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Temple? Shrine? How Different?


Kyoto is one of the most popular cities for tourists in the world.

A huge number of tourists visit this beautiful city every year.

As Kyoto used to be the capital of the country for 1,000 years, there are a lot of exciting places to see around.

Visiting temples and shrines is one of the highlights of Kyoto trip.

However, do you know how different temples and shrines are?

I guess a bunch of people do not know the differences.

So, in this article, I will let you know the differences between temples and shrines!



Temple is a place to live for Buddhist priest.


The biggest difference between temples and shrines is the religion which they belong to.

Temples are the place to live for Buddhist priest.

Buddhism originated  from India and was introduced to Japan through China in 538 AD.

In temples, Buddha is worshiped, and priests learn the teachings of Buddha every day.

So temple is originally a house for priests.

The word “寺” means  temple and is pronounced as “tera”, “dera” or “ji” in Japanese. Sometimes, another word “院”, pronounced as “in” is used for temple as well.

So you can distinguish temples and shrines by their names. If it has these words “tera”, “dera”, “ji”, or “in”at the end of the name, it is a temple!

Another point by which you can distinguish temples from shrines is graves!

You can find graves in temples but you cannot in shrine.


Shrine worships a god of Japanese Shinto.


In contrast to temples belonging to Buddhism, shrines worship a god of Japanese Shinto.

Shinto is a Japanese native religion.

Japanese people have believed that everything in nature have a god and built shrines to pray to those gods.

Therefore, each shrine has a different purpose.

For example, some shrines are to pray to the god of business, but some worship the god of study, the god of sake (alcohol), the god of love and so on.

There are various types of shrine.

The Japanese word “神社” means shrine and is pronounced as “jinjya”. There are other types of names meaning shrine such as “大社 (taisya)”, “神宮 (jingu)”, and “天満宮 (tenmangu)”.

Another different point of shrines from temples is Torii gate.

Torii gate indicates the border between the world where the gods live and the world where we live.

Basically the one has Torii gate is considered as shrines.



To be honest,  it is difficult to decide the place where you visit is temple or shrine.

As historically these two have not been completely distinguished, some temples have a Torii gate and some shrines have a temple name.

However, these general points of temples and shrines are really useful and make your trip much more fun!

Have a good trip!!



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