Kyoto Prefecture is home to at least 400 shrines, which makes it almost impossible to choose the best one. Almost impossible because I have done it. It took a lot of deliberation because every shine I’ve been to has its own charm and beauty, but familiarity won me over so I’m giving the “Best Shrine” title to…
Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine
Sounds familiar? Probably not.
Unlike the popular shrines in Kyoto City, Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine doesn’t have hundreds of torii gates and it isn’t a patron shrine of the geisha. It isn’t even in Kyoto City. It’s located in a commuter town that’s a little too south of historical Kyoto and a little too north of fun Osaka. But it also isn’t crowded.
Unlike tourist-packed shrines Nagaoka Tenmangu is without throngs of people taking endless pictures and creating unbelievably long lines. Even during its spring festival when locals and tourists visit the shrine to see its well-known red azaleas in full bloom, there is enough space for people to enjoy a walk among the flowers without being crammed or hustled.
This means you can take the time to appreciate the different pinks and whites of the cherry blossoms in spring, and revel in their beauty when they go chasing after squalls. It means when you get to the main temple you can actually hear the quiet when you close your eyes to pray. It means when you have some time you can take a seat in the garden and lose yourself in the atmosphere that only nature and temples can create.
For tourists, visting a shrine outside Kyoto City might seem like a waste of time. But Nagaoka Tenmangu is just a few minutes away from the station, it has a lake with a fountain and a tunnel of trees, and it’s free! I’ve been there a hundred times and I still find it beautiful every time, every season.