Differences between Shrines and Temples that Even the Japanese Do Not Know

Differences between Shrines and Temples that Even the Japanese Do Not Know

Since olden days, shrines and temples have been the spiritual centers of the Japanese people.
They are places that accept people's joy, anger, sorrow, and all other emotions, and historically speaking, the influence that shrines and temples have brought about in the world is immeasurable.

However, few people know the true meaning of the existence of either shrines or temples.
Even among the Japanese, not many people can clearly distinguish between the two.

Of course, abstract impressions such as "beautiful" or "sentimental" are enough to enjoy a visit to a temple or shrine.
However, if you go deeper, you will discover a different way to enjoy them.
In this issue, we will take you into the maniac world of shrines and temples.

Differences in Religion

The biggest difference between shrines and temples is the religion they follow.
Simply put, a shrine is an institution built for those who believe in Shintoism, and a temple for those who believe in Buddhism.

Shinto is a religion that originated in Japan.
Long ago, Japanese people believed that gods reside in all things, including the sun, nature, people, and even objects are the subjects of their faith.
Shinto is thus characterized by the worship of a thousand different deities and has no specific leader or teachings.
Shrines are considered to be places where the deities worshiped in each region reside.
The crimson-colored Torii gates at the entrances to shrines serve as a boundary between the sacred grounds and the outside world.
Incidentally, there are shrines with various names, such as "Jingu" and "Taisha," which are used according to differences in prestige and size.
For example, "Jingu" as represented by Meiji Jingu Shrine is considered the shrine of the highest rank.

Buddhism, on the other hand, is a religion that originated in India and was introduced to Japan from China.
The founder of Buddhism is a person called Buddha.
While there are many sects of Buddhism, all of them share the same founder, Shakyamuni Buddha.
The basic principle of Buddhism is "I alone am honored in heaven and on earth."
In other words, it is the belief that all people living in this world are precious.
And temples are supposed to be places for Buddhist believers to practice.
Since Buddhism was also believed to have the power to bring peace to a country, tremendous amounts of money and effort have long been poured into temples as a center for Buddhism.

Differences in Objects of Worship

Since Shintoism and Buddhism differ in their beliefs, there are naturally differences in what is worshiped at shrines and temples.

First of all, shrines enshrine "sacred objects" such as human statues, mirrors, and swords, in which deities are believed to reside.
Depending on the object of worship, some shrines use mountains, waterfalls, or, in rare cases, the air as the object of worship, called the go-shintai, giving us a sense of the diversity of Shintoism.
However, the go-shintai is often placed in a hidden place, and generally cannot be seen.

On the other hand, in temples, objects of faith, such as the Buddha, are installed in the form of "Buddhist statues."
Originally, the belief in physical objects was not permitted, but it is said that Buddha statues were created to spread Buddhism to the general public in an accessible manner.
There are a wide variety of forms of Buddha images, and there are even some enthusiasts who are searching for their favorite one.

Differences in Method of Worship

Shrines and temples have different methods of worship.
You will not be scolded for worshiping in the wrong way, but while you are at it, why not learn the correct way to worship anyway?

First, how to visit a shrine.
Begin worshiping at a shrine by passing through the torii gate. After bowing in front of the torii gate, proceed to the hall of worship.
However, be careful at this time as well. Since the middle of the path is considered to be the path for the gods, please walk along the edge of the path, either to the left or right.
There should be a purification fountain area called "Chozuya'' on the path, so cleanse your hands and mouth there.
Using a ladle, wash your left hand, then your right, and finally, rinse your mouth with water poured in the palm of your left hand.
At this point, you can finally stand in front of the hall of worship.
Throw in your coins and shake the rope with the bell attached.
It is believed that the sound of the bell can bring the gods to you.
Then bow twice, clap twice, and bow once again.
Your request should be followed by slowly putting your hands together and then praying.

The next part is how to visit a temple.
First, bow at the entrance before heading to the main temple hall.
You may walk in the middle of the street, but just make sure not to step on the threshold of the gate.
The method of cleansing your hands and mouth is the same as at a shrine. If there is a burning incense offered along the way, fan the incense with your hands to let the smoke cover you and cleanse your body and mind.
If you stand in front of the temple's main hall, throw in some money and pray silently with your palms together.
Clapping is not required at temples and don't forget to bow before leaving the place.

Three Famous Shrines in Japan

From here, we will introduce some of the most famous among the estimated 88,000 shrines in Japan.

Ise Jingu

First of all, we would like to introduce Ise Jingu, which boasts an unrivaled standing among all the shrines in Japan.
It is also called "the spiritual home of the Japanese people" because it has been a place of worship for the masses since ancient times.
Various events are held throughout the year, and among them, the "Shikinen Sengu" ceremony, in which buildings are rebuilt once every 20 years, is the largest Shinto ritual at Ise Jingu.
The next one is scheduled for 2033, so if you are lucky, you may be able to catch a glimpse of a traditional event that has continued for 1,500 years.

Meiji Jingu

The second is Meiji Jingu, where Emperor Meiji and his empress are enshrined.
Although located in the heart of Tokyo, the shrine is unique for its lush natural surroundings and is famous as one of Japan's leading power spots.
It is said to bring various benefits such as prosperity in business, success in school, and fulfillment for love, so when you are not sure where to visit, you will not regret it if you pay a visit to Meiji Jingu.

Itsukushima Shrine

Lastly, but not least, Itsukushima Shrine.
The most attractive feature is the appearance of the shrine pavilions built on the sea.
The shrine's appearance varies with the rising and falling tides, creating a mystical atmosphere as if one were looking at a painting.
If you visit at low tide, you can walk across to the Otorii (Grand Gate) towering over the sea and feel its grandeur with your own eyes.

Three Famous Temples in Japan

Next, we have selected three famous temples in Japan that you should know about from among the 77,000 temples in the country.

Todaiji Temple

The most recognizable and famous statue of the Great Buddha in Japan is the one at Todaiji Temple in Nara Prefecture.
The 14.98-meter-high "Daibutsu" is said to have taken 9 years and 2.6 million workers to complete.
Of course, the temple where the statue is located is also one of the largest in Japan.
The huge wooden building in front of the temple is impressive to anyone who sees it.
Incidentally, inside the building there is a pillar with a hole the same size as the nose hole of the Great Buddha.
It is said that if you can squeeze through the hole, you will be blessed with happiness, so be sure to try it when you visit the temple someday.

Senso-ji Temple

The oldest temple in Tokyo, Senso-ji was built in 628.
Located in the center of the city, it is a popular tourist spot among foreigners as a place where they can easily experience the atmosphere of Japan.
The approach from the gate to the main hall is full of shops, making it a great place to eat and buy souvenirs while visiting the temple.

Kinkakuji Temple

Rokuonji Temple, also known as "Kinkakuji Temple" in Kyoto, is famous for its golden exterior that resembles the heavenly paradise.
It is made by applying real gold leaf on top of lacquer.
The reflection of Kinkakuji on the surface of the lake is a spectacle of the most stunning scenery, a combination of man-made objects and nature.
Incidentally, there is also a temple called "Ginkakuji" near Kinkakuji.
It is not shining silver, but it has a tranquil beauty different from that of Kinkakuji, so if you have a chance, please compare the two temples.