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Double Your Enjoyment! Temple Trivia to Enhance Your Appreciation

Temples are standard sights visited by tourists in Japan. There are many temples, ranging from famous ones such as Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Senso-ji, to small, local temples. This time, we provide some background information regarding these temples, such as their sects and how they are named.

What Is the Difference between a Buddhist Temple and a Shinto Shrine?

Buddhist temples are religious facilities for the teachings of Gautama Buddha. A temple usually houses a statue of Buddha and is where monks train and live. Shinto shrines, on the other hand, are buildings where the various deities of the Japanese religion of Shintoism are enshrined. Temples and shrines in Japan are for different religions, and therefore, are entirely different types of buildings.

*The image is of the main hall (Kondo) and five-story pagoda at Horyuji, which are known as the world's oldest wooden structures.

How Many Buddhist Sects Are There?

There is a variety of sects in Japanese Buddhism, numbering as many as 160 in total. Below are the 13 major sects.

Hoso-shu, Kegon-shu and Risshu: Sects that were recognized by the government during the Nara Period (710 - 784) and are collectively referred to as Nara Buddhism.
Shingon-shu and Tendai-shu: Types of Mikkyo esoteric Buddhism that were brought to Japan by the Buddhist monks, Saicho and Kukai, respectively.
Yuzunenbutsu-shu, Jodo-shu, Jodo-shin-shu and Ji-shu: Sects of Jodo-kyo that teach about Sukhavati (Amitabha's Pure Land)​.
Rinzai-shu, Soto-shu, and Obaku-shu: Sects of Zen Buddhism that value seated Zen meditation.
Nichiren-shu: A sect that considers the Lotus Sutra to be the source of all teachings.

How Are Temples Given Their Names?

Temple names are basically a combination of three titles: The sango, ingo and jigo.
Names such as xx-ji and xx-dera are the jigo (temple name) (as in Enryaku-ji, and Kiyomizu-dera). Alternate names of temples that end with "san" are the sango (mountain name) and are placed in front of the jigo (such as in Hiei-zan Enryaku-ji and Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera). In addition, temples that are led by a member of nobility or the imperial family have a an honorific title called "ingo" that ends in "in" (as in the case of Chion-in, which is officially Kacho-zan Chionkyo-in Otani-dera). These are the basic rules, but there are many temples that don't have all three names, and others with names such as xx-kaku and xx-an.

What Architectural Styles Are There?

There are three major architectural styles in Japan.

Wa-yo (Japanese Style): This is a style that was established around the middle of the 10th century to the 11th century as a result of adjustments made over the years to temple architecture that came from the continent during the 6th century, in order to suit the Japanese climate and tastes. It is characterized by slim columns, relatively low ceilings, and fewer curves than in other styles (e.g. the main temple building of Joruri-ji)
Daibutsu-yo (Daibutsu Style): This is a style that was imported from China during the Kamakura Period (end of the 12th century to the 13th century). It is characterized by a sturdy structure realized by crosspieces between pillars, ornamental attics with exposed structural material due to ceiling not being added, and colored timber (e.g. the Nandai-mon Gate of Todai-ji).
Zenshu-yo (Zenshu Style): This is an architectural style that arrived in Japan together with Zen Buddhism. It is characterized by large eaves and decorative features (e.g. the Shari-den Hall of Engaku-ji)

*The image is of the main temple building of Joruri-ji, a national treasure.

*The image is of the Shari-den Hall of Engaku-ji, a national treasure.

What Buildings Are There in Temples?

Following are the major types of buildings in temples.

Hondo: The main building of the temple where the principle object of worship is kept. It is called the Mieido in some sects and Kondo in others.
Butto (pagoda): Originally a place for Buddha's remains to be kept. There are various types, such as the five-story pagoda and the three-story pagoda.
Shoro (belfry): A structure that houses the bonsho (Buddhist temple bell) that indicates the time.
Kodo (lecture hall): The building in which the monks conduct a variety of ceremonies and events.
Tacchu (sub-temple): A small temple within the grounds of a large temple.

*The image is of the Kondo of To-ji, which is a national treasure.

*The image is of the five-story pagoda at Horyuji, which is currently the oldest wooden five-story pagoda in the world.

What Is Garan Haichi

Garan Haichi refers to where the various buildings are placed within the temple grounds. For example, at Asukadera Temple, the pagoda is in the center and there are three Kondo to the north, east and west. There is a corridor surrounding these buildings and a Kodo to the north, outside of the corridor. This set up is referred to as the Asukadera Style. There are many other styles, such as the Shitennoji Style and Horyuji style, that are influenced by the era of establishment and the religious sect.

How do monks live?

Although it depends on the temple, monks generally wake up early, so that they are dressed and prepared to open the temple gates at around 6:00 am and begin their religious services such as zazen meditation and sutra chanting. Their main responsibilities during the day are ceremonies such as funerals and memorial services. They also often attend local gatherings and lectures.

Be sure to refer to this article when visiting temples in Japan.

*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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