Understanding a Japanese Temple

As a visitor to Japan you will no doubt be visiting quite a few temples or shrines. They are a staple of a Japanese itinerary and with their rich culture and beautiful grounds, and they are definitely a highlight of any trip to Japan. There are many different pieces to a Japanese temple, each with their own importance and significance. Here is a quick guide to what you might find in a Japanese Shrine and what they mean.

Purification troughs 

Can be found near the entrance of a shrine, and the water of these fountains is used for purification. You are supposed to clean your hands and mouth before approaching the main hall.

Main Offering Hall

Depending on the shrine’s architecture style, the main hall (honden) and offering hall (haiden) are two seperate buildings or combined into one building. The main hall’s innermost chamber contains the shrine’s scared object, while visitors make their prayers and offerings at the offering hall.


Shrine visitors write their wishes on these wooden plates and then leave them at the shrine in the hope that their wishes come true. Most people wish for good health, success in business, passing entrance exams, love or wealth.


Are fortune telling paper slips found at many shrines and temples. Randomly drawn, they contain predictions ranging from daikichi (great good luck) to daikyo (great bad luck). By tying the piece of paper around a tree’s brance, good fortune will come true, or bad fortune can be averted.


Are a pair of guardian dogs or lions, often found on each side of a shrine’s entrance. In the case of Inari Shrines, they are foxes (like the one above which can be found at Fushimi Inari-taisha, rather than dogs.

Torii Gates

One or more torii gates mark the approach and entrance to a shrine. They come in various colours and are made of various materials. Most torii however, are made of wood and many are painted orange and black. In some shrines these torii gates are donated by individuals or companies, and the names of the donators can be found on the back of the gates.


For bugaku dance or noh theater performances can be found at many shrines.

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 I would definitely recommend jumping onto Japan Guide for some information, inspiration and advice.

Read more about our adventures through Japan here. For more travel tips and to keep up to date with our adventures make sure you subscribe to our newsletter today

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Emma Shaw

Emma is a travel photographer and blogger, living in Melbourne, Australia with her husband Thom in between adventures. She started A Make Believe World 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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