Saturday, October 26, 2013

Japan Series! - Japanese Temples and Shrines

     We're finally getting around to the sight-seeing portion of my Japan trip series! One thing we saw a lot of were sites of religious significance to the Japanese people. Japan's two major religions are Shinto and Buddhism, so that means lots of shrines and temples!
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.


  1. Hi Kristy,

    You are great finding differences between shrine and temple.

    As for the Shinto, "deities" more suit than the experssion of "gods".

    The other clues which distinguish between the said two religions are, for example, for the shrine, Shimenawa ( a cloud like sacred straw festoon ) & Kamishide ( paper decorations of lightning image attached down from a Shimenawa ) , and for the temple, a burial ground.

    A pair of animal statues which set on the precinct of the shrine are "messengers of the shrine's deity", and human statues on the templeyard are guardians.

    The Torii gate is settled on a boarder between sanctuary and civil place.

    In Japan, there was a Shinto religion and Buddhism came later.
    In history, in later, the Japanese took each good teaching of the religions and that mind attitude drove to unite even the site as one.
    When Japan opened the nation wider to the West, most of the co-sited & combined religion situation went apart.
    Even now, there are some the temple which has a shrine, and vice versa.
    In this sence, such a traveler like you would met some confusions.

    And additionally, the people has a third religion called ShugenDou - a hybrid of Shinto and esoteric Buddhism.
    This religion had a large number of followers with many educated leaders that would took a great threat to the new government at the Meiji Restoration period, so the new power drove to weeken the potential political rival.
    Today, the followers are very small number, but still they have temples and practices.

    There is a unique type of a lodge called ShukuBou. It was originally offered to the pilgrims to the shrine or temple. However, nowadays, people can stay a night at there for their sightseeings' purpose. Many of that lodge offer to the applicant some religious practices.
    I imagine there is a tendency that the ShukuBou lodge locates close to the temple offers vegetarian meals at breakfast and dinner, but the lodge close to the shrine is probably not all the case so strict for the meals.
    The tourist like you will probably want to stay some ShukuBou lodges.

    The numbers of each shrine and temple are perhaps almost same or greater than the number of convenience store in Japan.

    There maybe many worth to view. Among them, I suggest you to visit & feel the air & ground at shrines of "IseJingu" and/or "IzumoTaisha".

    I hope you could enjoy my comment and deepen your curiosity.


    1. たろさんありがとうございます!That was a lot of interesting information that I didn't know. Actually, I think I saw some Shimenawa and Kamishide on my trip, but I didn't know what they were called until now. :)

  2. I am a man who love Japan.........


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