Shrine vs. Temple, telling them apart is easy!

  • HOW TO
  • I have always been confused as how to differentiate between a shrine and a temple. It took me few years before I was finally fully able to distinguish them. When my friends and family were coming to visit me in Japan, they would ask me the same questions. So, let me summarise the differences that I have learned and memorised, and of course it would be great if I could help you get to know Japan better.


    1. We will see the ‘torii’ gate before entering a shrine.
    2. There will be water for purification when entering a shrine.
    3. The shrine is built for Shintoism which worships ‘神々’ or the god and goddess.
    4. Usually the Japanese will hold a wedding ceremony in the shrine.
    5. Sometimes we can see an animal statue in front of a shrine to guard it.

    1. Usually, we can find a pagoda in the temple.
    2. And sometimes there will be the great Buddha in the temple.
    3. There will be a place to burn the incense and it is believed that the smoke has healing power.
    4. The temple is built for Buddhism and to worship ‘仏様’ or Buddha.
    5. The Japanese usually hold their funeral in a temple as the temples worship the ancestors.

    However, to make things complicated, there are sometimes shrines built in the temple complexes or right next to each other, such as the famous Kiyomizu-Dera Temple in Kyoto. We can find a Jishu Shrine right next to the temple – a shrine is dedicated to love and matchmaking. Another example would be the Asakusa area. We can find the Sensoji Temple, and at the same time, we can see Asakusa Shrine right nearby.

    So, next time when visiting any temple complex with a shrine nearby, let’s pay attention and not get them confused! The prayers for each are different. Maybe in the next article, I will talk about how to perform offers and to pray in shrines and temples.

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