A temple? A shrine? What’s the difference?

What is the difference between a temple and a shrine? An easy-to-understand explanation

Although both are familiar to Japanese people, temples and shrines are actually very similar and different. It may be surprisingly difficult to explain the differences. This article will explain in detail the differences between temples and shrines, focusing on the method of worship, the buildings, and the people who work there.

Definition of temple and shrine

First, let's look at the definitions of temple and shrine. Temples and shrines differ in their religious beliefs.

What is a temple?

"Buddhism" is what the temple believes in. Buddhism is a religion founded by Buddha (Shakyamuni), who was born in ancient India. It was introduced to Japan from the continent via China.

A temple is positioned as a place where monks who believe in such Buddhism learn its doctrines and practice.

What is a shrine?

"Shinto" is what the shrine believes in. Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion. The Shinto concept of "eight million (yaoyorozu) gods" is that all beings, such as nature, people, objects, and land, are worshipped as gods.

Shrines that enshrine each of the deities worshipped are also considered to be places where the deities reside.

Difference between temple and shrine visitation methods

Since the religions believed in are different between Buddhism and Shintoism, there are differences in the way of worship between temples and shrines.

At temples, after offering money, the worshippers join their hands together in front of their chests and clasp their palms together. It is considered good manners not to clap.

At shrines, the basic rule is "bow twice, clap twice, and bow once". After offering money, bow twice, clap your hands twice, and bow once at the end.

Difference between what is enshrined in temples and shrines

What is enshrined at temples and shrines is also different. Temples enshrine Buddhist statues, while shrines enshrine sacred objects. The major difference is whether people can see them or not.

In most cases, you can see the Buddha images enshrined in temples, but in shrines, the go-shintai is enshrined in a place that cannot be seen from the outside.

Differences between people who work at temples and shrines

And there is a difference between those who work at temples and shrines.

People who work at temples are called "monks" or "obosan" . They give sutras and perform ascetic practices that record the teachings preached by the Buddha. Funerals and the management of temples and cemeteries are also the work of monks and priests.

Those who work at shrines are called "shinshoku" or "kannushi". Their main work is to perform rituals, company duties, and prayers held at shrines. Incidentally, "miko," or shrine maidens, who are often seen at shrines, are women who assist the priests and perform kagura (Shinto music and dance) during Shinto rituals.

Difference between temple and shrine buildings

The difference between temples and shrines is also expressed in their buildings.

Temples are largely divided into "garan" and monks' quarters. A garan is a place where objects of worship such as Buddhist statues are enshrined. The monks' quarters are where the monks live. Generally, a "sangmon" is located at the entrance, and a "pagoda" representing the Buddha and a "kondo" where Buddhist statues are enshrined are located inside the structure.

Shrines, on the other hand, generally have a "torii" gate at the entrance, a "tezumisha" to purify oneself by the side of the "approach," and a "honden" where the deities are enshrined further in the back. Compared to temples, there are fewer types of buildings, and the structure is simpler.

Major temples and shrines that can be visited along the Nankai line

Finally, here are the main temples and shrines that can be visited along the Nankai line.


Sumiyoshi-jinja is the head shrine of the 2,300 or so Sumiyoshi shrines in Japan. Known locally as "Sumiyosan" in Osaka, the shrine has long been beloved by the locals. It is also famous throughout Japan for the more than 2.3 million people who visit the shrine at the beginning of each year.

Business Hours
9:00-17:00(Omamori Grant House)
2-9-89 Sumiyoshi, Sumiyoshi-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka
How to go
3 minutes walk to the east from Sumiyoshitaisha station on Nankai Main Line
5 minutes walk to the west from Sumiyoshi Higashi station on Nankai Koya line
A short walk from Sumiyoshitorii-mae Station on the Hankai Line

Hochigai Shrine

Located on the border of the three provinces of Settsu, Kawachi, and Izumi, the shrine is said to be "a pure land without direction. The shrine is revered as a deity that protects people from disasters caused by each direction.

Business Hours
9:00-16:00 (Prayer reception time)
2-2-1 Kitamikunigaoka-cho, Sakai-ku, Sakai-shi, Osaka
How to go
5 minutes walk to the west from Sumiyoshi Higashi station on Nankai Koya line

Imamiya Ebisu Shrine

Ebisu, the god of prosperity, is enshrined at this shrine. Tooka Ebisu, held over three days from January 9 to 11 every year, is a very popular festival, attracting about one million visitors each year.

Business Hours
6:00 - 22:00 (There are times for worship only.)
Prayer 9:30-16:30
Awarding office 9:00~17:00 (votive cards, amulets, good omens, omikuji, red seals)
1-6-10, Emisu-Nishi, Naniwa-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka
How to go
2 minutes walk to the west from Imamiya-Ebisu station on Nankai Koya line
5 min. walk from "Ebisu-cho" stop on the Hankai Line of Hankai Railway

Mozu Hachimangu shrine

This is a shrine with a long history, said to have been founded in the Yamato period, around the time of Emperor Kinmei. The shrine pavilion is one of the largest in the prefecture. Here, visitors can draw a "haniwa mikuji" (fortune) in a cute container resembling a haniwa (clay figurine) for a starting fee of 1,000 yen. The "Tsukimisai (moon-viewing) Festival" held every year on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month is also famous, and the powerful "futon-daiko" dedication ceremony is well worth seeing.

Business Hours
5-706, Mozu Akahata-cho, Kita-ku, Sakai City, Osaka, Japan
How to go
10 minutes walk to the west from Mozu-Hachiman station on Nankai Koya line.
Mikunigaoka Station on the Koya Line, 5-minute walk from Umehoku-cho stop on the Nankai Bus bound for Kitanoda.

Inunakisan Shippoyuryuji Temple

The main temple of the Inunaki school of the Shingon sect, located on Mt. Inunaki, known as the oldest fundamental center of Shugendo in Japan. It is said that Kobo Daishi enshrined seven treasures such as gold and silver in seven waterfalls, and that worshippers can obtain the blessings of Fudo Myoo and all seven gods of good fortune by visiting the temple. On the 28th day of every month, which is Fudo Myoo's lucky day, you can draw the "Fudo Omikuji", which is only available on the 28th, so it is recommended to visit the temple at the right time.

Business Hours
8 Ohgi, Izumisano, Osaka
How to go
From Izumisano Station on the Nankai Main Line, take the bus to "Inunaki-san" and walk about 25 minutes.

Koyasan Okunoin

This is the sacred site where Kobo Daishi entered the temple. Along the 2-kilometer path from Ichinobashi Bridge to the mausoleum, more than 200,000 gravestones of lords, memorial towers, and cenotaphs stand side by side in a cedar grove.

Business Hours
Gokusho reception hours: (May-October) 8: 00-17: 00, (November-April) 8: 30-16: 30
Lantern Hall Reception hours: 8: 30-17: 00 throughout the year
132 Koyasan, Koya-cho, Ito-gun, Wakayama Prefecture
How to go
Take the Nankai Rinkan Bus Okunoin-mae Bus and get off at" Okunoinguchi " or " Ichinohashiguchi ", walk for about 40 minutes to the mausoleum.Or get off at "Okunoinmae", walk for about 30 minutes to the mausoleum.

Kongozan Katsuragi Shrine

The shrine is located near the summit of Mount Kongo, which traverses the border between Osaka and Nara prefectures. Currently, it enshrines 38 shrines of Kuzugi, the guardian deity of Mt. Mt. Kongo has long been considered a sacred mountain of "Shintoism-Buddhism mixture" that combines and harmonizes the two faiths of Shintoism and Buddhism.

1009-2, Oaza Chihaya, Chihaya Akasaka Village, Minami-Kawauchi-gun, Osaka Prefecture
How to go
From Kawachinagano Station on the Koya Line, take the bus to the Kongo trailhead, and walk about 70 minutes.

If you know the difference between a temple and a shrine, you might discover something new!

In this issue, we explained the differences between temples and shrines. Both are familiar places, but you may have learned something new about them. It seems that it is also important to understand the differences in the religions they believe in and the things they enshrine before making a visit to a shrine.

If you visit temples with the differences introduced here in mind, you may discover something new. We encourage you to visit temples and shrines along the Nankai Line.