Spirituality in Kyoto Tour: Shinto & Buddhism

Get acquainted with Kyoto and its history.
From US$277 privately
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Tour Details
3 hours
Product Type
  • Kennin-ji
  • Kiyomizu-dera
  • Yasaka Shrine
Photos & Highlights
  • Learn about role of Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan
  • Led by an expert in Japanese religious history
Select a date
Tour Description
An old saying states that the Japanese are born Shinto, but die Buddhist. While not completely accurate, the phrase gives insight into the mingling and synchronicity of religions that permeate Japanese culture. During this three-hour Kyoto Temple Tour we'll explore the Gion District of Kyoto and visit several key Shinto and Buddhist temples with an expert in Japanese history and religion. Along the way, we'll learn about the history, traditions, and rituals of both Shintoism, the native spiritual belief of Japan, and Buddhism, which was imported from China and Central Asia.

"[Our guide] was smart, very educated and gave us a great history of the shrines, temples and the religions. He also broke things down to a modern level so we could appreciate what this religion, or combination of religions is today."

Gion District - Historic Kyoto 

We will begin our walk at Yasaka Shrine, which is located in the historic Gion district. Gion is an area renowned for its old wooden buildings, authentic Japanese restaurants, and teahouses characteristic of the Japan of the past. The Shinto shrine represents the perfect location to outline the basic principles of this spiritual belief. We’ll be introduced to the kami, spiritual deities, as well as principles of purity and impurity within Shintoism. These tenets easily relate to the rituals we see performed daily, such as the temizu, a ritual hand washing to be conducted before entering a Shinto shrine. As Shintoism in its current form was woven together from numerous tribal spiritual beliefs, we will discuss the role of folklore in the religion and its use in propelling the nationalism expounded by the Meiji regime in the 19th century.

Kyoto Temple Tour

We’ll continue our tour through the historic streets of Gion until we reach one of the top Kyoto attractions, the Kiyomizu-dera temple. With its main hall perched atop the hills of Kyoto, the temple was established in 788 and provides spectacular views across the city. Our introduction to Buddhism begins with a discussion of its import into Japan and a basic understanding of how temple complexes are structured. During our time at Kiyomizu-dera, the proliferation of charms and amulets used to help change one’s fortunes or provide protection will become evident, and we’ll discuss how the rituals in using these charms have become part of daily life in Japan—a subject we explore with a different lens on our Beyond Zen: Kyoto Garden Tour.

An Oasis of Calm

We'll wrap up our walk at the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, Kennin-ji. It was founded in 1202 by monk Eisai, the character who is thought to have introduced the Zen sect (and tea drinking) to Japan. This wonderful temple lies on the edge of the historic neighborhood and will offer a contrast to the previous temples we will have just visited. Kennin-ji temple boasts both impressive paintings and screen decorations inside and classical Zen gardens and sub-temples on its grounds. It is a fitting place to end our discussion of religions in Japan and finish this walk. 

Take Aways

At the end of our Kyoto sightseeing tour, we'll have a stronger understanding of the roles that Shinto and Buddhism have and continue to play in Japanese culture. This knowledge will provide crucial context and a richer understanding during visits to future shrines and temples during your time in Japan. 


Is it okay to tip my guide in Japan?
Yes. Context clients generally tip anywhere from 10-25% of the purchase price of a personal service such as this, depending on the quality of the experience and their tipping habits.

Are there any other fees associated with this tour?
There may be nominal site entrance costs or other fees that are not included in the price of the tour. It is a good idea to have some small coins on hand for these.

Is this tour suitable for kids?
This tour isn't part of our family program, but we do have family-friendly experts who lead this tour who could adapt the content for children.
Where You'll Start
(4.79) 149 Reviews

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Our tour guide was terrific. Obviously knowledgeable, but also personable, funny, and adaptable to our group and the environment around us. We would 100% recommend Eric- he made our visit to Kyoto so much richer!
Gavin was excellent! We learned about the intricacies of Japanese religion in a way that was informative as well as interesting. I would recommend this experience!
Eric did an excellent job showing us 'hidden treasures' of Kyoto, including historic temples, shrines, and gardens. He was very patient with us, answering our questions and making sure we felt good even though it happened to be a raining day. We highly recommend Eric for your next Kyoto tour.