Roots of Japan

Japanese Temple

What is a Japanese temple?

Today, we step into the world of “Otera”- Buddhist temples in Japan.

Buddhism has “Otera”, just as Christianity has churches and Islam has mosques.

However, there are major differences between them.The central part of “Otera” is the enshrined “Honzon” (principal Buddhist object of veneration) and it is a place for Buddhist training and services.Churches are used for sermons, as well as other church services and religious ceremonies.In a mosque, there are pulpits for giving sermons and ablution fountains for ritual purification but no altars or statues.

The designs of these structures differ very much, according to the teachings of the religion.But they all share common ground as gathering places for believers.

“Shakyamuni” or Buddha, the founder of Buddhism - what was he like?

His name was Siddhartha Gautama.He lived about 2300 years ago and was given the title Buddha which means “Enlightened One”.The “Shakyamuni”, which is another name for Buddha, came from the Shakya clan.

Although he was born a prince and lived a life of luxury, he later abandoned this life, became a Buddhist priest and entered the way of “satori” (enlightenment) in order to save people.Out of the many that followed him, the most famous are his ten principal disciples, which include his son and other good-looking men.

How long have there been “Otera” in Japan?

Asuka-dera in Nara prefecture, built 1500 - 1600 years ago, is often regarded as the first temple built in Japan. However, others view Shitennō-ji in Osaka as the first official “Otera”.

Hōryū-ji temple, a world heritage site in Nara, is widely acknowledged to be the oldest “Otera” in Japan.Although a fire destroyed the original buildings, it was subsequently rebuilt and it remains intact now 1400 years later. Ongoing maintenance preserves it as one of the oldest buildings in the world.

Shitennō-ji and Asuka-dera were also rebuilt due to fire and water damage.The history of the buildings is recorded from that time onward, so the "Otera" rebuilt the least amount of times that is classified as the most historic.

Between 1631 and 1877 the building of new temples was forbidden.This means that “Otera” can be divided into two main categories, those built before 1631 and those built after 1877.

Japan has roughly 77,000 “Otera”, and 10% of these were built after the Meiji era.

What are the characteristics of Japanese “Otera”?

Traditional Japanese architecture uses wood as a building material.In comparison with the highly colorful and decorative temples in countries like China and Thailand, you could be forgiven for thinking that Japanese “Otera” are very plain.

Actually, these structures originally had brilliant colors but after hundreds of years the color had faded as the temples age.While repairs continue to be made, the Japanese appreciation for “Wabi-sabi” (the beauty of imperfection and simplicity) means the natural rustic appearance that conveys the passage of time has been carefully maintained.There are still some colorful “Otera” left today, for example Kinkaku-ji, the famous Golden Pavilion.

Also the ornamental carvings that decorate many “Otera” should not be forgotten.The beauty of Saifuku-ji in Niigata prefecture will take your breath away.

There are 13 sects in Japanese Buddhism.Temple architecture can differ slightly by sect. You could visit “Otera” of each sect and compare the differences. Sounds like a great trip!

For those who wish to totally immerse themselves in the world of “Otera”, we recommend “shukubo” or temple lodging.

“Shukubo” is accommodation for temple visitors.Originally built as lodging for monks or as a facility for pilgrims who wished to purify their mind and body, now they are open to tourists as an accommodation experience where you can also participate in daily rituals.You can enjoy a truly unique experience by staying overnight at a working Buddhist “Otera”.

You will no doubt also start to feel your mind and body relax as you enjoy the simple and natural taste of “Shojin Ryori” - Buddhist vegetarian cuisine.

It is possible to participate in the daily rituals mentioned above, even if you do not stay the night, by making a reservation and paying a fee. However, be sure to confirm this in advance.

So, what do you think?Would you like to visit “Otera”?

Perhaps you have been to one in the past and didn't really enjoy the experience.But, there are 77,000 “Otera” in Japan.Enjoy exploring different regions, not just the most famous tourist attractions and you may discover your new favorite place!

Finally, keep in mind some “Otera” keep their gates closed so it's a good idea to check in advance.

It is my opinion and summary. Please acknowledge that there are various opinions.