お寺 vs. 神社

So what exactly is the difference between a temple and a shrine?  Working both at a church and as an English teacher ensures I am posed this question at least once a week.  First, we have to realize that when used in Japan, the words “temple” and “shrine” don’t follow standard English usage.  Typically a shrine is conceived of as a small altar or holy place devoted to a holy person or deity, whereas a temple brings to mind a larger edifice built primarily for the purpose of communal worship.

In Japenglish however, “temple” and “shrine” indicate a differentiation that doesn’t exist outside Japan’s particular cultural context.  Here, a shrine refers to a Shinto place of worship, and a temple is a Buddhist place of worship.  These particular meanings are specific to English spoken in Japan.  On a practical level, how can you tell the difference between a Shinto shrine and a Buddhist temple?

Things you see at temples:

Buddhist-style gates

Buddhist-style gates

statues of the Buddha

statues of the Buddha

Kannon-sama, the lady buddha of compassion

Kannon-sama, the lady buddha of compassion

swastikas

swastikas

How to pray Buddhist style: offering incense

How to pray Buddhist style: offering incense

Things you see at shrines:

Shinto-style gates, called torii

Shinto-style gates, called torii

water for ablutions

water for ablutions

How to pray Shinto-style: clapping and bowing

How to pray Shinto-style: clapping and bowing

Taoist dieties

Taoist dieties

Things you see at both:

Jizo - Many women or couples in Japan who have terminated a pregnancy, suffered a miscarriage, or had a stillborn baby choose to honour the soul of this child through a practice called mizuko jizo. Mizuko means ‘child of the water’ and is used to refer to the soul of a child who has been returned to the gods. Jizo is the name of the Buddhist god who protects and guides that soul on its journey to another world.

Jizo – Many women or couples in Japan who have terminated a pregnancy, suffered a miscarriage, or had a stillborn baby choose to honour the soul of this child through a practice called mizuko jizo. Mizuko means ‘child of the water’ and is used to refer to the soul of a child who has been returned to the gods. Jizo is the name of the Buddhist god who protects and guides that soul on its journey to another world.

Simple wooden buildings.  This is the Awesome Club, the "not kids but not old and married" group I started at church.

Simple wooden buildings. This is the Awesome Club, the “not kids but not old and married” group I started at church.

Brightly painted buildings.

Brightly painted buildings.

Ema - wooden tablets to write prayers on

Ema – wooden tablets to write prayers on

Special books are available to collect the official seals of shrines and temples.

Special books are available to collect the official seals of shrines and temples.

Both temples and shrines have seals.Both temples and shrines have seals.

water for ablutions

water for ablutions

Mon, the Japanese equivalent of a family crest

Mon, the Japanese equivalent of a family crest

No place in Japan is complete without a vending machine or two.

No place in Japan is complete without a vending machine or two.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “お寺 vs. 神社

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s