In Japan, the majority of populace maintains a condition of selflessness in every aspect of life. Most Japanese practice their native religion Shinto that is originally based on harmony of nature and society. The term literally can be interpreted as "the Way of the Gods" that indicates its divine nature. Shinto is an original religion of Japan purposed to establish a connection between the contemporary country and its ancient past. Additionally, Shinto combines different spiritual practices developed as a result of various indigenous traditions of ancient Japan. Nevertheless, many Japanese people have also adopted Buddhism that differs from Shinto. Therefore, being the official religions of Japan, Shinto and Buddhism are greatly different in their religious practices and spiritual beliefs fulfilled within the temples and shrines that have their particular symbolism and ritualistic function.
Shinto is the original spiritual cult of Japanese people extensively followed throughout the country. Shinto was initially adopted from the inscriptions of ancient Chinese religions. An idealistic path of existence is the central point of Shinto, which is laid in its meaning. In contrast, the tradition of Buddhism envisages the salvation as the ultimate point of unselfish life that should be achieved through an unavoidable approach into the true character of reality and existence. While being the Indian religion, Buddhism focuses on meditation and spiritual practices aimed to prepare a person for the next life (Earhart, 1969). Unlike Buddhism, Shinto underlines the natural cycles and happy existence in the present life. Moreover, Shinto has no founder, official dogma, scriptures or fixed system of ethics; it is commonly practiced through actions and practices. In addition, Earhart (1969) stated that Shinto religious practices are based on prehistoric traditions of ancient Japan whereas religious practices and traditions of Buddhism are founded on Siddhartha Gautama's (Buddha's) teachings. The ritual practices and actions in Shinto religion have larger significance than preaching; thus it differs from Buddhist study of the words and philosophical principles.
While being the two state religions of Japan, Shinto and Buddhism have developed simultaneously during many centuries, and thus their sacred places exist side-by-side. The sacred places of Shinto are called jinja - the shrines where the kami live (Earhart, 1969). The shrines used in Shinto worship display the nature and power of the kami - different forces and spirits of the universe. Every town in Japan has at least one shrine that is devoted to the kami. The shrines can be of different looks - from planned buildings to constructions made of rock or wood. Shinto considers shrines to be sacred places of beauty and carefree calm. In the shrines, people pray to the gods for good luck and happiness. Buddhist sacred places, in contrast, are temples, where people meditate and pray for salvation. Moreover, people pray not to gods, but to Buddha, who is an enlightened being. The structure of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are also different. Shrines have the torii gate, a pair of guardian animals, a small fountain with ladles placed near for purification, a large box for money, and a thick rope with a bell, while temples have no such specific features and can be perceived by pagoda instead of the torii gate, statues of Buddha, large bells, and places for incense lighting.
The shrines in Shinto religion have earned special respect of Japanese populace. Meiji Jingu is one of the largest and greatly respected shrines. It is located in Tokyo and devoted to the divine spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, who have been suggested kami (Coaldrake, 1996). Meiji Jingu symbolizes the significant achievement of Emperor Meiji, whose ruling put the end to the feudal shogun era that has supported Japan development and modernization. The shrine is situated in a forest where the trees of different species have been planted by people from all parts of the country. The barrels of sake and rice wine are situated on the path to Meiji Jingu and used originally in celebrations and festivals that take place in the shrine. Additionally, the barrels of sake symbolize human respect for the spirits of the Emperor and his Empress (Earhart, 1969). Moreover, the ritualistic traditions of Meiji Jingu are washing of hands and mouth at the fountain before entering the shrine, clapping twice the hands before the pray, and writing prayers on wooden plates that are hanged outside of the shrine.
As opposed to this, Ise Jingu is the Inari shrine dedicated to the divinity Inari, the kami of rice without association to the divine spirit of its founder. It is divided into two shrines: the Outer Shrine called Geku and the Inner Shrine called Naiku (Coaldrake, 1996). Thus, the Outer Shrine enshrines Toyouke, the deity of clothing, food, and housing within Shinto religion, while the Inner Shrine is dedicated to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu - the most venerated divine spirit among Japanese faithful people. These two shrines are located in the city of Ise, several kilometers apart from each other, and only a pilgrimage road connects them. Ise Jingu as well as Meiji Jingu exists in harmony with the surrounding nature - green trees, wooded hills, and broad gravel lanes. The symbolism of this sacred place can be regarded within every detail - the fox statues are the messengers of Inari, zig-zag strips of cloth represent the cloth offerings, which have been made to the shrine (Coaldrake, 1996). Moreover, the shrine itself is a symbolic place where people show their respect for Inaru in their worship. Besides common ritualistic function of passageway, purification through hand-washing, and praying, there are also various ceremonies and festivals that contain many symbolic elements. For example, food offerings, which can be raw, salty or alcohol products, are dedicated to kami and purposed to show respect and honor to the deity. This ritual greatly contrasts with the sweet vegetarian offerings that are practiced in Buddhism devoted to the bounty of Buddha.
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The Buddhist temples certainly differ from the Shinto shrines by its history, architectural structure, symbolism, and ritualistic function. Located in Kyoto, Nanzen-ji has originally served as a detached palace of Emperor Kameyama that lately has been dedicated by him to Zen Buddhism. A small stone road called The Philosopher's Path, which received its name after a glorious Japanese philosopher, Nishida Kitaro, leads to Nanzen-ji temple (Coaldrake, 1996). Furthermore, three entrance gates to Nanzen-ji have deep symbolic meaning - they are aimed to free pilgrims from three passions of greed, hatred, and foolishness, and thus lead them to enlightenment. Zen garden of Nanzen-ji Temple, also called the Leaping Tiger Garden, embodies symbolism of this sacred place. Therefore, it symbolizes mankind's relationship with nature and human place in the universe. The waterfall is a symbol of Earth and Heaven as well as the wall, which not only separates the waterfall from the temple but also represents people assailed by doubts (Earhart, 1969). Thus, meditation near the waterfall situated in the back of the temple and praying to Buddha are major ritualistic functions of Nanzen-ji.
The Byodo-In is one more Buddhist temple, which is located in the ancient city of Kyoto. The three meter high statue of the Lotus Buddha covered in gold is located inside the temple. A large gilt mandorla is situated behind the statue and symbolizes the union of two opposites - heaven and earth. The touch of nature can be noticed in the surrounding Byodo-In large ponds that cover great part of territory as well as flowery Japanese gardens. The whole temple is dedicated to the worship of the Amida Buddha. The golden statues of the two phoenixes that stretch their wings upon the temple roof are symbol of good omen (Coaldrake, 1996). Before entering the territory of Byodo-In, people have to ring the peace bell that is a symbol of deep calm, which cleans human mind of evil spirits and seduction. The worshipers have to remove their shoes prior to come into the sanctuary. Apart from the traditional ritualistic worship and meditation, the territory of Byodo-In is also used for wedding ceremonies as well as official meetings.
Eventually, Shinto and Buddhism are two leading religions in Japan. While being completely different, they are respected by not only Japanese people but also many worshipers from all over the world. Although Buddhism is not native religion of Japan, it has been developed and continues to exist equally with indigenous Shinto. The principal differences between these two religions are based on their origin, founder, meaning, philosophy, views on life and death, symbolism, and ritualistic functions. Moreover, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are sacred places, which differ by their history, architectural structure, usage, symbolism, and ritualistic functions. Nevertheless, Shinto Meiji Jingu and Ise Jingu together with Buddhist Nanzen-ji and Byodo-In represent the purity and peace of Japanese spirituality. Therefore, Shinto and Buddhism as the official religions of Japan have many differences in their religious practices and spiritual beliefs, but they are equally important to Japanese history and present world.
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