Shinto shrine

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The main building of the controversial Yasukuni Shrine , in which soldiers who died in the service of the Japanese state are worshiped.

As a Shinto shrine is generally referred to in German as a religious site of Shinto , in the narrower sense of the shrine Shinto . In Japanese , the word Jinja ( Japanese 神社 ) has been used since 1882 (according to a law to classify Shinto organizations) , but there are a number of other names for different types of shrines, which are discussed below.

In shrines, the Mitama is worshiped in the form of a Shintai either of a single kami (which can mean both god, deity and soul), several kami or a couple, such as mother and child. There are a number of very different kami. Some go back to nature and fertility gods from ancient cults, others are Bodhisattvas who have become kami in Shinto Buddhist syncretism ( shinbutsu shūgō ) . The souls of the dead are also venerated as kami .

There are around 80,000-100,000 Shinto shrines registered as such in all of Japan (the lower number is an indication of the "Association of Shinto Shrines"), but the actual number is likely to be much higher (by shrines that are very small or not more actively managed). They are mainly financed by donations from the geographic communities ( ujiko ) belonging to them .


Shrines can be traced back to Japanese history since the reign of Emperor Jimmu in Japan. The emergence of the shrines as an independent type of religious architecture can historically be traced back to three different basic forms:

  • Very early forms of Shintō or the oldest religions in Japan worshiped kami or deities in their natural habitat, especially in dense forests and there in so-called himorogi (places where the trees grow thick). Certain trees functioned as natural quasi-shrines, but have been artificially marked as sacred places by humans over the generations. These permanent markings, going beyond the mere placement of sacred stones ( iwasaka ), ultimately led to a smooth transition to the actual buildings.
  • Another form of origin were the graves of Japanese heroes, where they were worshiped. Early Japan and the religions of that time did not have the typical extreme aversion to all death-related phenomena, which only developed later, as it prevails in later and also present Shinto.
    Even the death of the legendary Kami Izanagi no Mikoto led to the veneration of his eternal resting place, the Kakureno-Miya (Shrine of the Dead). The cult of ancestors, both real and fictional religious figures, thus, as one of the oldest essential features of Shinto, also led to the development of religious sites.
  • Similar to Buddhism with its temples, there were also changes in the function of secular sites, such as palaces and residences of the Japanese nobility, to religious sites in Shinto.

Since a Shinto as a religion, as it is now often incorrectly projected backwards, can hardly be proven before the Tokugawa period , the conception of the shrines was fundamentally different before that time. The shrines often belonged to Buddhist temples or were run by Buddhist priests or Yamabushi. Few shrines had permanent priests before the 11th century. Even the Kasuga-Taisha , sponsored by the Fujiwara , did not have a priest residing there until 996. Before the introduction of Buddhism, Daoist elements are also in the oldest shrines, such as B. the Ise-jingū , demonstrable.

The shrines were used as ritual places at Matsuri (festivals), initially related to leading clans, but from the Kamakura period onwards they were increasingly visited by normal people, even on days without Matsuri. The possibility of donating tax-free land (Japanese: Shōen ) like Buddhist temples was important for the development of the shrine industry . Many of the main shrines of shrine networks in the Tokugawa period , in which the word Shinto developed , later emerged from the large Shōen shrines .

Due to the rapid changes in the Meiji period, the shrine nature was also greatly changed. On the one hand, the Shinto was now a kind of national religion and thus it was promoted, on the other hand, the state also put pressure on the shrines. They should be pressed into a system that was very different from their previous local organization. Laws such as that there could only be one shrine per village, that Shinto priests should be trained at certain state institutions, and the establishment of shrines to protect the land throughout Japan (see Yasukuni Shrine) exerted a considerable influence on the local Shrine creatures.

Shrine complex

Exemplary structure of a Shintō shrine complex : 1. Torii , 2. stone stairs, 3. Sandō, way to the main shrine, 4. Well for mouth and hand cleaning (Chōzuya or Temizusha), 5. Tōrō , 6. Kagura-den (stage for Kagura - Performances ), 7th administration office (
Shamusho ), 8th Ema , 9th branch shrine ( Setsumatsusha Sessha / massha ), 10th lion dogs ( Komainu ), 11th prayer hall ( Haiden ), 12th fence / enclosure of the shrine ( Tamagaki ), 13. Main Shrine ( Honden )

Shinto is a very heterogeneous religion without any centrally written and binding precepts for all believers. (With the exception of centralizing tendencies in State Shinto from the Meiji Restoration to the surrender of Japan ). This also results in the shrine Shintō that apart from the honden no buildings are to be understood as liturgically prescribed or to be found in every shrine. The following is therefore only an overview of the most characteristic and most common features of the architecture of Shinto shrines .

Shrine access, shrine areas

Bridge in Sumiyoshi Taisha
Rōmon des Isonokami-jingū

Although all areas of the shrine ( keidai-chi ) are sacred, not all enjoy the same degree of sacredness. In general, this increases from the entrance to the sanctuary. Most of the larger and better-known shrines consist of at least two areas, the inner and the outer, whereby the main buildings (such as honden and haiden , see below) are in the inner area and the outer area is mostly only used for tourist purposes. The different sections are - roughly speaking - separated from one another by three different types of structures:

  • The entrance to a shrine is characteristically marked by a torii , a gate with two crossbars. Different areas within the shrine are also delimited from each other with torii . Usually each main shrine has three torii.
  • Usually, visitors to a shrine also cross one or more bridges ( hashi or shinkkyō ) before reaching the actual part of the shrine ( honsha ). Crucial here is the idea that the water acts as a cleansing force and that visitors leave behind the unclean part of themselves when crossing. Some of these bridges are monumental structures; many of them are built in such a way that it is difficult to cross at all. Sometimes there is also a small shrine for the Harai-no-kami , the gods of purification, near them .
  • The Shin-mon ( 神 門 , god gates) are gates in rows of fences ( tama-gaki ), usually two or three (sometimes more) per shrine. Some of these gates are quite common, others as monumental as the main building itself. The Shin-mon are again divided into six broad types:
    • Rōmon ( 楼門 , tower gates) is a general term that can also be reserved for special gates. Sometimes these are two-story little towers that were previously reserved for the imperial messengers.
    • Sōmon mostly refers to the gate that leads through the second tama-gaki , but can also refer to the outer gates.
    • Yotsu-ashi-mon have four ( yotsu ) pillars ( ashi ) to support the main pillars from which the actual gate hangs.
    • Yatsu-ashi-mon have eight ( yatsu ) pillars (mostly made of square-cut wood) to support the four main pillars (mostly made of round-cut wood).
    • Kara-mon are Chinese ( kara ) style gates with gables on the left, right, front, and back. This style emerged in the Kamakura period .
    • Zuijin-mon ( 随 神 門 ) are gates in which the guardian-kami of the gate ( Zu-jin or Kado-mori-no-kami , Mon-shu-jin or Onzaki-sama ) are venerated or those of their statues Left and right to be flanked. This type of building is mostly found in the Chūgoku region. The gates then usually take on the name of the respective deity whose relics are worshiped in them.

On the way to the other buildings there is a washbasin on the side, called chōzuya ( 手 水, ), in which the shrine visitors should clean their hands and face. To do this, take one of the bamboo ladles provided and pour the water over your right hand, then your left and then your right hand again. You should not hold your hands over, but in front of the basin so that the water drips onto the floor and not back into the basin. The ritual also includes taking a sip of the water.

Shrine building

Shaden ( 社 殿 ) is a term used for the main buildings of a shrine. These include:

  • honsha (in -jingū ) or hongū (in -jinja ) are the central buildings of the shrine, in which the uppermost main kami ( 主 神 , shushin ) or the main kami ( 祭神 , saijin ) are worshiped and in turn comprise honden , heathen and haiden .

There are also types of shrine buildings in which other kami (mostly the main kami of other shrines) are venerated than the main kami (s) of the respective shrine (with exceptions: sometimes the main kami (see above) is also venerated there e.g. in the bekkū of Atsuta-jingū ) or an aspect or the mind ( mitama ) worshiped). These are usually (in descending order of importance):

  • bekkū (also betsu-gū or bessha ), generally mostly reserved for shrines whose kami are particularly important in their direct relationship to the main kami of the shrine.
  • sessha and massha

There are no clear and official definitions for sessha and masha , but they are common names for shrine buildings that, although not necessarily on the site of the main shrine, meet at least one of the following conditions: 1) the kami of the building is a partner or Child ( 御 子 神 , mikogami ) of the main kami of the main shrine, 2) the building already existed before the arrival of the main kami in the main shrine, 3) the building is the worship of aramitama (the spirit empowered to rule by authority) of the main kami (s), 4) the building is dedicated to the worship of the jinushigami ( 地主 神 , also tochigami , chi no kami and jinushisama ; local patron deity of the property) of the main kami (s), 5) all other shrines, the have particularly relevant relationships.

Main hall

In the honsha or hongū , the main kami of the respective shrine are venerated. Some shrines have introduced the term kyakuden ( 客 殿 ) as a demarcation to describe buildings in which “guest kami” ( 相 殿 神 , aidono-no-kami ) are worshiped. In some shrines, aidono-no-kami are also venerated in honden , in which special altars ( 相 殿 , called aidono ) are available for them to the right and left of the main altar.

In the center of every shrine is the honden ( 本 殿 , literally: "main building"), the area of ​​the kami , the deity worshiped in the shrine, i.e. the holy of holies . Usually it is not open to the public, the priests only enter to perform their rituals. In terms of construction, the Honden is the heart of the shrine complex, although it is connected to the rest of the shrine complex, it is usually elevated and fenced off. The Honden is similar to the other shrine buildings, albeit a little smaller. The doors are only opened for religious festivals ( matsuri ). In the heart of the honden there is a special “seat” called shinza ( 神 座 ) of the goshintai or shintai (literally: “venerable body of the deity”), which is worshiped as the seat of the souls ( mitama ) of the kami. This can be a stone, for example, but the most common types of relics are swords, mirrors and precious stones, referring to the throne insignia of Japan . In some shrines (such as the Hirota Shrine in Nishinomiya ) there are secondary dogs , called waka-den , in addition to the “main” dogs . Other shrines have their own honden for each kami on their hongū : the Kasuga Taisha has five, the Hirano Shrine in Kyoto and the Yoshida Shrine (ibid) each have four, the Aso Shrine in the former community of Ichinomiya (today: Aso ) three.

The main buildings are traditionally all made of wood, preferably that of the Hinoki cypress . Due to centuries of experience with fires, however, there has been a tendency since the post-war period to at least make walls and floors out of concrete.

According to tradition, the roofs are mostly made of Chinese reeds or thick scales made of Hinoki wood. Newer buildings like the Meiji Shrine have copper plates instead.

Ceremonial halls

In front of the honden , the actual sanctuary, there are the haiden ( 拝 殿 , for example “prayer hall”), mostly smaller and more inconspicuous than the honden , but accessible to the layperson. Here the believers can address their prayers to the kami. A bell is attached to a rope in front of the building. Believers throw a coin, usually 5 or 50 yen, into a large wooden box ( saisen-bako ) set up for it , ring the bell and clap their hands twice to get the deity's attention. The Ise-jingū has no haiden .

On the other hand, before honden there is usually the heathen ( 幣 殿 ), in which clergymen make sacrifices ( heihaku ). Some shrines like the Ise-jingū or Atsuta-jingū do not have a heath . There are also exceptions in which substitute or representational forms are used, such as a triple torii (in O-miwa-taisha) or a field delimited by stones under the open sky (in the Nishinomiya shrine). Some shrines also use different names for the building (e.g. jukken-rō , norito-den ). The Mae-miya of Suwa-Taisha does not have its own heath , but has two heaths at a great distance from each other. Even when pagans are like the haiden known exceptions in other substitutes.

Other buildings

The kagura-den ( 神 楽 殿 ) are halls in which ceremonial dances ( 神 楽 , kagura ) and music are performed. Similar buildings are also available for Nō theater performances . Both types did not emerge until the Muromachi period . Before that there was only court dance and music ( gagaku ), which were usually performed on an interim stage ( 舞 殿 mai-dono or bu-den ) before honing .

Because of the increasing need to perform ceremonies in buildings in which lay people participate (such as weddings), the gishiki-den ( 儀式 殿 , hall of ceremonies) was introduced.

Shamusho ( 社 務 所 ) are office spaces that emerged in the Meiji period and are used to handle the bureaucratic and business affairs of the shrine. In the case of large shrines, this often includes buildings for the sale of talismans (such as Omamori , Ema (horse pictures) and Omikuji ) or those in which the parishioners of the shrine come together to eat ritual meals ( naorai ), as well as quarters for visiting officials, the servants ( 小 使 , koshi ) and storage rooms.

Before the Meiji period, all of these functions were usually performed, especially in smaller shrines, also in the private halls of individual priests ( 経 宮 者 , keieisha ). After the abolition of the hereditary priesthood and the central organization of the shrines, however, it became necessary to introduce buildings in which the above-mentioned activities could be carried out without being directly connected to the private life of the priests. Even after the end of World War II , most of the shrines retained these facilities.

In Ise-jingū these institutions are called jingū shichō ( 神宮 司 庁 ), in Atsuta-jingū gūchoō ( 宮 庁 ).

The large and thick Shimenawa woven from straw can be found on many of the halls of a shrine, but also on torii and trees on the shrine grounds . These are supposed to separate the world of the gods from the world of this world and keep the kami (s) in the draped object.

Types of shrines

The typology of the shrines is largely inconsistent and has changed again and again over the course of history. Various classifications according to main deities, rankings in relation to other shrines, geographical location, political significance or social function are possible and usually determine at least the name of the respective shrine.

  • -jinja ( 神社 ): The general term
  • -yashiro or -sha ( ): equivalent to Jinja
Main gate to the Heian-jingū in Kyoto
  • -jingū 神宮 , literally: "Palace of the Gods ": The highest title for shrines in which the ancestors of the imperial family are venerated or which have another special reference to the imperial court. Jingū alone is synonymous with the Ise shrine .
  • -Taisha or Ōyashiro 大 社 : The additional character for capital ( ) emphasizes that it is a particularly large or important shrine, for example the Izumo Taisha .
Tiny shrine by the side of the road on
Niijima Island
  • Hokura or Hokora ( 保 倉 ): Originally a separate building that housed the shrine's treasures. Currently, this term is used to refer to smaller shrines in which smaller kami (such as ujigami ) are worshiped. These smaller shrines are either inside larger shrines or outside of them, if certain beliefs make it inadvisable to subordinate certain deities to other deities, so to speak. In the latter case, they are often at least in the vicinity of larger shrines, for example at the edges of the roads that lead there.
Moving with a Mikoshi
  • Mikoshi : Portable shrine for festive processions
  • Kamidana : Small altar in apartments, offices and other secular buildings
  • Gokoku-jinja ( 護 国 神社 ) is a name that appeared in 1939 (formerly: shōkonsha ) for shrines in which the souls of fallen Japanese soldiers are venerated. The most famous of these is the Yasukuni Shrine .
  • Hachiman-gū ( 八 幡 宮 ): Shrines that worship the 15th emperor, Ōjin as the deity Hachiman . Usually the veneration also refers to his legendary mother, Empress-wife Jingū -kōgō and his wife, Himegami. The most important of these shrines include the Usa Hachiman-gū in Kyushu, the Iwashimizu Shrine in Kyoto and the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū in Kamakura.
  • Tenman-gū ( 天 満 宮 ) are shrines in which the scholar, poet and politician Sugawara no Michizane is venerated as the Kami Tenjin . Gū Tenman-on the campuses of many are typically Ume find -Trees that Sugawara no Michizane lifetime high esteem.
  • Tōshō-gū ( 東 照 宮 ) are shrines in which Tokugawa Ieyasu , the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate , is venerated as the Kami Tōshō Gongen (or Tōshō Daigongen). Tōshō-gū can be found all over Japan, the most famous being in Nikko, Shizuoka, and the Ueno district of Tokyo.
  • Inari shrines ( 稲 荷 神社 , Inari-jinja ): As the main deity, they are dedicated to the Kami Inari , a rice and fertility deity. Characteristic are the many scarlet torii on the grounds, which are mostly flanked by Kitsune statues. Kitsune (the white fox) is and is often identified with Inari's messenger. There are over 20,000 Inari shrines in Japan. The most important of them is the Fushimi Inari Taisha .
  • Ujigami shrines: Smaller shrines for local deities ( Ujigami ) attached to families, clans or certain communities .

Title and ranking systems

According to their function or importance, some shrines are given certain titles as an affix to their name. The first systematic ranking systems for shrines can be found in Engi-shiki , a 50-volume body of law written from 905 to 927 and published in 967 , which expanded the current codex based on Chinese sources. The classifications made therein were kanpei-sha (for government shrines ) and kokuhei-sha (for provincial shrines ). Both groups were later divided into dai- (large) and shō- (small).

Another classification was the elevation of shrines to the rank of Chokusaisha , i.e. H. Shrines that are entitled to a chokushi , a special envoy of the Tennō for particularly important festivals.

In the Heian period , attempts were made to make other classifications, cf. the system of 22 shrines . The now obsolete titles Ichi-no-miya , Ni-no-miya and San-no-miya (literally: “First Shrine”, “Second Shrine” and “Third Shrine”) also come from the Heian period attests since the end of the Heian period (probably through the extensive legal writings on behalf of Emperor Daigo ) designated the respective main shrines of the historical provinces of Japan ; as well as the sōja . The governors of the respective prefecture had to visit the Ichi-no-miya or Sōja, where all kami of the province were worshiped together, when they took office. So they could make offerings for all provincial shrines without having to visit them themselves.

As part of the decisions to convert Shrine Shinto to State Shinto, which began in the Meiji Restoration , the following system of order was introduced in May 1871:

  • kansha (central government shrine )
    • kanpaisha (government shrine )
      • kanpa taisha (Great Government Shrine )
      • kanpei chūsha (Middle Government Shrine )
      • kanpei shōsha (Small Government Shrine )
    • kokuheisha (national shrine )
      • kokuhei taisha (Great National Shrine )
      • kokuhei chūsha (Middle National Shrine )
      • kokuhei shōsha (Small National Shrine )
  • shōsha (various) or minsha ( people's shrine )
    • fusha (city shrine )
    • kensha (prefecture shrine )
    • han sha (feudal shrine)
    • gōsha (regional shrine )
    • sonsha (village shrine )
    • mukakusha ( unranked shrines)

Before the end of the Second World War, the currently still used titles ( shagō , usually as a suffix ) were usually determined by the government, then by the "Association of Shinto Shrines" ( Jinja-honchō ) founded in February 1946 . Shrines that do not receive any of the following special titles usually have the suffix -jinja, -sha or -miya as a title.

Shrines outside of Japan

The Chōsen-jingū at the time of the Japanese Empire

Shinto shrines are generally only found where the Japanese live or lived. Most of those who are still active can be found in Brazil and North America, where many Japanese emigrants have settled. There are also isolated shrines in Europe (France and the Netherlands).

Few ruins and even less intact shrines remain of the thousands built in Japanese colonies throughout East Asia during the period of the Japanese Empire and State Shinto in the 20th century . Among the most important are probably those who were raised to the rank of jingū before the end of the war, such as the Taiwan-jingū ( 台湾 神宮 , German "Taiwan Shrine") in Taipei ( Taiwan ), the Chōsen-jingū ( 朝鮮 神宮 , German "Korea Shrine") in Seoul ( South Korea ) and the Kantō-jingū ( 関 東 神宮 , German " Guandong Shrine") in Lüshunkou ( People's Republic of China ). These three shrines were demolished at the end of the Second World War by the respective, now independent states.

On the islands of Okinawa and Hokkaidō , annexed by Japan only from the middle of the 19th century, there are also fewer shrines than in the rest of Japan for similar reasons.



Guji in the Kannushi Shrine

A Kannushi ( 神主 ) or Guji ( 宮 司 ) is responsible for maintaining the shrine and performing the rites. Traditionally, however, many shrines were run and administered by the local "shrine community", the ujiko ( 氏 子 ). Before the Meiji Restoration, most of the shrines were attached to a Buddhist temple, and some of them were taken care of by Buddhist monks.


A miko (in the background) sells good luck charms at Itsukushima Shrine

Main article: Miko

Miko ( 巫女 ) are young, mostly unmarried women who help the priests in medium-sized and larger temples with all the work they do. They take care of the preparations for the ceremonies as well as the execution of some dances as well as the mundane such as selling small relics and cleaning the shrine facilities.


  1. Betsugū in the Encyclopedia of Shinto; Retrieved June 19, 2006 - English
  2. Sessha, Massha in the Encyclopedia of Shinto; Retrieved June 19, 2006 - English


  • Jean Herbert: Shintô. At The Fountain-Head of Japan. George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London 1967.
  • Wilhelmus HM Creemers: Shrine Shinto after World War II. EJ Brill, Leiden 1968 (also: New York, Columbia Univ., Diss., 1966).
  • Genchi Kato: A Historical Study of the Religious Development of Shinto. Greenwood Press, New York NY 1988, ISBN 0-313-26551-8 ( Classics of Modern Japanese Thought and Culture ).

Web links

Commons : Shinto Shrine  - collection of images, videos and audio files