When going to Japan, it’s easy to confuse temples and shrines.
But they are quite different.
Temples are Buddhist sites, while shrines are Shinto sites. It’s even more confusing by the fact that there are some areas that meld the two religions together. And that they co-exist, so at times, you will find a temple and shrine together.
Buddhism is a religion and dharma that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on the original teachings of Buddha. The religions originated in Ancient India between 6th and 4th BCE and spread throughout Asia.
Temples are places where people go to pray to their ancestors and where people go for funerals. Temples can often be fairly large and they have a distinct feature and it’s their roofs. Also, temples often have a romon gates (think huge wooden gates leading to the temple). Please note: You may also find a romon at a shrine.
Shinto (Kami no Michi) is an ethnic religion of Japan focusing on ritual practices to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient past. Shinto practices were first recorded and codified in historical records oft he Kojiki and Nihon Shoki in the 8th Century. But back then, it was not referred to a unified “Shinto religion but a collection of native beliefs and mythology.
Shrines are often used to celebrate life and worship a multitude of gods (kami) and have a variety of sects. So, you will not see funerals at shrines, but you will see weddings, festivals, prayers for success, etc.
Many shrines are much smaller compared to the huge temples and instead of a romon, you may find a torii gate. But some shrines do offer a romon.
Here are a few well-known temples in Tokyo:
Here are a few well-known shrines in Tokyo:
Overall, both are worth visiting. You can learn a lot about the culture and religion from a temple and shrine but discover something unique at these locations.