A Guide To Understanding Japanese Temples

When you’re visiting Japan there’s no doubt that you’ll be visiting quite a few temples and shrines while you’re there. They are an important part of Japanese culture and therefore are high on the itinerary of anyone spending time in Japan. You can find temples everywhere, including in the middle of major cities and they are just absolutely beautiful with their rich culture and stunning grounds. They are an absolute highlight of any trip to Japan.

There are many different pieces to a Japanese temple, each with their own importance and significance. Each temple has their own intricate details, symbols and different things around the temple grounds that have a lot of significance to the Japanese people.

Here is a quick guide to what you might find in a Japanese Shrine and what they symbolise.

japanese templepurification troughs

Purification troughs 

A purification trough, also known as a chōzuya or temizuya, can usually be found near the entrance of a shrine or temple, and the water of these fountains is used for purification. You are supposed to clean your hands and mouth before approaching the main hall.

Visiting Senso-Ji, Japan's Oldest Temple

japanese offering hall

Main Offering Hall

Depending on the shrine’s architecture style, the main hall (honden) and offering hall (haiden) could either be two separate buildings or combined into one building.

The main hall’s innermost chamber contains the shrine’s scared object, which could be different for different temples. The offering hall is where visitors can say their prayers and bring their offerings.

japanese temple ema


At the ema visitors of the temple can write down their wishes onto a wooden plate and then leave them at the shrine in the hopes that their wishes might come true. Sometimes the ema might look a little bit different, with some temples having wishes written onto ribbons, shapes or slips of paper.

Most visitors wish for good health, success in business, passing entrance exams, love or wealth.

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The Omikuji are fortune telling paper slips that can be found at many shrines and temples. If you choose to, you can draw one at random for a small donation. They contain predictions ranging from daikichi (great good luck) to daikyo (great bad luck).

By tying the piece of paper around a tree’s branch, good fortunes will come true and bad fortunes can be averted.

Visiting Kinkaku-ji, The Golden Pavilion



A komainu is a pair of guardian dogs or lions, that are often found on each side of a temples entrance. In the case of Inari Shrines, they are foxes (like the one above) which can be found at Fushimi Inari-taisha. The komainu are meant to keep away evil and protect the temples and it’s visitors.

A Guide To Fushimi Inari-Taisha Temple

torii gates

Torii Gates

One or more torii gates mark the approach and entrance to a temple. It is believe that the torii gates are actually the boarder between the real world and the sacred world, and acts as the entrance to the sacred region.

They come in various colours and are made of various materials depending on how and when the temple was built. Most torii gates however, are made of wood and many are painted orange and black.In some temples these torii gates are donated by individuals or companies who essentially own each of the torri gates. The names of the people or businesses have donated can be found on the back of their torii gates.

temple stages


Stages can often be found at every temple and are used for bugaku dances or noh theater performances.

At the end of the day it’s important to remember that temples are not merely just a tourist attraction. They are also very sacred sites and are still used as places of peace and prayer by the locals. Remember to always dress and behave respectfully while you are visiting a temple and keep your distance from locals who are trying to worship.

japanese kimono girls

The above information was found on the very helpful website Japan Guide. Japan Guide is a fantastic website to all things about Japan, and came in very helpful during my trip! If you’re planning a trip to Japan definitely recommend jump onto Japan Guide for some information, inspiration and advice.

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Emma is a travel photographer and blogger, living in Melbourne, Australia with her husband Thom in between adventures. She started Explore Shaw to share her experiences, travel tips and destination advice, and to inspire others to travel the world and their own backyard whenever they can.

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Just two twenty-something married Aussies, visiting as many places as we can in between normal life, and hoping to inspire and offer advice for your travel planning.

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