Shinto Shrine (神社)

A Shinto shrine (or Jinja) is a religious institution based on the Shinto religion.
Before the war, 'State Shinto' was referred to simply as 'Jinja.'

They are different from places of worship or institutions through which to disseminate teachings such as churches or mosques. Nowadays many institutions are constructed for the purpose of prayer or conducting wedding ceremonies, but jinja were originally built to enshrine the Shinto kami that resides on a particular site. Depending the location, the main hall (shaden) may be constructed in places such as the sea, the top of a mountain or on the roof of a building.


The primitive shrines and altars such as the himorogi constructed for rituals carried out at rocks in which a kami was thought to dwell or kinsokuchi (tabooed land) on which a kami was thought to reside (commonly referred to as Shintaizan) were non permanent. These are believed to have resembled the Utaki sacred places of Okinawa. Shrines remaining from ancient times do not have a main hall (honden) but consist of only a worship hall (haiden) dedicated to the sacred rock, kinsokuchi such as mountain or island on which it stands (for example Omiwa-jinja Shrine, Isonokami-jingu Shrine, Munakata Taisha Shrine). The incorporation of main halls into Shinto shrines was due to the influence of Buddhist temples. It is now said that a kami can only become permanently present at a shrine after the construction of a main hall.


Shrines are generally surrounded by a forest known as Chinju-no-mori (forest of the village shrine) (not always present in urban areas). A tree referred to as goshinboku (sacred tree) is surrounded by a sacred rope called a shimenawa. The entrance to a shrine is marked with a torii to denote the border between the secular world and the sacred world, and from which a path leads to the main hall. At the side of the path is a purification trough (temizuya) where visitors cleanse themselves and the office that administrates the shrine (shamusho). Larger shrines may have a sacred lake or bridge.

In most cases a shrine will be comprised of a main hall and a worship hall. Ordinarily, people visiting the shrine will only be able to see the worship hall. The main hall, which enshrines the object in which the kami resides, is hidden behind the worship hall. Some shrines have a hall of offerings (heiden) between the main hall and worship hall where worshippers can make offerings.

The grounds of a shrine contain both sessha (auxiliary shrines), dedicated to deities closely related to that of the main shrine or a kami that was originally enshrined on the site, and massha (subordinate shrines), dedicated to deities other than above mentioned, which are collectively known as 'Setsumatsusha'.
Setsumatsusha may also lie outside of the grounds of the shrine, in which case they are referred to as 'keigaisha.'

The syncretization of Shinto and Buddhism that began during the Nara Period led to Jingu-ji (Betto-ji, Gu-ji [Miya-dera]) temples being constructed within Shinto shrines. This practice continued until early in the Meiji Period when the Meiji Government's ordinance distinguishing Shinto and Buddhism resulted in the separation of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, the removal of five-story pagodas and Buddhist temples from within shrines and the differentiation between Buddhist and Shinto priests. Ownership of Nikko City's Tosho-gu Shrine Honjido Hall (Rinno-ji Temple Yakushido Hall), famous for its Nakiryu (roaring dragon) ceiling painting and flutter echo is said to be disputed by Tosho-gu Shrine and Rinno-ji Temple.

Worship Hall (haiden)

Main Hall (honden/shinden)

Kagura Hall (kaguraden)

Stage (maidono)

Refer to Shinto Architecture



Purification trough (temizuya)

Shrine administration office (shamusho)


Fences surrounding the shrine (tamagaki)

Lanterns (toro)

Guardian lion-dog statues (komainu)

Messenger of the gods (Kenzoku)


These are generally Japanese style wooden buildings but reinforced concrete structures are becoming increasingly common. As stated above, shrines may exist within other buildings so their structure may not necessarily of a Japanese style. However, the main hall enshrining the object in which the kami resides will be of a traditional Japanese style.

During the night, there will be areas of a shrine that cannot be seen by security personnel and there have been incidents of arson. For this reason, some shrines have entered into contracts with security firms to provide automated security systems. There are many shrines enshrining gods of fire and theft prevention where security firm stickers can be seen.

Shinto Priesthood

Shinto is now recognized as a religious organization according to comprehensive legislation but it was originally not a religion but rather a set of beliefs regarding the protection of and gratitude for nature and the environment and reverence for life.

Therefore Shinto priests are different from those of other religions and serve in a role more akin to that of servants to the gods as opposed to religious leaders.

The person in charge of shrine rituals is the Shinto priesthood (priest, chief priest, senior priest, acting senior priest etc.) but, unlike a Christian or Buddhist priest, does generally not propagate.

Traditionally, most small shrines built to honor an ujigami did not have their own priest but were managed alternately and a priest would be called in to perform rituals. In the case that a shrine also contained a Buddhist temple, management and ceremonies would be carried out by the Buddhist priest. It is now generally the case that anyone wishing to become a Shinto priest must graduate from university with a major in Shinto.

After graduation, candidates must undergo training (internship scheme) at shrines around the country and so it is vital that they have graduated even if in possession of the proper qualifications.

The Object of Worship

Shinto mainly involves the worship of kami but also includes ethnic gods separate from Japan's ancient gods, actual people, characters from folklore, Buddhist deities and Taoist deities.

Shrine Names

Shrines are named according to a number of conventions. The most common of these is based on the name of its location. Examples of shrines named for their location include Kashima-jingu Shrine, Yasaka-jinja Shrine, Kasuga-jinja Shrine, Munakata Taisha Shrine and Hie-jinja Shrine.
Locational shrine names may also end with 'ni imasu jinja.'
In addition, many shrine names begin with the name of the enshrined deity. These include examples such as Inari-jinja Shrine, Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine, Hachiman-jinja Shrine, Temman-gu Shrine and Niutsuhime-jinja Shrine. Other naming conventions for shrines include names beginning with the name of the family that enshrined the deity (e.g. Shitori-jinja Shrine), names beginning with words related to the enshrined deity (e.g. Heian-jingu Shrine, Yaegaki-jinja Shrine), names indicating the type of shrine (e.g. Shokon-sha Shrine, Sorei-sha Shrine), and names indicating the number of enshrined deities (e.g. Rokusho-gu Shrine, Yohashira-jinja Shrine). There are also a great many shrines for which the origin of the name is unknown (e.g. Sengen-jinja Shrine). In cases, such as Inari-jinja Shrine and Hachiman-gu Shrine, where there are many shrines with the same name, the place name is often added onto the shrine name (e.g. Fushimi Inari-jinja Shrine, Hakodate Hachiman-gu Shrine).

The name of Temman-gu Shrine is pronounced according to the Sino-Japanese reading of Japanese characters, whereas the names of Hachiman-gu Shrine and Sengen-jinja Shrine can be pronounced according to either the Sino-Japanese or native Japanese reading. However these Sino-Japanese pronunciations for shrine names only arose due to the influence of Buddhism. Temman-gu Shrine was given a Sino-Japanese name as the name of the enshrined deity 'Tenman Tenjin' itself was influenced by Buddhism. Hachiman-gu Shrine and Sengen-jinja Shrine were originally pronounced 'Yawata-gu' and 'Asama-jinja' respectively, but the syncretization of Shinto with Buddhism and the influence of Buddhism led to the Sino-Japanese pronunciation becoming established.

Points to be aware of regarding shrine names are a follows. Generally, referring to all shrines with the suffix 'jinja' (except the suffix 'gu' and 'jingu') is a fairly recent development.
Shrines with a title such as '-myojin' or '-gongen,' those for which the '-inari,' '-hachiman' and 'jinja' part was abbreviated, or those for which '-sha' was suffixed are now all generally referred to with the suffix '-jinja.'
This trend can be linked to prohibition of the use of the 'gongen' title and there are also indications that it is partially due to the anti-Buddhist movement, but it is far more likely to be a result of the streamlining that arose as a result of the status of shrines as nationally managed institutions. Until the end of the war, shrines were essentially national institutions with regulations that dictated conditions regarding facilities and assets that had to be met in order to be recognized as a shrine.

Shrine Titles (shago)
Larger shrines are referred to as 'jingu' or 'taisha' and often enshrine well-known kami.

Shrines that enshrine emperors or imperial ancestors are often referred to as 'jingu' and those that enshrine a member of the imperial household are commonly entitled 'gu.'
In premodern times, only Kitsuki Taisha Shrine (presently Izumo Taisha Shrine) and Kumano Taisha Shrine (both in Shimane Prefecture) bore the shrine name 'taisha,' but by the pre-war period Izumo Taisha Shrine was the only one to do so.
Following the end of the war, former Kampei Taisha Shrine, Kokuhei Taisha Shrine and Kampei Chusha Shrine adopted the shogo 'taisha.'

Prior to 1945, it was necessary to obtain imperial permission in order to adopt a shogo such as 'jingu' but the separation of politics and religion means that now neither the government nor the imperial household are able to become directly involved and shrines can adopt the title of 'taisha' or 'jingu' without requiring any special permission. In addition to the two examples given above, the other shrines that currently carry the shogo of 'taisha' include Kita Taisha Shrine (Ishikawa Prefecture), Suwa Taisha Shrine (Nagano Prefecture), Nangu Taisha Shrine (Gifu Prefecture), Mishima Taisha Shrine/Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha Shrine (Shizuoka Prefecture), Tado Taisha Shrine (Mie Prefecture), Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine/Taga Taisha Shrine/Takebe Taisha Shrine (Shiga Prefecture), Matsuo Taisha Shrine/Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine (Kyoto Prefecture), Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine (Osaka Prefecture), Kasuga Taisha Shrine/Tatsuta Taisha Shrine/Hirose Taisha Shrine (Nara Prefecture), Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine/Kumano Hayatama Taisha Shrine/Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine (Wakayama Prefecture), Munakata Taisha Shrine/Kora Taisha Shrine (Fukuoka Prefecture).

In addition, there are shrines such as Umenomiya Taisha Shrine (Kyoto Prefecture) and Otori Taisha Shrine (Osaka Prefecture) for which the denotation is not set.
Moreover, the name plate on the torii of Hirano-jinja Shrine (Kyoto Prefecture) was once written 'Hirano Taisha.'

The shrines that changed their names after the end of the war are Hokkaido-jingu Shrine (previously Sapporo-jinja Shrine, Hokkaido), Izanagi-jingu Shrine (Hyogo Prefecture) and Hikosan-jingu Shrine (Fukuoka Prefecture) (the 'Dai-jingu' shogo of shrines such as Izumo Dai-jingu Shrine, formerly Kampei Chusha, in Kameoka City, Kyoto Prefecture are recognized as being different from the 'jingu' shogo). Misunderstandings may arise such as in the case of Kashii-gu Shrine in Higashi Ward, Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture, which is not a 'jingu' but the closest station is named 'Kashii Jingu Station (Kashii Line).

Main Beliefs
Many shrines transfer in deities from famous shrines. This involves dividing a shrine's tutelary deity and enshrining it in another shrine. In the same way that a candle can be lit from a candle, a Shinto kami can be infinitely divided without causing any harm to the original deity. The shrine that made the invitation is given a name according to the enshrined deity that is the same as that of the shrine from which it came and the two then become linked shrines. The following gives the major linked shrines and their enshrined kami.

There are few shrines that have enshrined a deity but for which the shrine name and that of the kami do not match. There are also recently constructed shrines such as Yasukuni-jinja Shrine and Shokonsha Shrine (Gokoku-jinja Shrine).

[Original Japanese]