Ginshadan, or “Sea of Silver Sand,” are features. The Ginshadan, represented by waves of sand, with the sand in cylindrical rings around the mound of piled up sand, is said to have been built with the idea of the reflection of the moonlight in mind.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 500 / Child: ¥ 300

Guidebook from Planetyze about Ginkakuji Temple
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Ginkakuji Temple
Tours of Ginkakuji Temple

Toji Temple

Four World Heritage Temples in Kyoto(image by flickr.com)

It is believed that Toji was built when Emperor Kanmu relocated to the ancient capital (the present day Kyoto, then called Heiankyo) in 794. It was later given to a monk named Kukai, who had returned to Japan after studying new Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism in China, by the subsequently enthroned Emperor Saga. This is how Japan’s first Esoteric Buddhist temple came into existence. Since its establishment, it has continued to prosper as the headquarters of Esoteric Buddhist practices in Japan and still exists as one of the most visited sites of Kyoto. Must-see buildings at this temple are kodo (the Lecture Hall), kondo (the Main Hall) and the five-story pagoda.

The first building you want to view at Toji, a temple with more than 1,200 years of history, is the kodo (the Lecture Hall); it is the center of Toji as well as the central building for Esoteric Buddhist practices in Japan. At this temple, it is said that Kukai dedicated his life to spreading the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism. The three dimensional mandala designs express those teachings visually. Mandala designs, which express the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism in simple terms, were made into a three dimensional display by Kukai to add more reality to the teachings. With a statue of Dainichi Nyorai–a celestial Buddha which symbolizes the cosmos–at the center, the three dimensional mandala consisting of 21 Budda statues is an extraordinary dynamic display. An outstanding work of Esoteric Buddhism sculpture and surpassing the term spectacular, this group of Buddha statues is so powerful that it almost pulls you into another world. It is extremely rare that you can experience a feeling quite this strange and mysterious. Kondo (the Main Hall) at the south side of kodo is also definitely worth viewing. The building that was built in 796 burned down in 1486. It is said that the current kondo was completed in 1603 by the order of Hideyori Toyotomi. Enjoy the spectacular, dynamic architectural styles of the building such as the design of the roof with its lower part cut off at the front – a design also seen on the Hall of the Great Buddha of Todaiji temple. Visitors are allowed to view the interior of the kondo as well.

The five-story pagoda, also referred to as the landmark of Kyoto, is also a building you’d want to observe up close. The pagoda is approximately 55 meters high. It is considered to be the highest pagoda among the existing historical wooden pagodas. The interior features a space expressing Esoteric Buddhism in bright colors.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Toji Temple
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Toji Temple
Tours of Toji Temple

Byodoin Temple

Four World Heritage Temples in Kyoto

Byodoin temple was established in 1052 when an aristocrat named Yorimichi Fujiwara decided to turn his second house into a temple. The temple building and the Buddha statues created nearly 1,000 years ago have been collectively listed as a World Heritage site. Adding to its glory, the temple’s Phoenix Hall is featured on the Japanese 10 yen coin. The Phoenix Hall recently underwent nearly 2 years of restoration work including a roof replacement and re-coating of its exterior layer; the building has been restored brilliantly to the state it was at the time it was first built, bringing back the splendor of the Heian period (794 – 1185). Though the Phoenix Hall was built as a hall for containing the statue of Amitabha Tathagata, people began to call it the Phoenix Hall because the shape of the entire building resembles a phoenix with wings spread open, and also because the hall’s roof is decorated with a pair of copper phoenix statues. This valuable building attests to the glorious days of prosperity during the Heian period. Built on an island of a pond, the hall’s gorgeous reflection on the pond makes it appear as though it is a palace floating in the treasure pond of heaven. The people of the Heian period regarded the Phoenix Hall as heaven on earth.

The interior of the Phoenix Hall is filled with splendid National Cultural Assets. Sitting in the center is the statue of Amitabha Tathagata, a work of the best Buddhist image craftsman of the Heian period. Some playing instruments, some dancing, and others praying, at the upper part of the wall are the “52 Worshiping Bodhisattvas on Clouds” also crafted during the Heian period. On the walls are a drawing of heaven and a drawing depicting the 9 different levels that the spirits of the dead are directed to–according to the amount of virtue they have accumulated–by Amitabha Tathagata. The lights reflected by 66 copper bells hanging from the ceiling create an ethereal atmosphere in the hall. In spring, the flowers of 280 years old wisteria trees and azaleas add extra beauty to the temple grounds.  

Admission: Adult: ¥ 600 / Child: ¥ 300

Guidebook from Planetyze about Byodoin Temple
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Byodoin Temple
Tours of Byodoin Temple

Ninna-ji Temple

Four World Heritage Temples in Kyoto

(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

There are many National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties inside Ninna-ji. The Golden Hall that retains the notable atmosphere of a palace has been recognized as a National Treasure for its Heian Era style as it served as a residence for the Heian nobility. The Goei-do Hall which was constructed in the Momoyama style is an Important Cultural Property as is the temple’s five-storied pagoda, which, unlike other similar pagodas whose roofs usually get smaller the higher the building rises, has roofs that remain the same size, a characteristic of the Edo Era. As well, 14 other buildings have been recognized as Important Cultural Properties, a full experience of highlights of historical buildings. Beautiful paintings of Mahamayuri, Prince Shotoku and other figures on thefusuma sliding doors are incredible. Moreover, at the Reihokan, statues of the Amida Triad and Mahamayuri, the Buddhist text of the Sanjutcho Sasshi and other exhibits have been preserved as National Treasures and temple treasures.

The 500 late-blooming Omuro cherry trees at Ninna-ji are famous, and at a short height of 2-3 meters, they bloom as if they were creeping along the ground. With their deep colors and plump petals, the heavy cherry blossoms have been called otafuku sakura (homely woman cherries). Since these are late-blooming cherries, thesakura season at Ninna-ji in Kyoto is seen as the farewell look for the cherries, and the area is flooded with tourists during o-hanami (flower viewing) season. 

Admission: Adult: ¥ 500 / Child: ¥ 300

Guidebook from Planetyze about Ninna-ji Temple
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Ninna-ji Temple
Tours of Ninna-ji Temple

Did you like my article?

If you are interested to know more and save your time during your trip to Kyoto, You can send a message to our local guides to get a customized itinerary and quotation for an unforgettable experience.

In the TripleLights website you can find the best professional guides all over Japan to help you plan your trip. Check our local guides for Kyoto


Plan your trip to Kyoto

Chat with a local tour guide who can help organize your trip.
Get Started

Recent Tour Reviews in Kyoto

“ Very informative guide for Kyoto day trip ”

Excellent
6 hours ago Traveler: Suzette -   Tour Guide: Toshiyo

We had a great time with Toshiyo on our one day Kyoto tour. She took us to the places we wanted to see and more. She explained the culture and the history of the town very well. We highly recommend Toshiyo as your guide.
read more

“ A fantastic insight to Kyoto ”

Excellent
8 hours ago Traveler: Tiffany -   Tour Guide: Yumiko

We handle a wonderful day with Yumiko. She guided us by train from Osaka pier to Kyoto and back. We visited the Gion district, wandering shrines and shops. We had to be flexible because our cruise immigration process into Osaka was an hour late letting everyone off the ship - Yumiko gave up her time to still give us a full 8 hours. Yumiko was also very good with our two children and helpe...
read more

“ Great tour of Kyoto ”

Excellent
1 day ago Traveler: Kristina -   Tour Guide: TOKIE

We had a great day with Tokie in Kyoto. We saw a number of the very interesting sights and areas and learnt about the history and culture of Kyoto. Tokie also took some awesome photos for us! Thank you Tokie.
read more

“ Okini Richard ”

Excellent
2 days ago Traveler: Kristy -   Tour Guide: Richard

Thank you Richard for a one of a kind experience, your knowledge on Japanese history, culture and everything else was fascinating and engaging. Very rarely is there a perfect combination of happy engaged parents and kids... but you did this every day. This was very much appreciated, all 4 of us look forward to meeting you again.
read more

“ Fantastic day and a half with Kei ”

Excellent
3 days ago Traveler: Lana -   Tour Guide: KEI

Kei is an incredibly knowledgeable and attentive guide. He met us promptly at our hotel and customized the tour precisely to meet our needs. He maximized everything we saw and learned in the short time we had in Kyoto. His warm personality and kind demeanour made it a pleasure spending time with him. I would highly recommend Kei to anyone visiting Japan.
read more

“ Kyoto calling! We want to go back, there is so much to do and 2.5 days was just not enough. ”

Excellent
3 days ago Traveler: Angela -   Tour Guide: Rick

RIck was wonderful, patient, kind, soft-spoken, yet definitive in his plans for our days spent together. I must say that he handled a mom and her men child(s) extremely well, especially my special angel man child who kept up with us but made it a little tricky at times. Rick did not judge, he jumped in and assisted when needed, he took his time with us and made sure we were all happy, enjoying t...
read more

“ mMny thanks ”

Excellent
4 days ago Traveler: Anna -   Tour Guide: Yumiko

Thanks Yumiko We so appreciated having your comapany and knowledge for our Tour of Kyoto You mad our trip complete ! Kindest AM
read more

“ A wonderful day with a wonderful guide!! ”

Excellent
4 days ago Traveler: Sunn -   Tour Guide: TOMOE

Tomoe has been super patient with our accidental change of plans for the day (and there were 14 of us so you can well imagine!) and managed to save our day with helping translate a few things with our driver. She took us around for more than we bargained for (since the accident had almost brought our plans to a halt!) and introduced us to the places we visited very clearly. Meals were well pla...
read more

“ knowledgeable guide! ”

Excellent
5 days ago Traveler: Linda -   Tour Guide: Hero

hero really knows kyoto and vicinity very well. very helpful and fun t b with!
read more

“ Kyoto with Kiriko ”

Excellent
5 days ago Traveler: CHERYL -   Tour Guide: Kiriko

Kiriko came prepared to show us an enchanting side of Kyoto. She met us at our starting point and we traveled by train to Kyoto. We explored several popular sights and toured many areas of Kyoto. Her choice for dining out was perfect. She gave a lot of thought in organizing our tour. We would highly recommend Kiriko for a tour.
read more

Related cities

Plan your trip to Kyoto

Chat with a local tour guide who can help organize your trip.
Get Started