In Japan, the two main religions are Shinto and Buddhism as most Japanese consider themselves Buddhist, Shintoist or both. While religion does not play a significant role in the everyday life of most Japanese, it is usually most prominent during ceremonial rituals, such as those during birth, weddings, funerals and events like the New Year and festivals.
Both religions have influenced each other and sometimes coexist in Japanese religious practices, but they have fundamental differences in their origins, beliefs, and practices.
Shinto is the indigenous animistic religion of Japan and is deeply rooted in the myths, folklore, and traditions of Japan. On the other hand, Buddhism originated in India with Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) around 500 BCE and was introduced to Japan in the 6th century CE via China and Korea.
Shinto is also characterised by the worship of kami, which are spirits or deities that inhabit natural elements, objects, and ancestors. However, Buddhism primarily revolves around the teachings of the Buddha and may involve the veneration of bodhisattvas, enlightened beings who choose to remain in the cycle of birth and death to help others.
One of the most visible differences between the two major religions is their places of worship: Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Shinto shrines are often marked by the red torii gates and are typically located in natural settings, whereas Buddhist temples are marked by pagodas and statues of Buddha, and are often located in urban areas.
If you love the Japanese culture and want to delve deeper into their religions, be sure to check out these amazing shrines and temples the next time you visit Japan.
Japan has a rich cultural and religious heritage, with numerous shrines and temples scattered throughout the country. While it's difficult to definitively say which are the "best" since it often depends on personal preferences and interests, here are some of the most famous and historically significant shrines and temples in Japan:
Shrines to visit in Japan
1. Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu)
Located in Tokyo, Meiji Shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. It is known for its serene forested surroundings and large torii gate.
2. Fushimi Inari Taisha
Located in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Taisha is famous for its thousands of bright red torii gates that form winding paths through a dense forest. It is dedicated to the Shinto god of rice and prosperity.
3. Ise Jingu
Located in Mie Prefecture, Ise Jingu is considered one of the holiest Shinto shrines in Japan. It is dedicated to Amaterasu, the sun goddess.
4. Itsukushima Shrine (Miyajima)
This iconic shrine on the island of Miyajima is known for its “floating” torii gate, which appears to be floating on the water during high tide.
Here’s a shot of the “floating” torii gate I took during my recent trip to Hiroshima. Scroll to the second photo to see how it looks like during low tide.
5. Izumo Taisha
Touted as the home to Okuninushi no Okami, the creator of the land of Japan, Izumo Taisha is one of Japan’s oldest and most sacred Shinto shrines. During the tenth month of the lunar calendar, it hosts the week-long Kamiari Festival, which is believed to draw all the Shinto gods to its grounds.
Temples to visit in Japan
Another famous site in Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera offers panoramic views of the city and is known for its wooden stage that juts out from the main hall.
Located in Nara, this temple is one of Japan’s oldest and contains some of the world's oldest surviving wooden structures.
Known for its Zen rock garden, Ryoan-ji in Kyoto is a place of contemplation and reflection.
Located in Tokyo's historic Asakusa district, Senso-ji is Japan’s oldest and most revered Buddhist temple.
This temple in Nara houses a massive bronze Buddha statue and is one of Japan’s most historically significant temples.
Also known as the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji is a striking Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. Its shimmering gold leaf-covered exterior set against a tranquil pond creates a stunning reflection.
Byodo-in, an iconic Buddhist temple in Uji, near Kyoto, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is also the temple you see on the 10 yen coin.
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