Shrines are known as unique touristic sites in Japan. Knowing a bit more about it will surely make your whole experience a better one. Here are bits of knowledge on shrines.
1. What Kind of Deities Are There?
Each shrine has its own subject of worship, aka, deity. For instance, Ise Shrine, Atago Shrine, and Nangu Shrine enshrine a deity of the sun, fire, and metal, respectively. Some shrines enshrine nature itself, some enshrine deities that appear in Japanese mythology (e.g. a deity of nation building in Izumo Shrine) while others enshrine historical figures (e.g. Ieyasu Tokugawa in Nikko Toshogu). There is even a shrine called "Kayatsu Shrine" that enshrines a deity of Japanese pickles, or the one called "Nakajima Shrine" that enshrines a deity of snacks.
2. 8 Million Deities in Japan?
"Yao Yorozu no Kami" is a collective term that refers to all the deities existing in Japan. Though the term "Yao Yorozu" writes 8 million in Japanese, the word actually doesn't refer to any specific number and it means "an exceeding number of". From ancient times, Japanese people have been worshiping so many different things as deities, this is why there exist so many different deities to this date. It has been widely believed that everything that exists in this world, from nature such as mountains and rivers and animals such as monkeys to human creations such as swords and mirrors and even things like toilets and kitchens, carries its own deity.
3. What Are Archways For?
One of the symbolic features of shrine is the archways. They play the role as a gate that separates the inside of the shrine from the outside. Because the inside is a sacred territory of deities that is separated from this world, you are expected to bow in front of the archway when visiting a shrine. Also keep in mind that when you are passing through archways, you are not supposed to walk the middle of the road. The middle of the road is believed to be the path for deities to walk, so it is believed that you must avoid walking in the middle, out of respect for deities.
4. The Reason Why the Road in Shrines Are Covered with Gravel
The road in shrines is covered with gravel, which is specifically called "jewel gravel". The meaning of this word is "beautiful jewel-like gravel that possesses souls". It is meant to purify and cleanse the precincts as Shintoism is a religion that teaches to avoid defilement and values purity. It also erase puddles and prevent weeds from thriving in the precincts, so that the shrine will be kept clean. By stepping on this jewel gravel, it will purify, calm, and prepare you for visiting the shrine.
5. Where Does Votive Sake Go?
Like every other religion, in Shintoism, when people show gratitude towards deities or they ask for a favor, they usually dedicate some votive objects to deities. Sake is a major votive object often dedicated to deities, and a lot of sake will be dedicated especially when festivals are held. After the sake had been offered before deities, it will be provided to Shinto priests as well as visitors. It is believed that the dedicated sake has the blessing of deities, and by drinking it, people and deities could become one being.
6. How Many Shrines Are There in Japan?
There are said to be over 88,000 shrines throughout the country. From famous ones with a lot of visitors to lesser known ones only recognized by the locals, shrines vary in size. Out of all, the number of "Manned-Shrines" (shrines with stationed priests) is said to be about 20,000, so it is often the case that a priest takes care of multiple shrines. By regions, Niigata is said to have the highest number of shrines and Okinawa has the lowest.
7. Shrines With Bizarre Blessings
Shrines with blessings in regard to love and business are very famous, but there are some shrines with rather peculiar blessings. A shrine called "Mikami Shrine" in Kyoto, for example, enshrines a deity of hair and it is believed that when you cut your hair and bring it before the deity, you can receive a blessing related to hair. Inuneko shurine, which is placed inside the precinct of Zama Shrine in Kanagawa, is famous for the belief of having blessing for pets. Other than that, there is a shrine in Tokyo called "Kisho (weather) Shrine" that is known as a place to pray for good weather and the other shrine in Saga called "Hoto Shrine" that is believed to have a blessing for lottery. As shown above, the word blessing can mean a wide range of things in Japan.
The more research you do, the more fun you can have at shrines. There are so many different shrines in Japan and the best way to learn more about them is to see them yourself!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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