During your trip to Japan, you may find yourself "templed out," meaning you see so many temples and shrines that they all start looking the same and start to lose their appeal. Take it from a one-time sufferer from "templed out" syndrome, the struggle is real, guys. In those cases, the best cure is to go out and find that one temple or shrine that reminds you of how amazing they really are. In Kyoto, you have Kiyomizu-dera and Fushimi-Inari. In Tokyo, you have Meiji Shrine and Sensō-ji. My personal favorite, however, was in Kanazawa. None other than the Myōryū-ji--better known as the...
For the sake of transparency, I will be up front with the fact that Kanazawa is not the home to Ninja culture--you should travel to Mie prefecture for that. Instead, this temple got the nickname of "Ninja Temple" because of its labyrinthine design and unique features geared towards defense against invading forces. In actuality, this temple was a secret stronghold for the Maeda clan at a time when the Tokugawa Shogunate was razing the castles and lands of rival daimyō, or feudal lords.
At the time, the Maeda clan opted to embrace an existence as a cultural center for Japan, which is why so many great crafts originate from Kanazawa. Still, the clan was wary that the Tokugawa clan would turn on them, so they planned ahead to prepare for any contingency, doing their best to circumvent Shogunate rules to stay vigilant.
One rule was a provision that buildings could not be more than two-stories tall. When you look at the Ninja Temple from the outside, it appears to adhere to that rule...
...but when you get closer, you start to see that there is probably more than meets the eye.
The Ninja temple offers comprehensive tours where they explain all of the special features of the design, such as the following:
1) False backing to steps, so hidden defenders could stab invaders in the legs as they attempted to climb the stairs
2) Hidden passages to secret floors (the supposedly two-story building really has up to 5)
3) A Secret Spotter's Nest at the apex of the temple roof
4) Hidden Rooms from which to observe corridors and large gathering spaces in the temple
5) Trap doors to prevent the advance of intruders
...and many, many more.
It's a true architectural feat and the most creative structure I've ever toured.
There are only two downsides to the Ninja Temple: (1) you can't take photos inside the temple; and (2) they do not offer English Language tours. Instead, you join the Japanese tour and they give you a comprehensive book that has contains the script in English (so really, you don't miss out on anything unless you are pining to ask additional questions). Of course, neither downside is enough to outweigh how incredible this place is--it's a must-see!
The Ninja Temple is open from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM (4:00 PM in winter months, November to February). It closes during New Year's, Buddhist sermon days, and other annual events in Kanazawa. Cost of admission is 1,000 yen for high school and older, 700 yen for children younger than that. Because of the popularity, they do require telephone reservations, but you can usually call the day before and still snag a spot. The number 076-241-0888.
So if you find yourself in Kanazawa, I say zehi, take a trip to the Ninja Temple and experience a fascinating relic of Japanese history.