Jinja (shrines) are everywhere in Japan—more than 100,000! They’re not hard to spot. The entryway to a shrine is marked by a large torii (gate). This is in contrast to Buddhist temples that do not have torii gates. Once you pass through the torii, you’ll know you’re in a sacred space. But what kind of sacred space? And what do all the structures and markings mean?
With almost 2,000 years of history, there’s too much to cover in one post, but we’ll give you enough to make a shrine visit a little more interesting. Of course, even a casual visit with no prior knowledge can be rewarding. Shrines are relaxing and quiet places full of nature, like trees and rocks. Just a quick stroll around can have a calming effect on anyone.
Armed with a little knowledge, however, your visit could take on much more importance. It is a sacred space, after all.
Shrines house gods
Japanese shrines are places of worship for Shinto spirits called kami. Shinto is often referred to as animistic or a kind of nature worship. Followers of Shinto, the native religion in Japan, believe that kami exist in everything: in natural elements like rocks and trees, inorganic and artificial things and even in people.
Ancestors, mountains (like Mt. Fuji) and even natural phenomena and weather like wind and rain can be kami. Shrines are typically placed nearby where people can worship them.