History(EN) Japan (EN)

Japanese Shrine : Japanese culture explained

This page explains what a shrine is, the difference between a shrine and a temple, how to visit a shrine, the relationship between shrines and Japanese events, and a list of shrines.


What is a shrine?

A Shrine is a facility that enshrines the gods of Shinto, a religion unique to Japan.


The origin of the Shrine

According to the association of Shinto Shrine, large trees, huge rocks, and mountains were thought to be places where the gods descended and settled in the ancient times. The area around them was considered a sacred place.

Eventually, temporary ceremonial sites were built those sacred place and buildings were built to shelter them from the wind and rain.

Then shrines took on the form people know today influenced by chinese temple architecture.


Definition of Shrine and Temple

Shrines are places where gods live, and temples are places where monks live and study doctrine.


Deferences between Temples and Shrines in Japan

What exactly is the difference between shrines and temples?

Here's some of differences between Shrines and temples.

Shrine(神社)Temples(寺)
ReligionShintoBuddhism
What to worship?Shinto deities are many in number, and they seem to deify a variety of things in the forest, from natural objects such as mountains, forests, stones, and sacred trees, to specific people, etc.Buddha
FacilitiesIn general, a shrine has a torii (鳥居 / gate) at the entrance, Sando (参道 / an approach) to the shrine, a Temizuya (手水舎 / a water fountain) to purify oneself, and a Honden (本殿 / main shrine) where the gods are enshrined.Initially, it was a place for monks to practice Buddhism, but as the Buddha gradually became deified, statues of Buddha, and Buddhist temples to house them were born, and the temple took on its current form.
How to VisitAt shrines, people bow twice, clap hands twice, and bow again after offering money.At temples, people join hands together in front of their chest to form a palm after offering money. The etiquette is not to clap hands.
ClergymanA Shinto priest who serves a shrine and performs annual rituals, shrine duties, and prayersMonk:
A monk's basic job is to chant and preach sutras at temples. Other jobs include giving sutras at funerals and managing temples and cemeteries.
OthersThere is a torii gate, a shimenawa rope, etc.Holding prayer beads, ringing bells, burning goma(Sacred fire for invocation), and offering incense. There are bells, Waniguchi (Flat-shaped gigantic bell), and tombs.


Shinto(神道) VS Buddhism(仏教)

A shrine is an institution based on Shinto beliefs, but what is Shinto?

Here's the differences between Shintoism and Buddhism.

ShintoBuddhism
Shinto is a religion that originated in Japan, and its origins are said to date back to the Jomon period around 200 BC.
various objects are deified, including not only specific people, animals, and plants, but also natural objects such as mountains, rivers, the moon, and the sun.
Buddhism is a religion that originated in India with Shakyamuni as its founder. It was introduced to Japan about 1,500 years ago in the Asuka period, according to the "Nihon Shoki" (日本書紀 / Chronicles of Japan).


Types of Shrines

There are different levels of prestige among shrines, and each level has a different name.

TypesDetailExample
Jingu (神宮)It is named to a venerable shrine that is closely associated with the Imperial Family. The criterion for being called a shrine is whether or not it enshrines an ancestral deity of the Imperial Family.Ise-Jingu(伊勢神宮) / Kattori-Jingu(香取神宮)
Gu(宮)It is given to shrines that are recognized for special reasons.
These are shrines that enshrine the emperor or persons associated with the imperial family.
Niko-Toshogu(日光東照宮) / Kashigu(香椎宮)
Taisha(大社)Refers to large shrines that form the core of local beliefsIzumo-Taisha(出雲大社) / Kasuga-Taisha(春日大社)
Jinzya(神社)Common name-
Sha(社)It is a relatively small shrine that enshrines deities that have been split off from larger shrines.-


Features of shrines

Shrines have their own unique structure and objects.

Here's some example.


Torii (鳥居)

A gate that serves as the entrance to the sanctuary where the shrine stands in the center. It means "this is the sanctuary".


Sando(参道)

The path leading to the shrine is called Sando. It means "the way to visit a shrine".


Shimenawa(注連縄)

It is a special rope used to show that the shrine is sacred and clean.


Tesuisha(手水舎)

A place to wash one's hands and rinse one's mouth before visiting a shrine.


Komainu (狛犬 / guardian dogs)

A stone statue of a creature placed on either side of the entrance to a shrine, or on either side of a hall of worship. They are thought to protect the shrine.


Honden (本殿 / Main Shrine)

This is the central facility where the gods are enshrined and is the most sacred place.


Shozoku(装束)

The costume of a Shinto priest


How to visit Shrine

How to do Tyozu(手水)

  1. Take the ladle with the right hand.
  2. Scoop water from the basin and wash the left hand
  3. Switch the ladle to the left hand, scoop water ,and wash the right hand.
  4. Hold the ladle in the right hand again, and catch the water in the palm of the left hand and collect it.
  5. Rinse mouth. Do not put the mouth directly on the ladle. Gently finish rinsing and let the water run down the left hand again.


How to worship

  1. Bow twice
  2. Clap twice, on the second clap begin praying
  3. Bow once again after praying


Shrines and Events

When Japanese people visit shrines?

There is a deep connection between Shinto shrines and Japanese life events and customs, and the following are some of the events that trigger visits to shrines.


Hatsumode(初詣)

Japanese people visit local shrines to greet the gods for the new year and pray for safety and peace for the year ahead.


Weddings

Movie by nigoten2510movie

In Japan, people choose between Japanese and Western wedding styles.


Shichigosan (七五三)

Movie by Yoshio Kato

When a child turns 3, 5, or 7 years old, Japanese people thank the gods for their blessings on the child's health and growth, and have the child purified so that the child will grow up healthier and healthier.

Hatsumiya-mairi(初宮参り)

This is the first time for a baby to be purified and prayed for at a shrine in order to announce that the baby has been safely delivered by the blessings of the gods and to pray for the health, growth, and future blessings of the child.


Coming of age celemony(成人式)

The coming-of-age ceremony is a ceremony to receive the blessing of the society for having become an adult.


100 Best Shrine in Japan

Here's Shrine list from 「日本神社百選 (100 Best Shrine in Japan) 」by Jingoro Usuda, Japanese literature scholar.


Hokkaido / Tohoku area

  1. Hokkaido Shrine (Hokkaido)
  2. Iwakisan Shrine (Aomori)
  3. Koshio Shrine (Akita)
  4. Komagata Shrine (Iwate)
  5. Shiogama Shrine / Shiwahiko Shrine (Miyagi)
  6. Gassan Shrine (Yamagata)
  7. Yudonosan Shrine (Yamagata)
  8. Dewa Shrine (Yamagata)
  9. Tsuttsukowake Shrine (Fukushima)


Kanto area

  1. Nukisaki Shrine (Gunma)
  2. Kashima Shrine (Ibaraki)
  3. Oarai Isosaki Shrine (Ibaraki)
  4. Nikko Futarasan Shrine (Tochigi)
  5. Nikko Toshogu Shrine (Tochigi)
  6. Katori Jingu (Chiba)
  7. Awa Shrine (Chiba)
  8. Hikawa Shrine (Saitama)
  9. Mitsumine Shrine (Saitama)
  10. Okunitama Shrine (Tokyo)
  11. Yasukuni Shrine (Tokyo)
  12. Meiji-Jingu Shrine (Tokyo)
  13. Kanda Shrine (Tokyo)
  14. Hie Shrine (Tokyo)
  15. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine(Kanagawa)
  16. Samukawa Shrine (Kanagawa)
  17. Oyama-afuri Shrine (Kanagawa)
  18. Hakone Shrine (Kanagawa)


Koshinetsu area

  1. Suwa Taisha Shrine (Nagano)
  2. Asama Shrine (Yamanashi)
  3. Yahiko Shrine (Niigata)


Tokai area

  1. Fujisan Hongu Sengen Shrine (Shizuoka)
  2. Mishima Taisha (Shizuoka)
  3. Toga Shrine (Aichi)
  4. Atsuta Shrine(Aichi)
  5. Masumida Shrine(Aichi)
  6. Tsushima Shrine(Aichi)
  7. Nangu Shrine(Gifu)
  8. Minashi Shrine(Gifu)
  9. Ise Kotaijingu(Mie)
  10. Tsubaki Okami Yashiro(Mie)
  11. Aekuni Shrine(Mie)


Hokuriku area

  1. Keta Shrine (Ishikawa)
  2. Shirayamahime Shrine (Ishikawa)
  3. Kibi Shrine(Fukui)
  4. Wakasahiko Shrine(Fukui)


Kinki area

  1. Hie Shrine (Shiga)
  2. Taga-Taisha Shrine (Shiga)
  3. Kamo Wakeikaduchi Shrine (Kyoto)
  4. Kamo Mioya Shrine(Kyoto)
  5. Hirano Shrine (Kyoto)
  6. Matsuo Shrine (Kyoto)
  7. Yasaka Shrine (Kyoto)
  8. Fushimi Inari-taisha(Kyoto)
  9. Iwashimizu Hachimangu(Kyoto)
  10. Kono Shrine(Kyoto)
  11. Kitano Tenmangu shrine(Kyoto)
  12. Kasuga-taisha shrine(Nara)
  13. Isonokami Shrine (Nara)
  14. Yamato Shrine (Nara)
  15. Omiwa Shrine (Nara)
  16. Kashihara Shrine (Nara)
  17. Hinokuma / Kunikakasu Shrine (Nara)
  18. Kumano Hongu Taisha (Wakayama)
  19. Kumano Hayatama Taisha (Wakayama)
  20. Kumano Nachi-taisha (Wakayama)
  21. Kamayama Shrine (Wakayama)
  22. Sumiyoshi-taisha Shrine (Osaka)
  23. Hiraoka Shrine (Osaka)
  24. Osaka Tenmangu Shrine (Osaka)
  25. Nishinomiya Shrine (Hyogo)
  26. Iwa Shrine (Hyogo)
  27. Izanagi Shrine (Hyogo)


Chugoku area

  1. Kibitsu Shrine (Okayama)
  2. Kibitsuhiko Shrine (Okayama)
  3. Itsukushima Shrine (Hiroshima)
  4. Ube Shrine (Tottori)
  5. Izumo-taisha Shrine (Tottori)
  6. Mononobe Shrine (Tottori)
  7. Mizuwakasu Shrine (Tottori)
  8. Tamanooya Shrine (Yamaguchi)
  9. Sumiyoshi Shrine (Yamaguchi)
  10. Akama Shrine (Yamaguchi)


Shikoku area

  1. Inbe Shrine (Tokushima)
  2. Konpira Shrine (Kagawa)
  3. Tamura Shrine (Kagawa)
  4. Tosa Shrine (Kochi)
  5. Oyamazumi Shrine (Ehime)


Kyushu area

  1. Hakozaki Shrine (Fukuoka)
  2. Kashii Shrine (Fukuoka)
  3. Munakata Shrine (Fukuoka)
  4. Miyajidake Shrine (Fukuoka)
  5. Tajima Shrine (Saga)
  6. Yutoku Inari Shrine (Saga)
  7. Suwa Shrine (Nagasaki)
  8. Aso Shrine (Kumamoto)
  9. Yusuhara Hachimangu Shrine (Oita)
  10. Usa Shrine (Oita)
  11. Udo Shrine (Miyazaki)
  12. Miyazaki Shrine (Miyazaki)
  13. Kagoshima Shrine (Kagoshima)
  14. Kirishima Shrine (Kagoshima)
  15. Hirasaki Shrine(Kagoshima)


Learn more about Japan

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■Reference
寺院・神社の違いや種類について
神社本庁
日本神社100選とは?選ばれた神社とマップ
神社に行こう! 神社空間を読み解く①全体図
神社神道の歴史 - 東京都神社庁

-History(EN), Japan (EN)