Japanese Shrine vs Temple : Which do you like most? Can you tell the difference?

In Japan, Shrines and Temples abound. They are places of worship of the Shinto and Buddhist religions and are an integral part of Japanese culture and lifestyle. Since they have many common architectural characteristics, it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference, can you?
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Actually, at some point in the history of Japan, Shintoism and Buddhism were merged so that Shrines and Temples became more similar. Shintoism and Buddhism were split again during the Meiji Restoration. However, not all Temples or Shrines returned to their original faith. Some Shrines became Temples, and some Temples became Shrines. It is therefore very difficult to distinguish some of them on an architectural standpoint. One major hint is the presence of Buddha statues which appear only in Temples! I recently came across this interesting post which lists the differences between Temples and Shrines! One notable difference is the presence of Pagodas in Temples and of Torii gates in Shrines! This article also lists common differences between Shrines and Temples, notably the presence of purification fountain in Shrines and incense burner in Temples.

Leave your opinion on Japanese Shrines and temples below!

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Gaijin San

Since my better half is Japanese I often have the chance to travel to Japan. I grew fond over time of this magnificent country. I thought of sharing with you some places worth visiting in this little but growing travel guide to Japan. I try to show with images what I can't express with words. I hope you may find here some inspiration! For those who wonder, I chose the moniker Gaijin-San after being called like this by a waitress at a grilled eel restaurant. "Gaijin" means foreigner and "San" is a honorific suffix in Japanese.

3 thoughts on “Japanese Shrine vs Temple : Which do you like most? Can you tell the difference?”

  1. As an untrained eye, I could/can not tell the difference. But I do like the architecture. Its looks as though the Buddhist temples are ‘bigger’ and draw more attention to them. Could be all wrong though.

  2. Hi Thomas. You may be right, it is possible that some temples are larger in appearance. I think that originally, Temples and shrines really had discernible characteristics and that the size of the main building was probably one of them. Judging from the few I have visited, I think Temples tend to be many stories high while Shrines have only one floor. The size might have also been influenced by the wealth of the rulers who financed them! The differences are probably less noticeable in Shrines and Temples of lesser historical importance. Some of those tend to be of similar size, and since they incorporated Shinto and Buddhist features over time, might be hard to distinguish nowadays!

  3. Let me list the differences between shrine and temple.

    SHRINE – Shintoism TEMPLE – Buddhism
    SHRINE – Clapping before a prayer is okay TEMPLE – Prayers are silent
    SHRINE – Centers around a variety of gods TEMPLE – Centers on Buddha
    SHRINE – Unique to Japan TEMPLE – Similar temples in China, Japan, and India where Buddhism is prevalent
    SHRINE – Jingu in the name TEMPLE – Ji in the name
    SHRINE – Torii TEMPLE – Pagoda

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