You have already visited shrines shinto at Japan. These, jinja (神社) in Japanese, are scattered all over the country. This shows how much the shintoism is deeply rooted in people’s lives.

But, beyond the beauty of these places of worship of the Shinto religion, a certain number of buildings and elements appear in all the shrines.

Here are 20 interesting things you should know before your next visit to a sanctuary shinto!

1. The forest around the sanctuary

Goshinboku from Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine in Fukuoka
Goshinboku from Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine in Fukuoka

As forests and mountains were considered sacred, many Shinto shrines were built in this type of environment. These forests are called chinju no mori (鎮守 の 森). They also have a Goshinboku (御 神木), which is a sacred tree. The photo above is of the Goshinboku, in this case a Japanese apricot tree, from the shrine Dazaifu Tenmangu (太宰府 天 満 宮) to Fukuoka.

2. Torii

Kane no Torii from Kinpusenji Shrine in Nara
Kane no Torii from Kinpusenji Shrine in Nara

The torii (鳥 ouvern) is a traditional Japanese portal that defines the boundary between the real world and the sacred world. It is therefore an entry into the spiritual world. Each Torii must be crossed to enter the sanctuary and crossed again in the opposite direction when leaving the sanctuary. The photo above is of Kane no Torii (銅 の 鳥 大) from the shrine Kinpusenji (金峯 山寺) to Nara. The torii itself is a important cultural property.

3. Chozuya

Chouzuya
Chozuya

The chozuya (手 水 舎) is a basin filled with water. Visitors to the Shinto shrine should purify their hands and mouths with this water. You have to start with the left hand, then the right, the mouth and finally the handle of the ladle before entering the shrine itself. In Shintoism, dirty things, or kegare (穢 れ), are assumed to come from outside. It is therefore important to purify oneself both physically and metaphorically when entering a Shinto shrine.

4. Sando

Sando at Kozanji Shrine (高 山寺) in Kyoto
Sando at Kozanji Shrine (高 山寺) in Kyoto

The sando (参 道) is the entrance path, in a straight line, to the main sanctuary. Usually paved with stones, it can also be just a landscaped trail if the sanctuary is located in the mountains.

5. Shamusho

Shamusho of Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine in Kouchi
Shamusho of Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine in Kouchi

The shamusho (社 務 所) is the administrative office of the temple, in charge of relations with visitors and sales such as, for example, those of the omamori. The size of the shamusho depends on the size of the shrine.

6. Tōrō

Toro
Toro

A tōrō (灯 篭) is a traditional lantern. These are placed along the sando in order to light the way. The tōrō are originally from China and arrived in Japan with the Buddhism during the Nara period when they served in temples. It was not until the Heian period that they began to be used in Shinto shrines.

7. Komainu

Komainu
Komainu

A komainu (狛 犬) is a Japanese fantasy animal that resembles a lion or a dog. Stone komainu statues are located on either side of the entrance to a shrine to protect it. They are either placed opposite each other or with their backs to the sanctuary and face the visitors.

Other fantastic animals, called shinshi (神 使), such as wild boars, dragons, foxes, wolves or tigers can also be used. The most common variant is the kitsune (狐, fox), guardian of the sanctuaries dedicated to kami Inari. There are around 30,000 Inari shrines in Japan, and each entrance is guarded by a pair of fox statues.

8. Shimenawa

Shimenawa of Izumo Taisha Shrine (出 雲 大 社) in Shimane Prefecture
Shimenawa of Izumo Taisha Shrine (出 雲 大 社) in Shimane Prefecture

The shimenawa is a massive rope wrapped around itself or around a building that it protects. It is used in some Shinto rituals. It serves as a link between the sacred world and the secular world, repelling evil (kegare) and showing that the divinity (kami) is present.

9. Mikoshi

Mikoshi
Mikoshi

The mikoshi (御 神 輿) or Shinyo (神 輿) is a kind of chest, reliquary or reliquary, in which are placed the relics of the sanctuary. The mikoshi is worn by the faithful in the vicinity of the sanctuary during processions, typically of matsuri, to attract the favors of the deity.

10. Haiden

Haiden
Haiden

The haiden, or oratory, is built in front of the shrine so that visitors can come and say a prayer or sanpai (参 拝). Sanpai is the act of paying homage to the Shinto shrine. The way is different depending on the sanctuary but generally involves bowing out of respect, clapping your hands, throwing money in a box provided for this purpose and ringing a bell.

11. Saisenbako

Saisenbako
Saisenbako

The saisenbako (賽 銭 箱) is a chest with horizontal bars. It is usually located near the oratory. This is the box mentioned above in which visitors throw their offering during their prayer (sanpai). Superstitious people (very rare in a shrine 😉) use 5 yen coins because the pronunciation is the same as goen (ご 縁) which is a Buddhist term meaning a special connection (between the visitor and the deity).

12. Suzu no O

Suzu no O
Suzu no O

The suzu no O (鈴 の 緒) is a bell and the rope to ring it. It is located near the haiden and the saisenbako. Visitors ring the bell to call for divinity and repel evil.

13. Honden

Honden from Itsukushima Jinja (厳 島 神社) Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture
Honden from Itsukushima Jinja (厳 島 神社) Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture

The honden (本 殿), or shinden (神殿), is the main and most sacred building of the Shinto shrine. Inside the honden, a symbolic representation of the kami or Shinto deities, Shintai (神 体) in Japanese, is preserved.

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Hiroo Onada surrenders on March 9, 1974

14. Kaguraden

Kaguraden
Kaguraden

The kaguraden (神 楽 殿) is the place where the kagura (神 楽) takes place which is a Shinto rite consisting of a dance and chants dedicated to the deities. The kagura is performed by the miko (巫女), young women in the service of the Shinto shrine.

15. Sessha / Massha

Sessha / Massha
Sessha / Massha

The sessha or massha (摂 社 / 末 社) are auxiliary sanctuaries located not far from the main sanctuary. The object of worship of these auxiliary sanctuaries always has a relation with that of the main sanctuary. They are also called edamiya (枝 宮) or edayashiro (枝 社) and are smaller than the main shrine.

16. Sekihi

Sekihi named after Tsukubasan Jinja (筑波 山 神社)
Sekihi named after Tsukubasan Jinja (筑波 山 神社)

A sekihi (石碑) is a stone monument. What is engraved on the stone varies according to the sanctuary: the most popular inscriptions are the name of the scanctuary, information about the divinity,…

17. Omamori

Omamori
Omamori

An omamori (お 守 り) is a protective amulet sold at the shrine. These amulets can come in different shapes and sizes. A standard omamori is a kind of small rectangular pouch whose protection comes from what is embroidered on the fabric. The user is not supposed to open the pouch or the omamori loses its power. They are used to take exams, to avoid road accidents, to give birth without problems, to avoid everyday problems in fact …

18. Ema

Ema
Ema

A ema (絵 馬) is a wooden plaque recalling the shape of a house. If you want something, you write your wish on the wooden plaque and hang it in an ema gakari (絵 馬 掛), like in the picture above, hoping that the deity will come and read your ema and grant it. wish.

19. Ofuda

Ofuda
Ofuda

An ofuda (お 札), also called shinsatsu (神 札), is a talisman and one of the most important symbols of a deity that a sanctuary can give to a person. It is sold at the sanctuary (because you have to live well!). It is customary to buy one at the beginning of the year and bring back to the sanctuary the one from the previous year. An excellent business model therefore! 😉

20. Hamaya

Hamaya
Hamaya

The hamaya (破 魔 矢) is a decorative lucky arrow that is sold at the shrine during the New Year. It can be accompanied by a bow, the hamayumi (破 魔弓). A custom still practiced in Japan today is to place a hamaya and a hamayumi at the northwest and southeast corners of a new house during the ceremony (上 棟 式, jōtōsai) marking the alignment of the two slopes forming the ridge of the building.

Source: Japanese Culture Explained: Shinto Shrines

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