What is a temple?

Originating in India, temples in Japan are Buddhist and is where monks, nuns, and worship Buddha. Known by many names, in Japan, Buddha is referred to as Siddhārtha Gautama, Amitābha, or Avalokiteśvara. Less well known, many temples in areas off the beaten path are locally important as places where cemeteries are housed, ancestral prayers and events are held, and take care of funerals.

Just as there is a torii (gate) at the entrance of a shrine, there is a rohmon (gate) called a sanmon. On the left and right of the gate are Vajrapāṇi and caturmahārāja, protectors of Buddhism. Often, on the upper portion of the gate you can see the sixteen disciples of Buddha.

There are approximately 77,000 temples in Japan and around 340,000 monks. The number of monks is those who are registered and not all are practicing monks.

01Here are some instructions on how to worship at a temple.

1:Bow at the main entrance. Do not step onto the gate itself but step over it.

2:Cleanse your hands and mouth at the chozuya (the shed housing a water basin). Start by holding the dipper in your right hand and scoop water into it. Pour the water over your left hand. Switch the dipper to your left hand and repeat. Next, you will cleanse your mouth but here, do not drink directly out of the dipper. Hold the dipper in your right hand and pour a little water into your left hand and bring your left hand to your mouth. Cleanse your left hand with more water, and cleanse the dipper with any remaining water by holding it upright and return to the stand.

3:Depending on the temple there may be a bell. If there is, go to the bell and ring it before you pray. The ringing of the bell is your announcement to Buddha you are here. Ringing the bell after a prayer is considered bad luck.

4:Larger temples have an incense burner. Fanning the smoke from the incense onto you is considered a form of cleansing your heart, but it’s also said fanning the smoke onto parts of your body with any ailments will lead to healing. You can also pick up some incense, light it, and fan it with your hand to put out the fire. Do not blow out the fire with your mouth. This is considered disrespectful to Buddha.

5:Once in front of the temple, bow between 45~90 degrees and place money into the offering box. If there is a bell overhead, ring it once, bow and offer your prayer. Bow again and you are finished.

6:Upon leaving the temple, once you leave the gate, turn around and bow once to the temple.


02Notable temples in Japan

Todai-ji in Nara is known for it’s large Buddha. Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto is also very well known. Senso-ji in Asakusa is known for it’s Kaminari-mon. Naritasan Shinso-ji in Chiba Prefecture and Kawasaki Taishi in Kawasaki Prefecture are known as places to visit on New Years Day. The main temple for Shingon Buddhism is the Takano-san Shinso-ji in Wakayama Prefecture, and the main temple for the Tendai school of Buddhism is Enryaku-ji. The oldest temple in Japan is Asuka-ji in Nara, and the oldest wood-only temple in the world is Horyu-ji, also in Nara.