6 common structures of Japanese Shrines

  • The shrines of Japan possess an original Japanese style and culture very structured. Shrines were the place of Shintoist rituals since the Shinto religion was the ancient religion of Japan. There are many things we could directly watch and understand to distinguish a shrine from a Buddhist temple. Here above the particularities of Japanese Shrine.

    1. Komainu (Lion/Fox gaurd)

    shrine 2

    Author’s photo

    The lion dogs called “Komainu” situated at the entrance of the shrine are the first visible sign to understand that it is a shrine. There will be two lion dogs sitting at a height on both sides of the entrance gate. They are either made of rock or metal and one of them commonly have its mouth opened and it is said to be the male lion. It is called ‘agyo’. The other one with a closed mouth is called ‘ungyo’ and is the female one. Since lions are the most powerful among animals, it is believed that these lions will protect the shrine from the evil powers and guard the area. There is similar status in Chinese temples also, but they have different shape and name.
    In Inari shrines, instead of the lion, there is dogs, it is the status of Kitsune(foxes) situated on both side. It is believed that foxes are kept as the servants or guards, especially to protect the paddy fields since rice is the most important cultivation of Japan.

    2. Tori (The entrance gate)

    shrine 3

    Author’s photo

    The entrance gate of most shrines has huge gates made of woods, sometimes coloured in bright orange or black. Sometimes they were left unpainted. Most of such gates will have a twisted rope made of rice straw tied across it. Some shrines will have multiple gates leading to the shrine hall area. They could also be found in various designs. It is believed that before entering the gate, we should bow in front of it to show respect for the sacred area. Also, we should have to walk through the sides of the gate while entering inside and walking through the centre of the gate is not the correct way of entry.

    3. Shimenawa(Straw ropes)

    shrine 4

    Author’s photo

    Tied across the tori, we could see a rope made of twisted straw, sometimes with some paper strips hanged on it at the entrance. It is done to separate the sacred area from the outer region. Sometimes this kind of ropes could be seen tied around the big trees situated in the shrine area. People used to hang small versions of this rope in-house entrance during New year and other special occasions.

    4. Haiden (Worship hall)

    shrine 5

    Author’s photo

    As we enter the temple hall, the first portion called the “Haiden” is for the public for their worship. The main hall called “Honden” is the place where the god is resting. It is located beyond the “Haiden” hall. Only priests and specified personalities are allowed to enter inside it. There will be an offering box situated in front of the worship hall(Haiden) where the visitors could put coins and pray.
    We should put the coin in the box and bow twice, pray and then clap hands twice and have to bow once again while praying in front of a Shinto shrine. If there is a bell with long rope hanging down, we may ring it before starting our prayer it is said for getting the attention of the god.

    5. Ema(Wooden plaques containing wishes)

    shrine 6

    Author’s photo

    The Ema are the wooden plaques that could be seen hanged on a special wooden board in every shrine and temple of Japan. They could be seen in different shapes and sizes in various shrines. It is a belief that if we write our wish on this piece of wood and hang it over there, the wish will become true. If we watch the hanged out wooden plaques, we may find people written different wishes. Students, lovers, working men, women etc. will have written their wishes in these cards to submit it before the deity.

    6. Omikuji(Fortune predictors)

    Omikuji is the fortune telling paper strip. We can see boxes with omikuji paper strips in temples and shrines. We have to make an offering in the box nearby before taking the strip of paper. It may contain different sentences written on it. If it tells good fortune, we have to keep it with us. Otherwise, we will have to hang this paper strip on special wooden stands kept aside the shrine so that the bad fortune in the paper will be wiped away by the god.