Now it’s time for everyone’s favourite game…

Temple or Shrine!

(Ok now click here and let it play in the background while you read the rest of the post) 


I’m your host Kimberly and here are your choices:




japan 10-31 007



Would the shrine(s) be:

A.)  picture 1 

B.)  picture 2 and 3

C.)  none of the above

D.)  wait… are temples and shrines different?




















If you answered B … YAY YOU WIN!!!!!    You’re correct and you can leave a comment if you want a prize.  Now if you answered B and you actually know why it’s correct, double yay for you.  For everyone else who was closer to going with D (like I would be been earlier this year) here’s a quick primer:

( p.s. you can stop the music now… start this one if you’re enjoying the audiovisual component of this post )

Straight from the Nihon Sun:

Signs that you are at a Buddhist Temple:

  • Buddhist temples use the suffix ji in their name.
  • A Buddhist temple always houses an image of the Buddha.
  • A large incense burner is usually that the front of a temple.  The smoke created by the burning of incense is said to have healing properties.
  • There is often a pagoda on the premises of a Buddhist temple.

Signs that you are at a Shinto Shrine:

  • You always enter a Shinto shrine through a torii gate.
  • Shinto shrines use the suffix  jingu, as in Meiji Jingu.
  • A pair of guardian dogs or lions, called shisa or komainu, often sit on each side of the entrance to a Shinto Shrine
  • There is a purification fountain near the entrance to a Shinto shrine where you cleanse your mouth and hands before prayer.


Shrines and Temples are like churches and synagogues… both houses of worship, but for different religions.  Japanese Shrines are for the Shinto religion whereas temples are for the Buddhist religion.  However you can easily (and most people do)  involve yourself in both. Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan and the shrines are both places of prayer, ritual and the dwellings of the kami (Shinto spirits/gods).

People visit shrines to pray for good fortune and pay respect to the different kami.  People don’t visit shrines on any particular day of the week, instead they go during festivals, special life events or when they are hoping for good fortune.

Religion as we think of it in the west feels like a harsh word to associate with Shinto, perhaps spirituality is somewhat of a better term.  Shinto is more of a way of life than anything else and has influenced most aspects of Japanese culture.



‘Shinto lies at the root of the whole of Japanese culture.’  Rene Grousset in The Civilisation of the East

‘Shinto is still, in a manner of speaking, the soul of Japan, and even young Westernised Japanese who take no part in its manifold ritual, are conditioned, as their parents and grandparents were, by its fundamental characteristics.’ – Shinichi Nagai, Gods of Kumano


**Disclaimer**:  I am not an expert in Shinto or any religion.  These are some of the thoughts I have come to based on my own research, talking to people and reading plaques at shrines.  Please feel free to do your own research… I think it’s a pretty interesting topic and I’ll even get you started:




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