HOME CULTURE Japanese Shrines & Temples: What's the Difference?

Japanese Shrines & Temples: What’s the Difference?

For people around the world when it comes to conjuring up imagery in their minds when they think about Japan is what they believe to be either temples or shrines. But do they know the difference or do they believe that there are just two different words for the same thing and there really is no difference. Well, there is a difference and we’re here to set those differences out for you and give you a little background as to what each of them mean to Japanese culture. Also, we created infographics and added it at the bottom of this article so check it out!



A shrine, at its most basic definition is a place seen as holy because of an association with someone or something sacred and/or divine. This is usually marked by a building or other structure. For instance, the Kumano Shrine in Tokyo or the Kamo shrine in Kyoto. The world has many shrines and in the western world you’ll find them mainly used as part of Christian people’s lives. Even Jewish people’s rituals and religion as well. In the east though you will usually find them associated with Islam or Hinduism. This isn’t the case, for the most part, in Japan. In Japanese culture, Buddhism is the primary source of spirituality or conscious thinking, if you will.



A Temple is quite simply a building that is devoted to the worship of a god, or many gods, depending on the religion in question. Think of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London or Mecca in Saudi Arabia which both are versions of what a Temple is in their respective religions. This again though is slightly different in Japan. In Japanese Buddhist culture the temple is the place lived in by monks. These architectural masterpieces are places of self-reflection and betterment. This to the rest of the world may seem like another building but it means so much more to the people that frequent these buildings and live a Buddhist life. These are sacred places that account for a big part of living a better life for both you and the world around you. Not simply a place to talk to a God. Many people may be in shock and awe at the beauty of these buildings when first laying eyes upon them. Among the most famous is the Kiyomizu-dera temple in the wonderful city of Kyoto. Travelers often flock to Japan just to see buildings like this. You may also find Buddhist from all over the world making pilgrimages purely to go to one of these temples.


So, there you have it. The difference between a shrine and a temple is quite simple indeed once you have given it a little thought. If you are thinking of traveling to Japan you should be able to tell the difference between the different sites you are seeing. You may be able to often see a shrine, or shrines in general, near or in temples also. And don’t forget to keep your artistic eye open because these buildings are among some of the most beautiful the world has ever seen.