Temples and shrines are not the same. Points of Difference

There are temples and shrines in Japan. This distinction will help you understand Japanese culture better.

  1. The deities enshrined are different
  2. The manner of praying is also different
  3. How to instantly distinguish between a temple and a shrine

The deities enshrined are different.

Temple = “Buddhism”
  A place to worship the principal image (mainly Buddhist statues)

 Shrine = “Shinto
  A place to worship mirrors and other sacred objects (objects in which deities are believed to reside)

The Japanese, who believed in natural objects, began to build temporary places of worship in sacred places where deities were enthroned.

Gods enshrined in shrines


Buildings were constructed for such purposes as sheltering from wind and rain, and, influenced by Chinese temple architecture, the architectural structure of shrines was arranged to provide a place to worship the spirit of the gods (mittama). There are six other names for shrines: Jingu, Miya, Daijingu, Taisha, and Sha, which are distinguished by size and rank. The highest rank is “Jingu,” as represented by the Ise Jingu Shrine.
Shinto has no founder, but Buddhism is a religion with Buddha as its founder, born in ancient India. Temples in Japan began as places of prayer for the protection of the nation when Buddhism was introduced to Japan.

Gods enshrined in temples


Temples in Japan began with the introduction of Buddhism to Japan and started as places of prayer for the protection of the nation.

Temples are places where Buddhist priests study and practice Buddhist doctrine, and shrines are places where deities reside.

Therefore, the purpose of worship and the content of wishes at temples and shrines are different.

At shrines, people express their gratitude to the gods and pray for happiness in this life, whereas in Buddhism, along with happiness in this life, people can also wish for a place in the Pure Land of Ultimate Bliss after death.

The manner of praying is also different.

Upon entering the shrine grounds, worshippers first purify themselves and their minds at the hand-watering basin.

After that, they offer money at the hall of worship or the main shrine.

The method of worship up to this point is the same for both temples and shrines.

The major difference between temple and shrine visitation is whether or not clapping is used. The major difference between temple and shrine worship is whether or not clapping is done.

How to visit a shrine


The shrine is to be clapped twice (kashi-wade).
Procedure for visiting shrines

(1) Place your money in the money box.

2) If there is a bell, ring it, then fold your state deeply 90 degrees and thank twice.

3) Calmly clap your hands twice and pray with your hands clasped together

④Tell your wishes and the happiness of others, and finally bow deeply and retire.

Some people believe that the clapping of hands is to make the gods notice you.

Please note that some shrines have different numbers of clapping and bowing.

How to visit a temples


The proper way to worship at a temple is simply to clasp your palms together in front of your chest and bow lightly. Be careful not to do Kashiwa-Te by mistake.

Order of visitation at temples

(1) Put your money in the donation box.

(2) If there is a crocodile entrance, ring it and pray with your palms together in front of your chest without clapping your hands.

(3) Finally, bow and leave the temple.

The gesture of ” clasping hands” originated in India, and is said to express the wish for Buddhahood by joining the right hand (in the Buddhist world) and the left hand (in this world) to unite the world of Buddha and this world.

How to instantly distinguish between a temple and a shrine

The best way to distinguish between a shrine and a temple is to look at the roof.

Shrine Features

About Shrines

Shrines use natural materials such as thatch, hiwada (cypress), and kokera (persimmon) for roofs, and the influence of these materials remains strong even today.

Because of the Japanese belief in wood, wood is basically used for everything except roofs.

Chigi and katsuogi are characteristic parts of shrine roofs.

The main shrine building, where the sacred object is enshrined, is often located behind the hall of worship.

On both sides of the approach are the shrine office, a kaguraden, a water closet, and komainu (guardian dogs).

About temples

Since Buddhism is a religion that came via China, tiles, which also came from the continent, are used for roofs.

After the Middle Ages, architectural styles of temples became more diverse, and building materials other than wood were also used.
As large temples began to house large numbers of ascetic monks, they needed a dining hall and other buildings to serve as living quarters, and so they began to be equipped with a number of buildings called “Shichido Gyan”.

Differences in entrances

For shrines and temples separated from the secular world, the entrance serves as a boundary.

Shrines are “Torii”

The Torii gate is the symbol of the shrine and is also used as a map symbol.

It is located at the beginning of the approach to the shrine, and beyond this point is the sacred area where the gods descend.

The basic form of the Torii consists of two pillars topped by a Kasagi, and a Nuki (a piece of wood) below the Kasagi connects the pillars.

The temple is the “Mountain gate”

The Yamamon is the formal entrance to the temple, beyond which is considered to be the land of the Buddha.

By passing through the temple gate and purifying the mind, one faces the Buddha with a beautiful mind.

The name ” Sanmon” is said to derive from the fact that most temples were built on mountains.

Komainu (guardian dogs) stand by the approach from the Torii gate to the hall of worship and are responsible for driving away evil spirits.

Since ancient times, komainu have been regarded as spiritual beasts and have served to ward off evil spirits from entering the shrine.

Depending on the shrine, a fox (Inari Shrine), a deer (Kasuga Shrine), or some other animal may take the place of the Komainu.

Other shrines and temples have a long history and various historical properties. If you take a walk all over the area, you will encounter things of historical value.




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