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Beyond Tokyo

Explore the enchanting differences between shrines and temples in Japan

One of the most frequently asked questions from people traveling to Japan is what is the difference between shrines and temples? The religion of Japan is “Shintoism”, right? There is such a thing. So this time, I would like to touch on the difference between a shrine and a temple.

Kitaguchi Sengen shrine

There are about 80,000 shrines and 77,000 temples in Japan. Both shrines and temples are very sacred places, and they are places where you can pray peacefully and relaxed. Its unique space and beauty are indispensable for sightseeing in Japan.
Not only do you have to look at its unique beauty and take pictures, but you can also experience the cultural part of it, which will make your trip to Japan even more fulfilling. So, whether you’re drawn to the mystical allure of shrines or the serene wisdom of temples, Japan’s sacred sites promise an unforgettable adventure!

In the first place, the difference between a shrine and a temple is a facility with a different religion. Due to the differences in religious beliefs, the content of prayer is mainly different between shrines and temples.

Shrine:
We worship God at Shinto religious facilities. At the shrine, people pray for happiness and wishes in this world, and when their wishes come true, they come to thank them.

Isosaki Shrine

Temples:
Enshrine the Buddha in a Buddhist religious facility. At the temple, we express our gratitude for our daily lives and pray for a paradise after death.

Hase Temple

So how are Shinto and Buddhism different? Here are some of the differences between Shinto and Buddhism.

Difference Between Shinto and Buddhism
Shinto is an ethnic religion born in Japan. In Shintoism, it is believed that gods dwell in everything around us, and are sometimes described as “eight million gods”. Shinto is not a monotheistic religion, but a polytheistic religion. The supreme deity of Shinto is Amaterasu, the radiant sun goddess. Multiple gods are enshrined in the shrine, and the gods enshrined in each shrine are called “Saishin”. In some cases, those who have achieved great feats are enshrined as gods in shrines. For example, Nikko Toshogu Shrine is Tokugawa Ieyasu, Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine is Sugawara Michishin, and Meiji Jingu Shrine is Emperor Meiji and Empress Meiken. The shrine will be set up in a “special sanctuary”.

Hakone Shrine

The shrine enshrines the “divine body” in which the gods dwell. The divine body is the object of worship. There are various types of deities, from mirrors and swords to the sea, to mountains, to things in nature that have been transformed into animals. For example, the shrine of Asama Shrine’s divine body is majestic Mt. Fuji, and the Atsuta Jingu cradles an ancient sword.
It is believed that all the objects enshrined in the shrine have spiritual power and protection.

Asama Shrine

Since there is no guru or doctrine, there is no teaching not to do this, but if I dare to name a few, it is rooted in the hearts and cultures of many Japan people, such as “giving in,” “supporting each other,” “thanks,” and “punishment.”

Buddhism is a foreign religion that originated in India and was introduced to Japan around the 6th century via China. Buddhism is a world religion founded by Buddha, and it offers prayers based on scriptures and thinks about people’s salvation, such as how to go to the Pure Land of Paradise after death. The temple is decorated with the “Gohonzon”, which is the object of worship. The highest rank is a Buddha called “Amitabha”. More than half of the temples in Japan have Amida enshrined.

Zojoji Temple

The cornerstone of Buddhist teachings is “reincarnation,” in which life and death circulate. It is an image of becoming enlightened through prayer and breaking out of the painful cycle of life and death. There is a teaching called “causal retribution” that all evil deeds will return and will be unfortunate in the next life, and conversely, good deeds will remain as virtues and will return in a fortunate form. Buddhism has precepts, and there are precepts that prohibit stealing and killing. Compassion and mindfulness guide our actions.

Kamakura Kenchoji Temple

In addition, there are several sects of Buddhism, and one of them, Zen Buddhism, is different from the idea that you can get out of suffering just by praying based on the scriptures, and the idea of attaining enlightenment through rigorous training without relying on the scriptures. Some of you may have heard of it as “Zen” overseas.
Zen training is mainly carried out in the great outdoors, but in order to practice from indoors, Zen Buddhist temples also feature a beautiful Zen garden of “dry mountain water” that represents nature.

Zen Place

Are Japan people irreligious?
It is said that 61% of people in Japan are not religious, but in addition to first pilgrimage, grave visits, and weddings, there are many Japan people who visit shrines and temples and hold festivals at every milestone.
Unlike monotheistic countries, polytheistic Japan does not worship on a fixed day, and it may be difficult to understand when you see Christmas celebrated or Buddhist people having weddings in churches. For better or worse, Japan’s openness to religion has allowed it to absorb cultural influences from around the world at a very rapid pace.

New Year’s Day in Shrine

How to distinguish a shrine from a temple
There is a torii gate at the entrance of the shrine, but the temple has a mountain gate, a bell, and a tomb. Shrines (jinja) are dedicated to kami (spirits or deities), and the torii symbolizes the transition from the mundane to the mystical, while the mountain gate(Sanmon) signify the boundary between our world and enlightenment.

Akagi Shrine

Look out for komainu, the mythical lion-dog guardians, gracing shrine grounds. Their fierce yet protective presence adds to the enchantment. Keep an eye out for statues of Nio—the fierce at temple, muscular guardians who ward off evil. Their solemn gaze invites contemplation.

Komainu at Hakone Shrine

The roof of the shrine is based on materials of natural origin and is characterized by planking on stilts. Compared to simple shrines, temples have more buildings, are more solemn, and have tiled roofs.
Since the temple is both a place of training and a place of living, there are various ancillary facilities such as kitchens and living rooms.

Kenchouji Temple Kamakura

Also, at the shrine, you cannot see the enshrined god like the Buddha statue in the temple. Shrines have priests and priestesses, while temples have monks and nuns.

Sometimes, shrines and temples share space, their torii gates intertwining. This reflects Japan’s rich history, where Shinto and Buddhism coexist harmoniously.

Differences in Worship Methods
First, cleanse your hands and mouth with hand water. After that, head to the main shrine. Put in the money and ring the bell. Up to this point, both shrines and temples are common.

Chozu

At the shrine, you will worship with “two bows, two clap, one bow”. Bow twice, clap twice, pray, and bow one last time.
In the temple, we do not clap our hands, but ring a large disc bell and silently put our hands together in prayer. Where there is an incense stand, we burn incense.
It is said that it is important to state your name and address at the shrine and express your gratitude before visiting with all your heart.
After visiting the shrine, when you leave the torii gate and the mountain gate, you bow to the main shrine.

Goshuin Seal
The Goshuin seal is a stamped certificate that is given as a proof of the visit to a shrine or temple. Collecting Goshuin seals is popular in Japan. This can be obtained at both shrines and temples.

In this article, we have introduced the difference between shrines and temples. It can be briefly summarized as follows.

  • Shinto shrines are Shinto facilities that originated in Japan and are built in sacred places to pray to the gods for happiness in this world. The structure is simple with natural materials. There is a torii gate and a komainu guards it.
  • The temple is a Buddhist religious facility that originated in India, and is a place to pray to the Buddha for gratitude in this life and for the Pure Land of Paradise after death. The structure is majestic and features a tiled roof. There is a mountain gate and a statue of Nio guards it.
  • Shinto teachings are rooted in the sensuous ethics of the Japan people
  • In Buddhism, reincarnation and causal retribution are the cornerstones of belief
  • Shinto does not have the precepts of Buddhism
  • Shinto and Buddhism are closely intertwined, and shrines and temples are sometimes located on the same site, making it difficult to distinguish them
Nikko Toshogu

How was it, everyone? Did you understand the difference between a typical shrine and a temple to feel Japan culture? So, dear travelers, pack curiosity, wander ancient paths, and let Japan’s whispers guide you.

Mahalo Nuiloa Local Guide Japan coordinates your desired trip. We look forward to supporting your trip to Japan. You can check the tour image of the trip on this site.

Beyond Tokyo

Winter Wonderland of Illuminated Mini Kamakura

I’d like to introduce the Yunishigawa Onsen Kamakura Festival once a year hold from 1994, a magical winter tradition that graces the serene town of Yunishigawa in Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture. Picture this: almost thousand of miniature Kamakura (snow houses) aglow with candlelight, creating a fairyland of snow and light. This “Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival” is a superb view that has been certified as a Japan historical night view heritage. Let’s delve into the wonder of this unique festival and entice your adventurous spirit!

Yunishigawa Onsen: A Hidden Gem

Where is Yunishigawa Onsen? Nestled deep in the mountains, Yunishigawa Onsen lies in a quiet, heavy snowfall area. For over 800 years, its natural hot springs have been a soothing haven for travelers seeking respite. Legend has it that this very place once harbored the wounded Heike warriors after their defeat at the Battle of Dannoura. Imagine their healing baths amidst the snow-covered landscape!

Hot Springs and Customs The hot springs here were serendipitously discovered—when someone wondered why there was no snow in a particular spot, they dipped their hands in and surprised! Hot water flowed forth. To this day, customs unique to Yunishigawa persist. Along the No carp streamers flutter, no smoking occurs, and chickens are absent. Why? Fear of Heike descendants being discovered by pursuers.

Local Cuisine and Hearthside Meals Warm up around the hearth with hearty local cuisine. Picture yourself savoring game dishes while snowflakes dance outside. It’s an experience that connects you to the past, where history and flavors intertwine.

Irori
Hot pot

Historical Reconciliation In 1994, more than 800 years after the Heike-Genji conflict, a reconciliation event took place here. The echoes of ancient battles still resonate, making Yunishigawa a living testament to Japan’s rich heritage.

How to Reach Yunishigawa Onsen

Yunishigawa Onsen is easily accessible. Hop on the Tobu Limited Express from Asakusa or Kita Senju, and within 2.5 hours, you’ll arrive at this tranquil haven. From Yunishigawa Onsen Station, a scenic 25-minute bus ride takes you to the heart of the festival.

Tobu Spacia X

In addition, Yunishigawa Onsen Station is also famous as a station in an underground tunnel and a station with hot springs. The scenery of snow coming in from the tunnel is also tasteful and wonderful.
There is about one bus per hour, so it is recommended to check the connection time in advance.

Yunishikawa station

Yunishigawa Onsen Kamakura Festival

Yunishigawa Onsen Kamakura Festival, a celebration that began in 1994 as a revitalization effort for this serene town. Held every year during weekends throughout the month of January, this festival transports you to a magical world where more than 600 mini-Kamakura (snow huts) come alive with twinkling lights.

The setting: Heike Village and Along the Yunishi River
Heike Village: Imagine strolling through a charming village adorned with miniature snow houses. Each Kamakura is lovingly crafted and illuminated by dedicated volunteers. The scene evokes the spirit of ancient Japan, where warmth and community thrive amidst the winter chill.

Heike Village

Along the Yunishi River: Follow the gentle flow of the Yunishi River, where the banks are lined with these delightful snow structures. As dusk settles, the magic intensifies. The soft glow of candlelight dances on the snow, creating an ethereal ambiance. It’s no wonder this breathtaking vista has been officially recognized as a Japan Historical Night View Heritage.

Yunishi River

When and How to Experience It

Illumination Time: The festival begins at 5:30 in the evening, casting a spell over Yunishigawa. As the night deepens, the Kamakura glow brighter, beckoning you to explore their cozy interiors.

A Must-See View: Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time visitor, witnessing this spectacle is a must. The juxtaposition of snow, light, and tradition creates a superb view—one that lingers in your memory long after you’ve left.

Explore and Immerse: After 7 o’clock, step inside these tiny snow sanctuaries. Feel the warmth radiating from the candle-lit interiors as you marvel at the craftsmanship. It’s a chance to experience the heart of winter in a way that words can’t fully capture.

Summary

Yunishigawa’s quiet hot spring town, nestled deep in the mountains, promises solace. Let the steamy waters melt away your worries, and allow the snow-covered landscape to rejuvenate your spirit. It’s a place where time slows down, and the whispers of history echo through the snowy pines.

While this year event was closed, why not add Yunishigawa Onsen to your travel list for next year? Imagine the thrill of exploring illuminated Kamakura, savoring local cuisine, and immersing yourself in centuries-old traditions. Your heart will feel relaxing.


So, dear traveler, are you ready to immerse yourself in the magic of Yunishigawa Onsen? Pack your sense of wonder and embark on a journey to this historical gem, where snow, hot springs, and tradition intertwine.

illumination in Heike Village
Beyond Tokyo

Journey to the Geopark of Naka Izu

The Izu Peninsula is a peninsula rich in nature that was recognized as a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2018 and can be reached in about one hour from Tokyo.
The Izu Peninsula is also famous as a hot spring resort on the seaside, but this time we will introduce Mishima, Izu Nagaoka, and Shuzenji in the Naka Izu area, where you can relax and enjoy nature in the mountains.

Mt.Fuji and Izu city from Izu Panorama Park

What is a Geopark?
Geopark is a combination of the words “Geo” meaning earth and “Park” meaning park. As the name suggests, a geopark is defined as a management area that integrates “protection,” “education,” and “sustainable development,” which have international value from a geological point of view, as well as World Heritage sites, and Japan has 10 regional geoparks that have been recognized as world-certified.
In this area, we learn about the earth’s past from geology and topography, think about the future, and protect the rich nature as a place to work.

In 2018, the Izu Geopark became the ninth in Japan to be recognized as a global park. The Izu Peninsula was originally a group of submarine volcanoes. The movement of the plates continues, continues to push into Honshu, and tectonic movements continue to create various topography. These geological peculiarities form the Izu Peninsula, which has many beautiful landscapes and hot springs.

Mishima City

Mishima
The lava that flowed out from the eruption of Mt. Fuji about 10,000 years ago created the land around Mishima Station and the northern part of the Izu Peninsula.
Near the station, you can see a garden called “Rakujuen” where lava can be seen here and there, and a river flowing with spring water from Fuji can be seen here and there in Mishima City. Walking along the walking path in the beautiful river is also very pleasant in the summer.

Rakujyuen Park

Mishima Taisha Shrine, which has a deep history and connection with Mishima, is one of the highlights. This shrine is located on top of the mudslide caused by the Great Collapse of Mt. Fuji that occurred 2,900 years ago. The shrine grounds are decorated with large stones that were carried by a mudslide. Mishima Taisha, located in this volcanically active area, enshrines a god related to volcanoes.

Mishima Taisha Shrine

Izu Nagaoka
Izu Nagaoka is a station on the way from Mishima to Shuzenji. There is Mount Katsuragi, which is 452 meters above sea level. This mountain is called a “volcanic root” formed by the uplift of the magma path that passes deep underground due to tectonic movements.
The summit of this mountain is a panorama view spot called “Izu Panorama Park“, so you can see a superb view of Izu city and Mt. Fuji from the summit.

Shuzenji
It is a historic city centered on Shuzenji Temple, which is said to have been opened by Kukai in 807. It is located in a valley at the foot of a volcano that repeatedly erupted until 500,000 years ago.
Shuzenji is a small hot spring town, but it is a place that has been loved by many artists for its very calm atmosphere.

Shuzenji Hot Springs Town

There are places where you can see cherry blossoms in spring and beautiful autumn leaves in autumn. Niji no Sato and the maple forest are especially worth visiting as they are dyed with bright red autumn leaves.

Shuzenji Temple in Spring
Shuzenji Town
Niji no Sato

There are many places rich in nature within about one hour from Tokyo. Why don’t you get out of the city for a while and enjoy a trip to enjoy nature slowly.

Beyond Tokyo

Explore Mt.Fuji view spots

Many people still climb Mt. Fuji, which is a sacred pilgrimage site, and in the 12th century, many people came to worship there as a Shugendo dojo.
Mt. Fuji was born 100,000 years ago and has repeatedly erupted, taking its current form due to a major eruption in 1707. It has been dormant since then.

Its majestic appearance has influenced various artists and has been featured in many works of art. Fuji, the object of this faith and the source of art, was registered as a World Heritage Site in 2013.

The belief in the god who lives on Mt. Fuji has given rise to a tradition of valuing coexistence with the volcano and being grateful for the spring water at the foot of the mountain.
The spirit of pilgrimage to Mt. Fuji has been passed down through the ages, and the diverse cultural assets born of the faith are evidence of the continuing mountain worship.

Mt.Fuji, which fascinates many people both domestically and internationally due to its beauty. Therefore, many people think about where the best view is.

This time, I will introduce some view spots where you can see Mt. Fuji from the Yamanashi Prefecture side.

Here is the list of view spots

  • Kawaguchi Asama Shrine
  • Fuji Panorama Ropeway Observatory
  • Chureito on Arakurayama Park
  • Fujiyoshida city
  • Oshino Hakkai

Kawaguchi Asama Shrine
Kawaguchi Asama Shrine is one of the nine shrines that make up the Mt. Fuji World Heritage Site. Kawaguchi Asama Shrine was built in 865 to quell an eruption. There are vast shrine grounds, waterfalls, cedar trees that are over 1,200 years old, and a torii gate in the sky built to worship Mt. Fuji.
From this place of worship on the mountainside of Lake Kawaguchi, you can see the red torii gate and the beautiful Mt. Fuji.

Tenku no Torii

You can drive up from the main hall of the shrine at the foot of the mountain, but it’s even more special to take a leisurely 20-minute walk and enjoy the scenery before seeing the torii gate in the sky.

Beyond this torii gate is a small waterfall where Shugen monks used to cleanse their bodies and pray for safety before climbing the mountain.

Haha no Taki

Taking a break while looking at Mt. Fuji from the scenic terrace cafe on the way here will also be a wonderful experience.

Panorama Terrace cafe

You can reach to the Kawaguchi Asama Shrine by car, bus or bicycle.

Fuji Panorama Ropeway observatory
If you want to easily see Mt. Fuji up close, this Fuji Panorama Ropeway is recommended.
This ropeway, which can be reached from Lake Kawaguchi station by bus or 15 minutes on foot, has a platform in front of the bus stop.
It takes about 3 minutes to reach the top of Mt. Tenjo. There is a tea house, swings, and an observation deck at the top of the mountain. Since there is not much walking involved, anyone can easily see the spectacular view of Mt. Fuji.

Observatory on the Mt.Tenjo

Chureito Arakurayama Sengen Park
Chureito built in 1958 on the Arakurayama Sengen park to enshrine about 960 citizens from Fujiyoshida who died in the war. The pagodas size is 19.5m high and 7.3 square meter.
It’s one of the 100 beautiful night view in Japan. Nowadays, the great view became famous as the symbol of Japan in the world.

Chureito

You need to climb 398 steps to see the great view, but you can get reward of the valuable scenery.
To get to the Chureito Pagoda, visit Sengen Shrine, which is about a 10-minute walk from Shimoyoshida Station, and then climb the stairs or slope on the side to reach the observatory.

From 398 steps

Mt.Fuji can be seen beautifully from the grounds and stairs of Arakura Fuji Sengen Shrine, so you can enjoy various scenery. The contrast with the cherry blossoms and autumn leaves makes it even more beautiful.

Arakura Fuji Sengen Shrine

Fujiyoshida City

Fujiyoshida City is located very close to Mt.Fuji Station. You can see Mt.Fuji, which coexists with your daily life, from Honmachi-dori shopping street, Kanatori gate, rural park, and Fujimi Bypass.
You can also visit to Chureito Pagoda and Oshino Hakkai from Fujisan Station.

Honmachi Street

There are many must-see spots such as the Kitaguchi Sengen Shrine, which is the gateway to climbing Mt. Fuji, and the Mt. Fuji Museum, so you can take a bus, but you can find wonderful spots just for you by pottering around on a bicycle.

Noson Koen Park

Oshino Hakkai
Oshino Hakkai is a small village with eight ponds of spring water from Mt. Fuji. The carp swimming in the transparent pond looks fantastic.

Oshino Hakkai

This small village is full of shops offering souvenirs and food.
It is a popular place among tourists for its beautiful rural scenery where traditional houses and Mt. Fuji coexist. You can get there by bus, taxi or bicycle from Fujisan Station.

During the cold season, on sunny days, and early in the morning, you can see the beautiful Mt. Fuji without a cloud in sight.
Clouds tend to cover the area from around noon, so we recommend getting up a little early and heading to your favorite spot.