Memories and notes of an European, first time in Japan, written or rewritten one year after the trip.
Japan is famous for its specific religious system combining Buddhism and Shinto. Buddhism that roots in India came to Japan from the continental Asia. It is based on the teachings of Gautama Buddha and his successors. Shinto on the other hand is originally a Japanese ‘traditional religion’ based on ancient believes in ancestors and deities. For centuries, the two confessions overlapped. Japan had times (XIX century, the so called Meiji Restoration) of intensive politics to split the Buddhism from Shinto or even disroot Buddhism as not originally Japanese religion. Those efforts finally failed. Shinto and Buddhism coexist in the Japanese culture. Many Japanese declare even being tied to both confessions. This religious coexistence is however not easy to tackle for an outsider.
On our Japanese journey we saw numerous shrines and temples. I cannot say that I fully understand that what I saw, particularly that we traveled without a professional guide. Below I will sum up all that I realised on spot and later at home digging a bit in the Internet resources.
A SHINTO SHRINE VS A BUDDHIST TEMPLE. THE BASICS
A Shinto shrine may be a very small spot marked by a torii (Japanese gate to a sacred place). It can however be a bigger complex of buildings, as well. A shrine is devoted to a specific deity. Even if in the Western nomenclature we would call it a temple, it will still be called a shrine in Japan. (This is of course an English description. Japanese have many different names describing different kinds of shrines.) The most of the bigger (sometimes quite huge) religious building complexes we visited in Japan were however Buddhist temples. Buddhist temples belong to and are run by different schools of Buddhism (sects), and simultaneously play a role of a monastery, with interiors accessible only to few. This is possibly why I had an impression that temple complexes are somehow bigger (more widespread) than shrines, which is of course not a thumb rule.
Entrance to the Yasaka-jinja shrine, Kyoto, well widespread, located at the eastern edge of Gion, the famous Geisha district.
At the first sight, those bigger temple or shrine complexes, seemed to us quite similar in construction pattern – widespread premises with many buildings and more or less complex gates of comparable design. Now sitting at home comparing the pictures, recalling memories and reading information available in the Internet, I realise that they were not that similar at all. Some had statues inside, like those of the Buddha, or just gods or goddesses (deities), and the whole temple seemed to be organised around them. The others however, were just sanctuaries with some objects inside, the figures (statues) even if present did not play a central role. It turns out that these are the basic difference between a Buddhist and a Shinto temple or shrine. Continue reading