Difference Between Shinto and Buddhism Essay

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Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan, emphasizes nature to a considerable degree, a distinguishing feature of the faith. Buddhism offers a far more cerebral and philosophical approach, as well as pathways for personal psychological development. Unlike Shinto, Buddhism is not indigenous to Japan and is in fact a foreign religion that simply became entrenched there. In Japan, the two religions often fuse and their temples are found in close proximity to one another. They are not considered mutually exclusive or conflicting; they are both integral to Japanese identity, social norms, and culture.

Shinto places of worship are often referred to as shrines, although that translation is weak in the sense that in English, a shrine can convey a ritualistic altar to a dead person. Although Shinto does include ancestral worship as part of its core features, a Shinto shrine is simply a specific place that is deemed sacred space. To mark that space as sacred, several human constructions are placed, including the tori (gate), often painted orange. Often, there will be two pillars or statues topped with foxes, as symbolic guardians of the sacred space. The architecture in both Shinto and Buddhism serves as a means to distinguish the sacred from the non-sacred areas, encouraging the visitor to leave behind the cares and worries of daily life when entering the space. The most Shinto shrines include only tori as well as special adornments for trees, to mark them as sacred spaces too. Shinto shrines always abut nature, even when they happen to be located in a modern city, which built up around it. In fact, more important Shinto shrines will include elaborate architectural elements including indoor spaces for worship. These tend to have a few distinguishing elements, including a bell. The use of sound is important to both Buddhism and Shinto; with the former relying more on chanting. Both Buddhism and Shinto places of worship may have public ablution areas, where an individual worshipper may symbolically cleanse before conducting the prayers.

In Kobe, Japan, there is a Shinto shrine called Ikuta Jinja, and in Kyoto, one called Fushimi Inari (Sakata, 2008). Each of these shrines are different, but they share in common the core, important elements of Shinto sacred architecture. Ikuta shrine is a good example of Shinto architecture because it abuts a forested area of what is now a major metropolitan area. The location of the shrine predated the city of Kobe by many centuries, and the shrine now creates a natural sanctuary zone in the middle of the city. It serves as a means for city dwellers to reconnect with nature, revealing the link between Shinto and the natural world.

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The shrine contains some water elements, showing the importance of natural elements like wood, stone, and water to Shinto architectural design. A casual visitor might focus on the grandiose gateway, neglecting to notice the smaller details of the shrine that are actually more important for conveying the Shinto worldview. The grand tori/gaetway is larger than many Shinto shrines, as it has been well-endowed with imperial funding over the centuries and has therefore become a signifier of the way politics and religion become entwined in all cultures.

In Ikuta Jinja's case, the main gateway is actually comprised of several smaller gateways, which make up the whole. The stacked gateways grow wider at the top. The top-heavy feature is common in Shinto tori design, although many tori are simple wooden structures lacking the type of adornment seen here. This tori appears as if it blossomed out of the ground, its bottom thinner part like the stem of a flower, the umbrella-like top enveloping the layers beneath. As with the other architectural elements at Ikuta Jinjia, the main gate is constructed of wood as with most Shinto shrines, because using natural materials is central to reflecting the core tenets of the faith. Cypress wood tends to be the most common, because it is indigenous to the region ("Shinto Shrines," 2009). As with most Shinto shrines, the color orange, which contrasts with the green of the natural surroundings. The use of orange signals to the visitor that one is entering a sacred dimension, which is at once separate from but also integrated with the rest of the area.

Passing through the tori, visitors then behold a series of other architectural elements and public spaces. A walkway guides the supplicant to the main shrine area, a building in some ways more humble than the tori but larger and with the capacity to hold visitors inside, unlike the gate, which is simply a gate with no interior elements at all. The shrine's interior elements are, however, closed to the general public. It is reserved for the priests or open only on ceremonial occasions. Visitors instead stop at an open area under the awnings of the building but still on a porch-like part of the structure. The main hall is called a honden, the interior worship area the haiden, and the most sacred inner sanctum….....

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Ash, D. (n.d.). Six differences between a Japanese shrine and a Japanese temple.

Kleiner, F. S. (2016a). Gardner's art through the ages: Non-western art since 1300 (15th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Kleiner, F. S. (2016b). Gardner's art through the ages: Non-western art to 1300 (15th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Sakata, S. (2008). Temple or shrine -- what's the difference? The Nihon Sun. Retrieved online: http://www.nihonsun.com/2008/11/14/temple-or-shrine-whats-the-difference/

"Shinto Shrines," (2009). Atmosphere. Retrieved online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/shinto/places/shrines_1.shtml

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