Take a deep dive into the history, culture and practices behind Japan’s two primary religions, Shinto and Buddhism, on this small-group tour of Kyoto led by a local scholar. Gain new insight into how these two twin pillars of Japanese spirituality first started in Japan as you explore the most important religious monuments of Kyoto and hear how these two practices have evolved over time.
Start your religious-themed exploration of Kyoto by meeting your guide in the afternoon at the Lawson General Store in front of the city’s Yasaka Shrine. Head inside this impressive Shinto complex, encompassing a multitude of intricate gates and halls. You’ll also have the chance to witness temizu, the ceremonial washing of the hands practiced by visitors before entering such sites.
Listen as your guide explains the primary structure of Shinto, the indigenous Japanese spiritual practice, including an outline of its kami, or spiritual deities. You’ll also hear about how the 19th-century Meiji regime used this religion’s beliefs and Japanese folklore to promote its nationalist aims.
Head back into the throughways of Gion as you proceed on to Kiyomizu-dera, one of Kyoto’s most celebrated temples. First built in 788 AD, this UNESCO World Heritage-listed temple is situated high above the city on the slopes of Otowa Mountain, providing fantastic views of the surrounding urban area. Begin a discussion about the origins of Buddhism with your scholar guide, covering the history of the religion and an explanation of the organizational principles for Buddhist temple complexes. You’ll also discover the importance of amulets and charms, which practitioners use to help ward off bad luck and provide protection.
Make your last stop of the day at Kennin-ji, a Zen Buddhist complex first constructed in 1202 AD. Spend some time here observing the typical rituals and practices of the site’s resident Buddhist monks, who use a combination of meditation and work to help reach spiritual enlightenment. Visit the site’s Abbott’s Quarters, Dharma Hall (Hatto), its 16th-century teahouse and the Imperial Messenger Gate.
Finish your tour back at Kyoto’s Yasaka Shrine, leaving with newfound appreciation and insight for the typical religious practices of this diverse island nation.