Japanese religions: Temple or Shrine?

Even if you have read our shrine for dummies article which give a basic understanding of these places of worship with their do’s and dont’s, you can still be a bit puzzled at times wondering if you find yourself in a shrine or a temple when off the beaten path. Here are a few tips to easily distinguish them and make you temple-shrine confident!

A Shinto shrine:

  • On the map, the Shinto shrine will often show a “jinja” suffix.
  • The way to the shrine will be shown by the torii gate(s) one enters from, generally red or bright orange.
  • Most of the time, a couple of stone sculptures sit on each side of its entrance representing either dogs or lions (shisa or komainu) guarding the shrine.
  • A purification (chozuya) fountain will be located near the entrance.


A Buddhist temple:

  • On the map, the Buddhist temple will often show a “ji” suffix.
  • An image of the Buddha is always housed in a Buddhist temple.
  • For the healing properties of its smoke, incense will be burning by the front of a temple.
  • Most of the time, a pagoda can be found on the premises of a Buddhist temple.


Even if you are from another confession, you are welcome to visit these places of worship. Actually, most Japanese do not consider themselves religious (62% of them according to a 2015 survey) and still, regularly visit shrines and temples, practicing both Shintoism and Buddhism. Generally speaking, they would visit Shinto shrines for earthly matters, praying for success in life or business for instance, and Buddhist temples for more spiritual ones, praying for one’s ancestors.
With more than 80000 shrines and temples and millions of visitors yearly, ironically, Japan considers itself as one of the least religious countries in the world. Whether out of religious beliefs, sightseeing interests or long-lasting traditions, whether they are temples or shrines, these places of worship are an integrant part of daily Japanese life, providing a lively yet serene environment.

Marcella and Claire


4 thoughts on “Japanese religions: Temple or Shrine?

  1. Pingback: Temple hopping in Kyoto: our top chart | Best regards from far,

  2. Pingback: Photo of the day: Daikaku-ji, Sapporo | Best regards from far,

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