During my whole one year in Japan, I have travelled to many places and often encountered the situations where I felt confused while thinking about the exact differences between the shrines and temples. Like me, everybody travelling across Japan will surely be having a similar experience while visiting a number of big and small temples and shrines all around the country. Since most of these places are popular as tourists sites, they will be always crowded with people. We will not be always able to differentiate between the temples and shrines of Japan during the first visits. After close observation, we could find out the differences between these worship areas and by collecting information from the native people and friends, we could understand the peculiarities that help us to distinguish between a shrine and a temple. Thus, we could clearly understand the special arrangements, rituals and symbols used in the shrines and temples. There are also some similarities in the rituals and surroundings that we could notice in shrines and temples.
We often see small and big stone lanterns in Japanese gardens and temples. The entry gate of most Japanese shrines and temples possess two lanterns at its both sides. But in some other temples, we could see another kind of lantern, usually red in colour with some writing in black colour. This looks like a balloon. During Japanese festivals and special occasions, this type of small balloon lanterns could be used for adorning the area. Another type of lantern we could see here is something with a yellowish white colour with a hexagonal shape. Colourful or metal made lanterns could be seen hanged in large numbers in some temples and shrines along the path inside it. And it is interesting to see various shapes of lanterns. In the following picture, there is a collection of differents lanterns that I picked from different temples and shrines.
It is possible to distinguish 4 popular type:
1. The Dai doro or Ishi dourou : These are the stone made lanterns that we may see at gardens and in temples or shrines, sometimes in large numbers on both sides of the way leading to the shrine/temple. They are also found in various shapes and sizes. They often have openings at its all four sides.
2. Tsuri dourou: These are the hanging lanterns that could be seen mostly in shrines and temples for adorning the path inside the building area. For example, this could be seen in large numbers in Fushimi Inari shrine of Kyoto, in metallic as well as orange coloured appearance.
3. Chouchi: These are the paper lanterns mostly found in white, black and red colours. We could see huge Chouchi lanterns in front of some temples like Asakusa temple of Tokyo. Mostly they possess some writing over it. At the temple’s entrance, we may find a huge balloon type lantern with a writing ‘mon'(gate). They are seen in large numbers adorning the pathways during festivals.
4.Andon: These lanterns are seen in various shapes and could be seen in front of stores or gardens to decorate and attract the people.
When we cross the entrance gates and reach the worship area, we can see in general small tanks or troughs filled with cold water and there will be usually some fountain arrangement. We could find a number of ladles, kept aside it. This is used for the purpose of purifying ourselves with water before entering the sacred area inside the shrine or temple from the main hall. The ladle should be filled with water and we have to pour water over our hands to purify them and at last we have to take some water inside our right palm and cleanse our mouth also.
Almost all shrines and temples of Japan have a garden of Japanese style. It will be adorned with pine trees, ginko trees, sakura and other kinds of Japanese plants and trees. There will surely be one or more ishi dourou in the garden. Some will have a small pond with small rocks, small bridges and Koi fishes swimming around.
Saisen-bako is the offering boxes in which the visitors will throw coins before praying to the deity of the shrine or temple. We could see such offering boxes in every temple and shrine as we cross the entrance of the worship hall. It is always kept in the “Haiden” hall of the shrines and in the main hall before the Buddha statue in the temples.