Tempe Crew

The Beauty and Cultural Significance of Japanese Shrines

Shrines and temples are prevalent throughout Japan, whether you are in the cities and urban centers like Osaka or Tokyo or enjoying the rural vistas of the countryside. Tourists can visit the big Shinto shrines managed by priests and priestesses or view the smaller shrines erected on the side of the road, bamboo groves, or mountain slopes.

Zukuri Samurai Sword

Japanese shrines and temples can be differentiated from one another by the forms of the roof as this signifies various architectural styles. They are called Zukuri, which is derived from the Japanese word “Tsukuru,” which means to build. As time passes, the architecture of the shrines changed and became influenced by Chinese architecture or styles derived from Buddhist temples.

Prominent Styles of Japanese Shrines

The most popular architectural style in Japanese temples, the Shinmei-Zukuri, could be seen in Mie Prefecture’s Ise Grand Shrine. It is regarded as the most significant Shinto shrine in all of Japan. These temples are simple and reminiscent of traditional Japanese building styles. They could be recognized with logs as decoration for the gabled roof and the raised floor.

Taisha­-Zukuri is known as the oldest style and can be easily confused with shinmei-zukuri­. It could be distinguished from the other Japanese shrine architecture by its gabled roof, decorative logs, and the unique single central pillar. The best example of this style is the Izumo-Taisha in Shimane prefecture, a temple with a curved gable roof.

Decoration, Buildings, and Ornaments

Every Shinto shrine in Japan has the Torii as its entrance. It translates literally as “bird gate” and serves as the separation between the human’s world and the divine realm of the Kami, Shinto gods, and spirits. Worshippers who come to visit the temples are taught to prepare themselves on the Sando or the visiting path which are decorated uniquely depending on the Kami to be visited. The Tamagaki is the name of the fence that surrounds the main building of the shrine which houses the Kami.

There are several buildings found in the major Shinto shrines. One of these is called the kagura-den, a building where the sacred dance of Kagura is performed. It serves occasionally as the venue for Noh plays and weddings. Sessha and Massha are auxiliary shrines that are dedicated to objects or other Kami connected with the Kami of the shrine. The central part of Shinto shrines in the main hall or the Honden where the Kami is believed to dwell. The god or spirit is represented by a statue of the Kami or a mirror. In front of the main shrine is the Haiden – a place of worship.

Several decorations and ornaments are used in Shinto shrines. Before worshippers can enter the shrine and approach the Kami, they have to purify themselves by washing their hands and mouth on a stone water basin called the Temizuya. Stone lanterns or toro adorn the pathways. Wooden plaques, or ema, decorated with small paintings are used by worshippers for their prayers and wishes to be read by the Kami. Statues of lions or dogs known as Komainu are used to ward off evil spirits.  Roof decorations are put on the main hall, and they are called Chigi or Katsuogi.