Nature & Culture of Japan

To make your trip to Japan more interesting

History Shrines & Shinto Religion Temples & Buddhism Religion

History and difference between shrines and temples

When you come to Japan for sightseeing, you often visit historical facilities related to religion.

There are some Christian churches, but many of them are new. Most of the old buildings you see for sightseeing are shrines and temples. Both are very similar, with the old ones being made of wood and the tall stone lanterns.

Shrines are the facility of ancient Japanese religion = Shinto, and is characterized by having a torii gate. There may be a huge torii gate like Heian Jingu. There is a money box at the place of worship, and a big bell is attached. Since there is no scripture, staff = monks do not chant sutras like temples do.

Temples are the Buddhist facility. Buddhism was introduced from the continent in the 6th century. There is usually no torii gate. The place to worship is the same as the money box, but there is a round bronze bell and it rings. You may see a monk chanting sutras in the building.

However, until the first half of the 19th century, these two religions were confusingly worshiped. So there are rarely temples with torii and shrines where staff calls the Heart Sutra.

In the middle of the 19th century, when a new political system was established by Meiji Restoration, the new government determined the religion of Japan to be Shinto and strictly ordered the two to be separated. As a result, Buddhist temples have declined significantly since then, and were in a bad time until the middle of the 20th century. Around the time of Meiji Restoration, the traditional temple buildings were unfortunately destroyed all over Japan.

A tall stone lantern.
They say the one at Horaisan Fuko temple, Kasai, Hyogo Pref. is the biggest in East Asia.
This kind can be seen at both shrines and temples.

A big torii at Heian Jingu, Kyoto

A small torii at a shrine

A round bronze bell at a temple. You never see this kind at shrines.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *