What is the difference between Japanese shrine and temple?

Shrine vs Temple

Konnichiwa! Mishi desu! How are you doing everybody? All of sudden I want to ask you this! Which one is shrine or temple?? Can you tell the difference? I was watching Japanese anime”Natsume’s Book of Friends(Natsume Yujincho) today and got me thinking what is the difference between shrine and temple?

If you know this anime, Natsume has a friend and is the son of a priest. I was watching the episode he was in. Then all of sudden I started to think temple? ?shrine?? What is the difference???????Σ(`Д`;≡;゜Д゜)!!As you see the building and everything, how can you tell this is shrine or temple? Nyanko sensei Help meeeeeee…….But he was not here so I decided to search difference by myself……..lol

So today I want to share with you what I found out! If you don’t know this, let’s relax and sit back and read my post!




What is a shrine?


Nishimukiten Jinja

Nishimukiten Jinja’s Torii

The shrine is for Shinto. About Shinto, I have a different post for Shinto. So go ahead click on Shinto if you want to know. The shrine has a gate which doesn’t have a roof, it is called Torii. If you watch Naruto, in his mind he tied Kyuubi down with a red gate right? Yes, that is it, it is not red color all the time, though. Gate means it is saying that from here on, as getting through the gate, you are stepping into the precincts of a Shinto shrine. It separates the world of human and a world of gods. When you step into a shrine, some people say that they feel other spirits.

Japanese tend to go to a shrine for gathering power that you can’t see, just to feel it is also said to bring you good luck. That is why lately in Japan there are many tours are called “Power Spot Tour”. They go to shrines to feel the power and feel the charm of the gods to bring good luck to you. I wished I could join those tours!! If you can feel spirits or ghost, maybe you can feel something to go to those places.(*゜∀゜)=3!! Please let me know if you could feel it or not!

By the way, Shrine has 2 buildings. One is called Honden and the other one is called Haiden. Let’s pick Honden up first,

Honden means main building. Honden is a place where something for god to dwell in is arranged in that building. Something can be anything, for example, sword, mirror, whatever that shrine believes god can dwell in. As Shinto, the universe is the god, sometimes you will see some shrine’s that have big trees or big rocks to pray for. I personally like the way it is!

Next is Haiden, Haiden is a place to pray at. The way they pray is like this.

Bow(deep bow) twice → Clap hands twice → Bow(deep bow) one time. This way is normal and general. But sometimes it is up to the shrine.


What is a temple?



Ryuuzenji’s Sanmon

Temple is for Buddha. Temple also has a gate but it’s called Sanmon. Temple has a Buddha statue in building in front of the place where you pray at, Shrine has Honden but temple has Hondou, just the name is different, both of them mean main building.

Basically, the temple also has a garden. You know how beautiful Japanese gardens are! Temple is a place where monks train to achieve enlightenment. For common people, they go to the temple to pray for good luck or after death, you will be able to go to heaven. Later one is kind of old way to pray. Nowadays people go to the temple and pray for passing a test, having good grades, meeting a good partner, getting rich, or whatever you want to pray for!

In Japan, there are a couple of different denomination of Buddhism. If you go to Kyoto, you will see many temples everywhere! But each one of them has a different style. So It would be fun to figure out which denomination of Buddhism this temple has, that temple has! You know what I mean?

The way they pray at a temple is like this.

Put hands together → Bow(little bow) one time. It is different from Shinto.


The difference of the name of workers at a shrine and a temple


Now, you know what is the difference between shrine and temple. The name of workers is different. Let’s see how they are called.




Shinto priest(Kannushi/神主)

Shinto priestA person who is on the top of the shrine is called Shinto priest. They are called Kannushi(神主) in Japanese. Shinto priest’s job is to protect gods and pray for them. Shinto priest also has to keep the circumstance of shrine clean and pure so the people who visit their shrine feel sacred. By the way, there are many Kannushi who are girls too!


Shinto maiden(Miko/巫女)

Shinto maidenIf you go to the shrine, you will see girls who wear Japanese traditional clothing like Kagome from Inuyasha. They are called Shinto maiden(Miko/巫女). They are also called Miko-san too. Their job is to help the shrine. For example, they sell stuff, clean their shrine, and more.

There are many people are Shinto maiden as a full-time job(especially, at the famous shrine) but for the new year, there are many Miko-san are hired as a part-time job. You will see some guys do the job with Miko but they are mostly Shinto priests who have a low rank.

Some people are called Fugeki(巫覡) who is a guy do his job as same as Miko does. This name is an opposite side of Miko.




The chief priest of a Buddhist temple(Jyuushoku/住職)

Japanese monkA person who is the top of the temple is called The chief priest of a Buddhist temple(Jyuushoku/住職). What they do is as same as Shinto priest does. They protect their gods and temple. They are sometimes called Obou san or Bou-san. But those names are also for Souryo too. Those names are generally for the name of monks.

You will sometimes see girls are Jyuushoku too. The girl who is the top of the temple is called Amadera(尼寺). At Amadera, Jyuushoku who is a girl are called Anju(庵主). They are sometimes called Anju sama or Anju san.

Anyway, they are all called Jyuushoku.



Temple is a place to train for monks so you will see the people who look like a picture. What they do is to study Buddhism and help temple.

Jyuusyoku is a monk too. Monk is a name of the people who trains for Buddhism.




What do you pray for at a shrine and a temple?


A common thing to pray at a shrine and a temple is to wish for your happiness in the present world. This way is same. But to pray at a temple has a different way. This is because the temple is for Buddhism so you can pray for your afterlife too. But what you have to notice is the statue of the temple. If the statue of Buddha is for the present world then you have t o pray for your presence. If the statue of Buddha is for the afterlife then you have to pray for your afterlife.

You can pray for whatever you want to pray! I hope your wish will come true!


Why is it confusing to recognize a shrine and a temple?


Even though some Japanese people can’t say which is which. But it has a reason. The simple answer is syncretism(Shinbutsu Shugou/神仏習合). This means Shinto and Buddhism mixed together. Shinto doesn’t have a doctrine but many people believed in Shinto before Buddhism came in Japan. Buddhism has materials to pray for so to learn from Buddhism to make a systematization of Shinto, those religions got closer to each one and Japan went to become syncretism.

So, you will get to see Japanese people have a wedding at a shrine or a temple. They treat both of them equally and those are deeply rooted Japanese life.


You can tell a shrine or a temple with Kanji!


Okay! This is for advanced people. There are two more ways to know the difference of shrine and temple. According to Kanji or pronunciation, you can tell shrine or temple clearly.


Kanji of shrine

Shrine has those Kanji or pronunciation at the end of the name.

“大社(Taisha/Ooyashiro)”, “神宮(Jinguu)”, and “神社(Jinja)”

I give you the famous names of the shrine as an example.

伏見稲荷大社(Fushimi Inari Taisha)

出雲大社(Izumo Ooyashiro)

明治神宮(Meiji Jinguu)

厳島神社(Itsukushima Jinja)

See? It is easy, right? Next is the temple.


Kanji of temple

Temple has those Kanji or pronunciation at the end of the name.

“寺(Ji/Dera(Tera))”, “院(In)”, and “大師(Taishi(Daishi))”

This is an example!

東大寺(Toudai Ji)

清水寺(Kiyomizu Dera)

平等院(Byoudou In)

川崎大師(Kawasaki Daishi)

Now, you can tell shrine or temple as you see Kanji! ♪(o=゜▽゜)人(゜▽゜=o)♪

(They have more different Kanji to express shrine and temple. What I explained cover most of shrine and temple to understand which is which!)


What is the difference between a shrine and a temple?


Okay, time to summarize this up! I made a table to compare both for an easy way to understand! Here you go!( ゚д゚ )ノ

GateTorii(No roof)Sanmon(It has a roof)
StatueNo(basically). It would be a mirror, a sword, and more.Yes
How to prayBow(deep bow) twice → Clap hands twice → Bow(deep bow) one time(This way is formal worship. Sometimes, it is up to shrine)Put hands together → Bow(little bow) one time
The name of the workers住職(Jyuushoku) or 庵主(Anju)
巫女(Miko) or 巫覡(Fugeki)
Kanji or pronunciation大社(Taisha/Ooyashiro), 神宮(Jinguu), and 神社(Jinja)寺(Ji/Dera(Tera)), 院(In), 大師(taishi(Daishi)), and more




This is how you can recognize a shrine and a temple. Shinto is a unique culture of japan. You don’t need to have anything to know Shintoism. All you have to have is a feeling to respect all the nature! It is a very humble way!

By the way, do you know how to visit a shrine and temple? If you are interested in it, click this page.

Well, can you tell which is which now, right? v(°∇^*)⌒☆

Ja–ne– ( ^-^)/U☆U\(^-^ )





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