What Is a Shinto Shrine?

What Is a Shinto Shrine?

What Is a Shinto Shrine? Shinto shrines are structures built to house kami, the essence of spirit present in natural phenomena, objects, and human beings that are worshipped by Shinto practitioners. Reverence toward the kami is kept by the regular practice of rites and rituals, purification, prayers, offerings, and dances, many of which take place at shrines.

Shinto shrines (神社, jinja) are places of worship and the dwellings of the kami, the Shinto “gods”. Sacred objects of worship that represent the kami are stored in the innermost chamber of the shrine where they cannot usually be seen by anybody.
A polytheistic and animistic religion, Shinto revolves around supernatural entities called the kami. The kami are believed to inhabit all things, including forces of nature and prominent landscape locations. But The kami are worshiped at kamidana household shrines, family shrines, and jinja public shrines.
Shinto shrines, called “jinja” in Japanese, have not only played an important role throughout Japan’s history but also are an inherent part of daily life even today.
Shinto (literally “the way of the gods”) is Japan’s native belief system and predates historical records. The many practices, attitudes, and institutions that have developed to make up Shinto revolve around the Japanese land and seasons and their relation with the human inhabitants.

What is the purpose of a Shinto shrine?! What religion is a Shinto shrine?! What are the beliefs of Shinto?!

Shinto shrines (神社, jinja) are places of worship and the dwellings of the kami, the Shinto “gods”. Sacred objects of worship that Shinto (“the way of the gods”) is the indigenous faith of the Japanese people and as old as Japan itself. But It remains Japan’s major religion alongside Buddhism.  Also unlike many religions, there has been no push to convert others to Shinto.

Kami (Japanese: 神, [kaꜜmi]) are the deities, divinities, spirits, phenomena, or “holy powers”, that are venerated in the religion of Shinto.

Shintoism is Japan’s indigenous spirituality. It is believed that every living thing in nature (e.g. trees, rocks, flowers, animals – even sounds) contains kami or gods. Consequently, Shinto principles can be seen throughout Japanese culture, where nature and the turning of the seasons are cherished.

A Shinto Shrine is the main physical place of worship for followers of the Japanese Shinto religion. The name of a shrine is typically followed by the suffix jinja. Its main role is to be the home to one or sometimes more kami spirits, worshipped in the Shinto religion. Shrines often have honden, which is like the main room where the kami lives.

What Shinto Shrines do share, in contrast to Buddhist temples, are the instantly recognizable torii gates. 

© Patrick Vierthaler / Flickr Creative Commons, Oishi Shrine

Up until the tail-end of the Edo period (1868) Buddhism and Shinto were essentially entwined. Both temples and shrines were typically used for the same purpose and Shinto kami were considered manifestations of buddhas. When the Meiji Government came to power, Shinto was edged into a more politicized role, representing a more natively Japanese religion in contrast to the perceived foreignness of Buddhism. 

What’s Inside a Shinto Shrine and What To Do There?

If you really want to experience a Shinto shrine the traditional and authentic way there are a number of steps that should be followed. You’ll begin your visit at the temple’s torii gate, but this towering double T-shaped frame is considered to be the entrance to the temple grounds. Be sure to bow as a sign of respect at the gates before proceeding underneath. 

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