Top choice in Kansai

Kimpusen-ji, founded in the 7th century, is believed to be the incubator of Shugendō, a unique Buddhist sect that incorporates Shintō traditions and Taoism and is associated with the storied yamabushi (ascetic mountain priests). The main hall, called the Zaō-dō, was last rebuilt in 1592 and is Japan's second-largest wooden building, a National Treasure with a cedar-bark roof.

The principal deity is a bright-blue, three-bodied image of Zaō Gongen, protector of Yoshino-yama; it's only visible to visitors for a short period each year, in which case temple admission is ¥1000 (check at tourist offices for dates). The temple's Niō-mon, a gate with two fearsome Niō (guardian) statues and the oldest structure at Kimpusen-ji, is undergoing restoration until 2026.

Early risers can observe morning otsutome (worship service), incorporating taikō drumming and the sounding of the horagai (giant conch).

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