Tourists visiting major cities around Osaka generally arrive with the same to-do list: feed the deer in Nara, eat beef in Kobe, and, of course, see Kyoto’s famous temples, including Kyomizu-dera and Kinkaku-ji, probably the city’s two most famous religious sites. While travellers to Kyoto should certainly try and call on these unique and picturesque sights, they are likely to find themselves struggling through crowds and wondering why quite so many vending machines and souvenir stalls are necessary in such a deeply spiritual environment. But there are alternatives for those seeking the peace and quiet of a more authentic Buddhist or Shinto experience. All they need to do is follow the locals and head off the beaten track.
The Minatogawa-jinja shrine, for example, is a gem that can be found 5 minutes’ walk away from the Kobe JR train Station, in an area that contains more commercial fare such as the Harborland shopping and entertainment complex. Visitors will find quite the opposite of the more popular tourist hotspots and can’t fail to be calmed by the emptiness of such a beautiful and tranquil space.
Minatogawa-jinja enshrines the spirit of the famed 14th century samurai Masashige Kusunoki and is in many ways a classic Shinto shrine. A long walkway up to the public hall (Haiden) passes beneath a large Torii gate and is surrounded by many Tōrō (stone lanterns) and Komainu, the “lion-dog” guardians of the shrine. The ceiling of the hall is decorated with panels of traditional artwork, stunning in its execution, the like of which is hard to find even at more famous sites. An auxiliary shrine contains a beautiful array of traditional paper lanterns (chōchin), providing both a shelter from the summer rain and a time to peacefully reflect in an otherwise hectic day. If a ceremony is performed it is highly possible you’ll be the only one to see it, contrasting with the spectacles that can be made of rituals in more popular and well-known temples and shrines.
Sites like Kyomizu-dera and Kinkaku-ji certainly deserve their place at the top of the tourist to-do list, but for an experience that will live longer in the memory, don’t be afraid to head against that crowd once in a while.