Shinto Shrines: An introductory photographer’s guide!



Ashitsuki Shrine lost in the trees in Ashikubo, Shizuoka City!

With the New Year and its festivities approaching, the Japanese are getting ready for their traditional visit of their local Shinto Shrines.
It also turns into a very special time for photographers keen on capturing truly Japanese scenes.
To help the latter here is a simple but sufficient introduction to a fruitful visit of any shrine of any size or importance near your location!

Torii gate


A very unusual triple torii gate on the way to Atago Shrine in Shizuoka City!

Entering the shrine compounds through one of the « torii »/sacred gates.
Whereas Shinto Shrines and Buddhist temples share quite a few traits in common, such portals are to be found at Shinto Shrines only. Likewise, sake under the form of large casks will be found only at Shinto Shrines while cemeteries are the sole responsibility of Buddhist temples.


A tiny wooden torii with top curved beam made out of a real tree trunk!


Torii with a straight top beam at Yaata Shrine, in Suruga Ku, Shizuoka City!

The torii gate can be made either of wood (generally painted in red), stone, concrete or even metal.
The top beam might be straight or curved.

Sake offerings


Sengen Shrine in Shizuoka City!

Large Shinto shrines will often exhibit the sake casks donated for the New Year by rich worshipers.
Sake/rice wine is considered the drink/nectar of the gods.

Hand washing


Sengen Shrine in Shizuoka City!

The Japanese usually wash their hands at a stone wash basin (although it can also been done with salt, sand, or sake/alcohol) called « chozuya »
A simple way to wash your hands is to scoop some water and run it over your left hand and then your right hand although some shrines will indicate how to do properly.



Suwa Shrine near Yamana lake, Yamanashi prefecture!

Sumo has always been strongly associated with the Shinto religion.
Accordingly, some Shinto shrine will shelter a sumo ring where annual tournaments occur.

Stone lanterns


Stone lanterns/ »ishidoro » of all kinds and sizes can be found at most shrines. The bigger the shrine, the larger the number.


Monjyu Atago Shrine in Shimizu Ku, Shizuoka City!

They are hollow to hold candles (or bulbs) and sport various designs such as simple hollowed moon crescents or moon, or more elaborate carvings featuring clouds, mountains, deer and else.

Animal guardians.


Closed mouth lion guard at Mishima Taisha Shrine!

You will find all kinds of animal guardians usually in pairs, such as lions, foxes or monkeys and even birds, boars, and what else.


A closed mout lion guard at Mishima Tasiha Shrine!

The lion guards called « shishi » or « koma-inu » appear under the shape of two statues facing each other, one with its maw closed, the other one with its mouth open.

But you might discover them into other places such as under the eaves of the shrine.


A rare lion guard mounted by a « oni »/goblin in Sengen Shrine in Shizuoka City!


Ogushi Shrine, Shizuoka City!

Fox guardians/ »kitsune » stand at all « inari/Godess of Agriculture » Shrines.


The other fox at Ogushi Shrine!

Other « animals » encountered at Shinto Shrines.

Although the same can be found in Buddhist temples, they provide plenty of material for photographers:


Dragons/ »tatsu » at Ooi Shrine in Shimada City!


Elephant-like nightmare eaters/ »baku » at Mizu Shrine in Shimizu Ku, Shizuoka City!


Tiger/ »tora » in Sengen Shrine, Shizuoka City!


Phoenix/ »hoo » in Okitsuhiko Shrine in Shizuoka City!!


Dragon horse/ »kirin » in Sengen Shrine!


Carp/ »koi » in Sengen Shrine, Shizuoka City, and many, many more such as bulls and cows, horses, even frogs and kites (bird)!

Garlands and paper strips


Inomiya Shrine in Shizuoka City!

Shinto shrines are typically marked with a « shimenawa »/ rice straw garlands and « shime »/strips of white paper to ward off evil spirits, or placed around trees/objects to indicate the presence of a « kami »God. Made of rice straw or hemp, the rope/garland is called nawa. The pieces of white paper that are cut into strips and hung from these ropes (often hung from ropes on Torii gates as well) are called « shime » or « gohei ».

Worship halls

A full-fledged Shintō shrine is typically a two-part structure:


Mishima Taisha Shrine!

(1) the Haiden, or oratory, before which worshipers say prayers.


Ishida Shrine in Suruga Ku, Shizuoka City!

(2) the Honden, or inner sanctum, the main dwelling of the deity. The Honden is built behind the Haiden.

One also often finds a third structure between the Honden and Haiden called the Heiden (Hall of Offerings), open only to the priests when they are making offerings on behalf of devotees.


Ishida Shrine in Suruga Ku, Shizuoka City!

Shinto architecture

Shintō architecture is usually “down to earth,” blending rather than conflicting with the natural setting. Shrines are typically stand-alone complexes, but shrines can often be found within Buddhist temples as well. Shintō roofs are usually peaked, and most everything is painted red (but not always). The presence of a torii (gate), two shishi (lion-dog) guardians, shimenawa (ropes with white paper), and the absence of a cemetery, are all telltale signs of Shintō shrines.


Ishida Shrine in Suruga Ku, Shizuoka City!

You can tell whether the deity housed at the shrine is male or female by looking at the roof of the shrine. On some shrines (not all though) you may find horn-like cross boards on the roof. If the ends of the boards are cut so the flat edges face up, then the deity is usually female. However, if the boards are cut so the flat edges face sideways, the deity is usually male.

Praying bells and money offering boxes


Money offerings box in Shirahige Shimojima Shrine in Shizuoka City!

Worshipers usually first throw coins into the money offering box/ »saisen », clap their hands to call the God’s attention, pull the bell rope and pray before bowing away.

Lucky Charms, Votive Plaques, and Fortune Telling


Votive plaques at Miho Shrine in Shimizu Ku, Shizuoka City!

Shrines offer many diversions to visitors – and if most cases, these diversions involve superstition and magic. Nearly all shrines sell talismans to bring good luck or keep evil away:
« O-mamori »/protective amulets, « O-inori »/paper prayers, « Hamaya »/evil-destroying arrow, « Ema »/votive plaque, »Omikuji »/lucky or unlucky oracle, and more!

Dance platforms


Noh stage at Okuni Shrine in Mori Machi, Hamamatsu City!

Large Shinto shrine might also include on their grounds platforms of various size and complexity to hold traditional sacred dances called « Kagura » and even Noh theater plays!

And this is only a start!


So Good Sushi Restaurant in Nice France
Navigating Nagoya by Paige, Shop with Intent by Debbie, BULA KANA in Fiji, Kraemer’s Culinary blog by Frank Kraemer in New York,Tokyo Food File by Robbie Swinnerton, Green Tea Club by Satoshi Nihonyanagi in Shizuoka!, Mind Some by Tina in Taiwan, Le Manger by Camille Oger (French), The Indian Tourist, Masala Herb by Helene Dsouza in Goa, India, Mummy I Can Cook! by Shu Han in London, Pie
, Francescannotwrite, My White Kitchen, Foodhoe, Chucks Eats, Things that Fizz & Stuff, Five Euro Food by Charles,Red Shallot Kitchen by Priscilla,With a Glass, Nami | Just One Cookbook, Peach Farm Studio, Clumsyfingers by Xethia, PepperBento, Hapabento, Kitchen Cow, Lunch In A Box, Susan at Arkonlite, Vegan Lunch Box; Tokyo Tom Baker, Daily Food Porn/Osaka, Only Nature Food Porn, Happy Little Bento, J-Mama’s Kitchen, Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat, Bento Lunch Blog (German), Adventures In Bento, Anna The Red’s Bento Factory, Ohayo Bento,

Must-see tasting websites:

-Sake: Ichi For The Michi by Rebekah Wilson-Lye in Tokyo, Tokyo Through The Drinking Glass, Tokyo Foodcast, Urban Sake, Sake World
-Wine: Palate To Pen, Warren Bobrow, Cellar Tours, Ancient Fire Wines Blog
-Beer: Another Pint, Please!, Beering In Good Mind: All about Craft Beer in Kansai by Nevitt Reagan!
ABRACADABREW, Magical Craftbeer from Japan
-Whisky: Nonjatta: All about whisky in Japan by Stefan Van Eycken
-Japanese Pottery to enjoy your favourite drinks: Yellin Yakimono Gallery

Non gastronomy must-see sites by Shizuoka Residents

HIGHOCTANE/HAIOKU by Nick Itoh in Shizuoka City

Related Posts

Quitter la version mobile
Aller à la barre d’outils