Buddhism was inherited from other nations during the past, the Buddhist temples of Japan have a look and structure similar to the temples of China, Nepal, India etc. There are a lot of small and big statues that can be found around the temple areas and also inside it. Along with the main temple hall containing the deity, there will be small temples around the temple yard, which also contain Buddha statues of small sizes.
How to know for sure this is a temple and not a shrine? See the most common structures and their meaning below.
Entrance gate of Todaiji temple, Nara
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Unlike the simple and colourful torii gate of Japanese shrines, the temple gates are quite different with the huge size and architectural appearance. There are beautiful carvings at the top of these gates. Usually, there is only a single gate at the temple entrance. Big temples sometimes have inner gates or side gates for sub pathways.
In front of the main hall of the temple, we can see large and small censors where incense(osenko) sticks are burned. People buy bundles of incense and burn it inside the burner. It is believed that the fumes coming from it will purify you and that it also has some healing power. So people will wave some of the fumes of the burned osenko over their bodies.
Todaiji temple of Nara
The main hall of the Todaiji temple is called “Daibutsuden”, but we usually call the main hall “Hondo or Kondo” in Japan. There may be other statues around it. Also we could find offering boxes where people throw coins and pray in a manner similar to that of the shrines.
Lecture hall of Eihoji temple, Kokeisan, Tajimi, Gifu
These are found near the daibutsu-den of big temples and are the areas where they conduct meetings and classes. There may also be statues of the deity kept inside.
Pagodas are one if the greatest attractions of the Buddhist temples. They are tall structures having three or five tiers. They are believed to be the holding places of the sacred sutras of Buddhist religion. The topmost part of the pagodas often has some metal structures with a sharp pointed edge. During lightning, these pointed metal tops will arrest the lightning energy and hence protect the surrounding areas. Pagodas can either be blackish or wooden coloured(Pagoda of Todaiji temple, Nara), or sometimes they are colourful with a reddish appearance (At Asakusa temple, Tokyo). They will attract the attention of the visitors from far beyond the temple area due to the tall height.
We can find bell towers housing huge bells hanged inside of them in most temples. Some will be kept inside the walls, while some of them will be kept open and the visitors are allowed to ring it with the huge wooden hammer like structure hanged in front of it. During the New Year night, this bell is rung 108 times to wash away 108 sins of the past year and to welcome the new year with good hopes.
Most of the medium-sized and big temples have a cemetery associated with them and during the Obon week, anniversaries and other special days, people come and pray to their ancestors by putting flowers and bouquets in front of their graves.