|Byodoin, a temple in Kyoto.|
The major difference between the two types of sites is what religion each is related to. Temples are devoted to Buddhism, a religion revering Buddha and his teachings, which is popular in many Asian countries. Shrines are instead associated with Shinto, a polytheistic religion is which followers worship many gods, spirits, and ancestors. Shinto is a native Japanese religion which has mostly stayed unique to Japan.
|Itsukushima, a shrine on the island of Miyajima.|
For me, it was a bit difficult to tell the temples and shrines apart. However, certain clues sometimes made it easier. For example, if there were statues of Buddha, it was obviously a temple.
|Buddha and other statues at Nanzenji, a temple in Kyoto.|
Although both types of sites sometimes had statues of humans or animals as guardians.
|Kitsune (fox) statue at Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shrine in Kyoto.|
|Phoenix on the roof of the Phoenix Hall of Byodoin.|
Pagodas usually meant temples...
|Pagoda at Koofukuji, a temple in Nara.|
...while torii gates often indicated shrines.
|Huge torii gate in front of Fushimi Inari Taisha.|
Both had beautiful architecture and gorgeous gardens.
|Building and garden of Ginkakuji (The Silver Pavilion), a temple in Kyoto.|
The sites were all really beautiful in their own unique ways. But for me, my visits to these sites were about more than just sight-seeing. Because I don't follow either of these religions, I did not participate in religious rituals or worship at these places. But I found it fascinating to learn more about these belief systems and religious sites through direct observation. I feel that learning more about another person's religious beliefs (or any beliefs, for that matter) makes it easier to relate to and understand them. Just making the effort to learn shows that you're not ethnocentric and bigoted, which is a major stereotype of Christians that I believe we need to overcome. And if one is secure in one's own beliefs, exposure to other belief systems should strengthen that faith, not weaken it.
|Couple praying at Kasuga Taisha, a shrine in Nara.|
Over the course of the two-week trip, our group visited six shrines and eleven temples, in addition to some other sight-seeing. Yes, we were basically speed-walking a lot of the time, trying to keep up with Peek-sensei. XD I actually would've like to take it a little slower and have time to take more pictures. But I still have a ton of pictures and experiences to share, so look forward to the next several posts covering some of my favorite temples and shrines!
P.S. A complete list of posts in my Japan series can be found in the Intro post.
PPS. For a more detailed explanation of the differences between shrines and temples, check out this post from The Japan Guy.