First off, let’s make a distinction here (fear not, for I too was confused): Temples indicate that the religion practiced there is Buddhism. Shrines indicate that the religion being practiced is Shintoism.
Indicators that one is visiting a temple:
- The temple itself is housing an image of the Buddha. Make sarcastic comments all you like, but I for one, completely missed this concept.
- The presence of a large incense burner.
- A pagoda.
Indicators that one is visiting a shrine:
- A torii gate
- A pair of guardian dogs or lions sit on either side of the entrance into the shrine.
- A purification fountain near the entrance, where one can cleanse their hands and mouth before a prayer
As a person who is drawn to nature, I found the visits to various temples and shrines one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip. From the crowded Asakusa temple to random little shrines in Uchiko town, I was enthralled by the reverence they commanded, as well as their seemingly haphazard placement. I would find dwarf structures nestled between skyscrapers, and, even more strange, it did look like they belonged there.
I love the thought of this: of finding the most sacred within the confines of everyday life. In small, candid moments and private acts performed when people think no one is watching. I believe Japan is what you get when you combine religion, tradition and culture into a cohesive whole. It permeates their society and hangs in the air. Who you are is where you’ve come from. It is what you are standing on. These little shrines and temples that sprout up among gray buildings breathe life into the place.
Here is what I left Japan with: great lungfuls of incense for healing. Cleansed hands for doing good deeds. A cleansed mouth for speaking life. A spirit of Forgiveness and eyes that fixate endlessly on Hope. New bridges, friendships, and the great love that accompanies them.
And a thought and a prayer that I may one day come back.