Do you know the difference between Shrines and Temples in Japan

Two types of religious buildings

We have two types of religious buildings in Japan. One is Shinto shrines, and the other is Buddhist temples. Both have been coexisting for a long time in Japan. A typical Japanese visit both depending on purpose.

Japanese Religion view

The Japanese see Shinto as the nation’s native religion. Buddhism is viewed as country’s philosophical backbone, and Christianity as an idea reflecting Western values and culture. Interestingly, the three religion keep mingled in the daily lives.

Christmas has become one of the most popular days of the year in Japan, and each person has his ore her own particular way of celebrating it. Yet, a few days after Christmas, the same Japanese make their ways to Shinto shrines to pray for good luck in the year ahead. And many of ancestors rest in cemeteries at Buddhist temples.

We worship the god of shirine

In a shrine, we worship the god. We visit shrine on auspicious event, such as Hatsumode which means first visit to shrine to please goodness of that year. Shrine is surrounded woods and have a Torii gate at the entrance.

These gates consists of two upright posts connected at the top by two crosspieces. They are believed to keep evil spirits out of the shrine precincts and to purify those passing through the gate.

Shinto for Japanese

In the beginning, Japanese had a set of beliefs of their own. They believed that a spiritual power was found in nature, such as in stones, waterfalls, and trees. Such beliefs were the origins of Shinto. The local beliefs were integrated under a Shinto that was backed by the authority of the ancient imperial government.

However, Shinto still exists on a region-to-region basis, and these regions are deeply connected with their own local beliefs and gods. As a result, from one season to the next, countless festivals take place all over the country. Spring and autumn are particularly busy times, as these seasons were closely connected with agricultural events such as seeding and harvesting.

In the grounds beyond the this Torii gate, there are Chozuya which has a small pavilion with washbasin, Koma-inu which means guardian dogs.

We usually offer money to the god when we worship them, which is called Saisen. And following picture is Saisenbako which means box we throw the money in. The amount offered is not fixed, so people can throw money depending on their feeling.

How to pray at Shrine

  1. Before praying, wash your hands at the watering place of the shrine to purify yourself
  2. Pull and shake the rope at the front of the shrine, which will ring a bell above you to notify the god  of your presence.
  3. Throw a coin gently into the box that is near the rope at the front of shrine. This donation is called Saisen.
  4. Bow deeply and then clap your hands two times. Next, close your eyes, holding your hands together in prayer.
  5. Of course, don’t forget to think of what you desire during your prayer.
  6. Bow once again to bring the prayer to its end.

We sometimes buy Omamori. Omamori is piece of wood or paper on which wishes like safety, easy birth and passing the test are inscribed and which is kept in small bag. We believe that we can get the blessing of the god by keeping it.

Omikuji is a strip of paper with a fortune printed on it. On the Omikuji, good luck is indicated by the Kanji character KICHI. Bad luck is represented by the Kanji character KYO. If the fortune is unfavorable, the strip of paper is often tied to a nearby tree to leave the bad luck behind.

In a temple, the Buddha is worshiped

Buddhist temples are where Buddhist statues are enshrined. Buddhist monks live there and Buddhist doctrines are taught there.

Buddhism for Japanese

Buddhism was introduced to Japan through China and Korea in the 6th century. With some exception, most Japanese don’t practice Buddhist rituals. It has been sarcastically remarked Japanese Buddhism is only used for funerals. However it is also true that the culture surrounding Buddhism has had a profound influence. From the fine arts to daily life and from philosophy to everyday customs, consciously or unconsciously, Buddhism is a part of the Japanese mindset. Particularly, in this complicated and often hectic modern age, many people take Buddhism to be a sort of healing practice. And this is why Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, is still the most popular tourist destination among Japanese, as it is the best place for visiting quite a few old Buddhist temples.

In temple, there is usually temple bell. They ring their bells a total of 108 times at midnight of the last day of the year. It is said that the number 108 correspond to the number of human’s desires. Every bell sound gets rid of our 108 desires so that we can start the New Year in refreshed feeling.

A lot of Japanese go to famous temple in Japan for sightseeing. Besides that, we go there for funeral and special events such as memorial services for ancestors.


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