Japan’s Highlights (Typical Tourist Sites)

Tōshō-gū is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Initially built in 1617, during the Edo period, while Ieyasu’s son Hidetada was shogun, it was enlarged during the time of the third shogun, Iemitsu. Ieyasu is enshrined there, where his remains are also entombed.
 
Five structures at Nikkō Tōshō-gū are categorized as National Treasures of Japan. Famous buildings at the Tōshō-gū include the richly decorated Yōmeimon, a gate that is also known as “higurashi-no-mon.” The latter name means that one could look at it until sundown, and not tire of seeing it. Carvings in deep relief, painted in rich colors, decorate the surface of the structure.
 
Three Wise Monkeys
The stable of the shrine’s sacred horses bears a carving of the three wise monkeys, who hear, speak and see no evil, a traditional symbol in Chinese and Japanese culture.
 
The original five-story pagoda was donated by a daimyo in 1650, but it was burned down during a fire, and was rebuilt in 1818. Each story represents an element – earth, water, fire, wind and void – in ascending order. Inside the pagoda, a central shinbashira pillar hangs from chains to minimize damage from earthquakes.
 
Ieyasu’s enshrinement
Hundreds of stone steps lead through the cryptomeria forest up to the grave of Ieyasu. A torii at the top bears calligraphy attributed to Emperor Go-Mizunoo. A bronze urn contains the remains of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
 
 
Himeji Castle is a hilltop Japanese castle complex located in Himeji, in Hyōgo PrefectureJapan. The castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, comprising a network of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from the feudal period. The castle is frequently known as Shirasagi-jō (“White Heron Castle“) because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight.
 
Himeji Castle dates to 1333, when Akamatsu Norimura built a fort on top of Himeyama hill. The fort was dismantled and rebuilt as Himeyama Castle in 1346, and then remodeled into Himeji Castle two centuries later.Himeji Castle was then significantly remodeled in 1581 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who added a three-story castle keep. In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu awarded the castle to Ikeda Terumasa for his help in the Battle of Sekigahara, and Ikeda completely rebuilt the castle from 1601 to 1609, expanding it into a large castle complex. For over 400 years, Himeji Castle has remained intact, even throughout the extensive bombing of Himeji in World War II, and natural disasters such as the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake.
 
Himeji Castle is the largest and most visited castle in Japan, and it was registered in 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. The area within the middle moat of the castle complex is a designated Special Historic Site and five structures of the castle are also designated National Treasures. Along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto CastleHimeji Castle is considered one of Japan‘s three premier castles. In order to preserve the castle buildings, it underwent restoration work for several years and reopened to the public on March 27, 2015. The works also removed decades of dirt and grime, restoring the formerly gray roof to its original brilliant white color.
 
 
Itsukushima Shrine is a Shinto shrine on the island of Itsukushima (popularly known as Miyajima), best known for its “floating” torii gate. It is in the city of Hatsukaichi in Hiroshima Prefecture in JapanThe shrine complex is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Japanese government has designated several buildings and possessions as National Treasures.
 
The first shrine buildings were probably erected in the 6th century. The present shrine dates from the mid-16th century, and is believed to follow an earlier design from the 12th century. That design was established in 1168, when funds were provided by the warlord Taira no Kiyomori.
 
The shrine was designed and built on pier-like structures over the bay so that it would appear to be floating on the water, separate from the sacred island, which could be approached by the devout.
 
The dramatic gate, or torii, of Itsukushima Shrine is one of Japan’s most popular tourist attractions, and the most recognizable and celebrated feature of the Itsukushima shrine, and the view of the gate in front of the island’s Mount Misen is classified as one of the Three Views of Japan (along with the sand bar Amanohashidate, and Matsushima Bay). Although a gate has been in place since 1168, the current gate dates back only to 1875. The gate, built of decay-resistant camphor wood, is about 16 metres high.
 
The torii appears to be floating only at high tide. When the tide is low, it is approachable by foot from the island.
  
Kiyomizu-dera, officially Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera is an independent Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. The temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) UNESCO World Heritage site.
 
Kiyomizu-dera was founded in the early Heian period. The temple was founded in 778, and its present buildings were constructed in 1633, ordered by the Tokugawa Iemitsu. There is not a single nail used in the entire structure. It takes its name from the waterfall within the complex, which runs off the nearby hills. Kiyomizu means clear water, or pure water.
 
Kinkaku-ji, officially named Rokuon-ji, is a Zen Buddhist temple in KyotoJapan. It is one of the most popular buildings in Japan, attracting a large number of visitors annually.
 
Kinkaku-ji’s history dates to 1397, when the villa was purchased from the Saionji family by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and transformed into the Kinkaku-ji complex. When Yoshimitsu died, the building was converted into a Zen temple by his son, according to his wishes.
 
During the Onin war (1467-1477), all of the buildings in the complex aside from the pavilion were burned down.
 
The present pavilion structure dates from 1955, when it was rebuilt. The pavilion is three stories high, approximately 12.5 meters in height. The reconstruction is said to be a copy close to the original, although some doubt such an extensive gold-leaf coating was used on the original structure. In 1984, the coating of Japanese lacquer was found a little decayed, and a new coating as well as gilding with gold-leaf, much thicker than the original coatings (0.5 µm instead of 0.1 µm), was completed in 1987. Additionally, the interior of the building, including the paintings and Yoshimitsu’s statue, were also restored. Finally, the roof was restored in 2003. The name Kinkaku is derived from the gold leaf that the pavilion is covered in. Gold was an important addition to the pavilion because of its underlying meaning. The gold employed was to mitigate and purify any pollution or negative thoughts and feelings towards death. Other than the symbolic meaning behind the gold leaf, the Muromachi period heavily relied on visual excesses. With the focus on the Golden Pavilion, how the structure is mainly covered in that material, creates an impression that stands out because of the sunlight reflecting and the effect the reflection creates on the pond.
 
Tōdai-ji is a Buddhist temple complex, that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples, located in the city of Nara, Japan. Its Great Buddha Hall, houses the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha known in Japanese simply as Daibutsu. The temple also serves as the Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school ofBuddhism. The temple is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara”, together with seven other sites including temples, shrines and places in the city of Nara. Deer, regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion, roam the grounds freely.
 
The beginning of building a temple where the Tōdai-ji complex sits today can be dated to 728, when Emperor Shōmu established Kinshōsen-ji as an appeasement for Prince Motoi, his first son with his Fujiwara clan consort Kōmyōshi. Prince Motoi died a year after his birth.
 
During the Tenpyō era, Japan suffered from a series of disasters and epidemics. It was after experiencing these problems that Emperor Shōmu issued an edict in 741 to promote the construction of provincial temples throughout the nation. Tōdai-ji (still Kinshōsen-ji at the time) was appointed as the Provincial temple ofYamato Province and the head of all the provincial temples. With the alleged coup d’état by Nagaya in 729, an outbreak of smallpox around 735–737, worsened by consecutive years of poor crops, then followed by a rebellion led by Fujiwara no Hirotsugu in 740, the country was in a chaotic position. Emperor Shōmu had been forced to move the capital four times, indicating the level of instability during this period.
 
As the center of power in Japanese Buddhism shifted away from Nara to Mount Hiei and the Tendai sect, and when the capital of Japan moved to Kamakura, Tōdai-ji’s role in maintaining authority declined as well. In later generations, the Vinaya lineage also died out, despite repeated attempts to revive it, thus no more ordination ceremonies take place at Tōdai-ji.
 
 
Ginkaku-ji officially named Jishō-ji is a Zen temple in the Sakyo ward of KyotoJapan. It is one of the constructions that represents the Higashiyama Culture of the Muromachi period.
 
Ashikaga Yoshimasa initiated plans for creating a retirement villa and gardens as early as 1460 and after his death, Yoshimasa would arrange for this property to become a Zen temple. The temple is today associated with the Shokoku-ji branch of Rinzai Zen.
 
The two-storied Kannon-den is the main temple structure. Its construction began February 21, 1482. The structure’s design sought to emulate the golden Kinkaku-ji which had been commissioned by his grandfather Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. It is popularly known as Ginkaku, the “Silver Pavilion” because of the initial plans to cover its exterior in silver foil; but this familiar nickname dates back only as far as the Edo period.
 
During the Ōnin War, construction was halted. Despite Yoshimasa’s intention to cover the structure with a distinctive silver-foil overlay, this work was delayed for so long that the plans were never realized before Yoshimasa’s death. The present appearance of the structure is understood to be the same as when Yoshimasa himself last saw it. This “unfinished” appearance illustrates one of the aspects of “wabi-sabi” quality.
 
Like Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji was originally built to serve as a place of rest and solitude for the Shogun. During his reign as Shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa inspired a new outpouring of traditional culture, which came to be known as Higashiyama Bunka (the Culture of the Eastern Mountain). Having retired to the villa, it is said Yoshimasa sat in the pavilion, contemplating the calm and beauty of the gardens as the Ōnin War worsened and Kyoto was burned to the ground.
 
In 1485, Yoshimasa became a Zen Buddhist monk. After his death on January 27, 1490 (Entoku 2, 7th day of the 1st month), the villa and gardens became a Buddhist temple complex, renamed Jishō-ji after Yoshimasa’s Buddhist name.
 
In addition to the temple’s famous building, the property features wooded grounds covered with a variety of mosses. The sand garden of Ginkaku-ji has become particularly well known; and the carefully formed pile of sand which is said to symbolize Mount Fuji is an essential element in the garden.
 
After extensive restoration, started February 2008, Ginkaku-ji is again in full glory to visit. The garden and temple complex are open to the public. There is still no silver foil used. After much discussion, it was decided to not refinish the lacquer to the original state. The lacquer finish was the source of the original silver appearance of the temple, with the reflection of silver water of the pond on the lacquer finish.