Visiting shrines and temples is a big part of visiting Japan. Since there are so many many, I think it’s important to think about what I’m searching for.
To be honest, I was not that that impressed with Sensoji in Tokyo. I did not realize that there were so many schools of buddhism in Japan. Chinese people tend to think that Japanese culture is very homogeneous.
My idea of Japanese buddhism was probably best represented by the Shingon school: “Huiguo had foreseen that Esoteric Buddhism would not survive in India and China in the near future and that it was Kukai’s destiny to see it continue in Japan” (wikipedia). What I was expecting was probably something like Kongōbu-ji (金剛峯寺) with its 140 granite stones. When we visit Koyasan this time, we will be staying at Jokiin (常喜院) across the street.
I’m thinking the atmospheric temple in Hou Hsiao Hsien’s Assassin is Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) in Kyoto. Apparently, Japanese people say “jump down from the Kiyomizu stage” when they do something bold. Also looking forward to borrowed scenery in Tenryū-ji (天龍寺).
One thing I really enjoyed in Tokyo is seeing torii (鳥居) between random modern buildings. See Hie Shrine (日枝神社) above.
This time, we will be visiting Kumano Hongū Taisha (熊野本宮大社). Wikipedia describes its use of “natural unfinished materials” blending “effortlessly into the natural environment” which is exactly what I look for in a shrine.
In Kyoto, in addition to the famous famous Fushimi Inari Taisha, I’m looking forward to the Matatabi-sha Shrine (see below) which is right inside the shopping arcade. Also “Nishiki Tenmangū is home to a rather interesting form of fortune telling in the form of the Karakuri Omikuji. In glass cases, robotic shishi lions wait to be fed coins that will bring them to life, dancing to traditional gagaku court music as they move to fetch a paper fortune and drop it into the tray for you.” (discoverkyoto)