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In 2004, the Yoshino mountains were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site under the name ‘Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range’. This is mainly due to the outstanding cultural importance that the mountain holds and that includes the Shrines and Temples. Yoshino Mountain also has its own mountain religion that takes inspiration from Zen, Shinto and Buddhism - called Kimpusen-Shugendo.
Here is my list of the best temples and shrines to visit. Further down the list are ones that are further afield and require a car to get to, so get your adventure boots on!
The main attraction and feature of the Yoshino Mountains is the famous Kinpusenji. Built in the 14th century, it boasts the second largest wooden structure in Japan after Todai-ji in Nara, the Zaodo hall.
The temple is the head temple of the Yoshino Kinpusenji-Shugendo religion, which is basically a mountain religion with Buddhism and Shinto influences. Visit the temple, and go pray in the Zaodo building. This place is magical to me, as I would visit here with my family, usually in the summertime, as a child and go beetle hunting, exploring and visit family ancestor graves. They have many events here over the year including summer Matsuri and other seasonal events.
A close up of the Zaodo main hall. Made entirely of wood, it is the second largest wooden structure in Japan
Originally built and founded in the early 8th century, this shrine was actually a temple at the beginning, built to serve as living quarters for Shugendo (a mountain worship sect of Shinto and Buddhism fusion) practitioners.
Later on, in history, the temple played host to some famous people. In the 14th century, the temple served as a temporary seat for the Emperor Go-Daigo as he established an imperial court in Yoshino, which technically meant the shrine was an imperial palace! Emperor Go-Daigo is still enshrined in this temple today.
Later on, in the 16th century, the famous and very powerful warlord, Daimyo and Military Political leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi hosted some of his famous and very elaborate Hanami (Sakura picnic) parties here. So as you can imagine it is a great spot to enjoy the cherry blossom!
The Shrine eventually became a shrine during the Meiji period's separation of Buddhism and Shinto.
►Admission: 400 yen
Yoshino Shrine is a Shinto shrine built in 1892 dedicated to Emperor Go-Daigo, who was critical in the Kenmu restoration. The main building is an impressive structure built from cypress wood.
Nyoirinji Temple is a pretty and quiet temple. You won't encounter loads of tourists here, which is nice.
The temple is steeped in essential history. The temple is the resting ground of the Emperor Go-Daigo who made Yoshino the capital during the period of Japanese history where there were two competing imperial courts. One under the control of Emperor Godaigo and the other, in the north, by a powerful warlord (Shogun).
One of the main entrance gates to Nyoirin Ji Temple. What I found funny was that next to such history... there is a vending machine. This is typical Japan
Sakauramotobou is a beautiful little temple, not a long walk from Kinpusenji. It is very old - 7th century, with a fascinating background. It is a unique blend of Shugendo (Japanese mountain religion), Shinto, and Buddhism.
It also has the oldest statue of Ganesha in Japan. I particularly like it for its serenity and variety of statues as the site represents 3 types of religion.
►Open all day - No admission
A really pretty little shrine located a little walk up the mountain main street is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Yoshino Mikumari Shrine. The Shrine was built by the powerful warlord, Daimyo and politician Hideyoshi's son, and features beautiful styling and architecture of the Momoyama period (1568-1600) with its bark layered roofing.
The Shrine is dedicated to Ameno Mikumari who is the female deity of water and healthy childbirth. It is believed that those who pray to her will be granted great fertility and pregnancy.
The Shrine itself is very enchanting and pretty, well worth the walk up.
►Hours: Open 8:00 till 16:00 (15:00 in April)
Down hundreds of steps is Noten Shrine, locally and affectionately known as Noten San (san is what you affix to the end of people's names when you address them in person).
Many people from all over Japan will come to Noten san and pray for good school grades, exam grades etc, due to the belief that the shrine grants good luck and health to body parts from the shoulders and up. There is a corridor where, if you walk up and down it 100 times, it will bring good luck. My grandmother did this for my mother when she had exams.
My grandmother did this for my mother when she had exams. Superstition still exists and is a big part of Japanese people's lives, even to this day!
If you look at the photo below of the corridor, you'll notice colourful things on the right-hand side - there are thousands of origami cranes (birds) made by children at local schools. They hang them up here, which is believed to bring good luck.