Jinja Architecture (神社建築)

Jinja architecture refers to the architecture associated with jinja, or Shinto shrine.
It is also called shaden (shrine pavillions) architecture


Structures of Jinja typically seen today consist of honden (main sanctuary hall), heiden (offering hall), and haiden (worship hall). When you visit a shrine, you see the worship hall haiden building situated on the same axis as the main sanctuary honden toward the front with a saisen (offertory) box being placed at the front. Haiden is a place where ceremonies like purification rites or prayer services are held.

The honden, a main sanctuary hall which is located in the rear of the haiden, contains shintai, or an object believed to contain the spirit of a deity. The haiden is considered to be the main building to see, by most visitors, because Honden is situated at the rear of the shrine building complex. As for architectural styles, nagare-zukuri and kasuga-zukuri are the most typical; in some cases, an oiya, or a covering roof is constructed over a small-sized honden as a protection from the elements.

A heiden is typically built between the haiden and honden on the same axis; it is not uncommon for these buildings to be joinder. If you walk to the side of the building, you'll see the heiden and honden at the rear of haiden.

As the honden is regarded as the sacred place where a spirit of kami or deity dwells, it is often enclosed by wooden fences, or protected by the oiya structure built over it, keeping the honden from being seen by public during ordinary times. In some shrines, a haiden is located directly at the front of shintai, or objects believed to contain the spirit of the deity, instead of having a honden in the middle, such as in Omiwa-jinja Shrine and Kanasana-jinja Shrine. It is considered that shrines without shaden or pavillions are of a more archaic style.

Architecture of shrine is believed to have emerged under the influence of ji-in, or Buddhist pagoda, reviving ancient architecture, and in the course of subsequent developments, design elements of Buddhist nature were considered to be intentionally eliminated. Shrine architecture is characterized by a strong emphasis on form. The major Shinto shrines including those designated as Ichinomiya shrines adopted and retained distinctive architecture, contributing to the preservation of unique traditional styles. Understanding architectural style of a shrine gives important clues about the characteristics of saishin, or the deity of a shrine.
A shrine is often built in a style based upon the roots of a particular shrine from when it was first established

Honden: a pavillion which houses shintai, or objects believed to contain the spirit of kami. Honden is not intended to be built for people to enter and stay inside; therefore, it tends to be smaller than haiden. It used to be that only one deity was enshrined in one pavillion; today, it is not uncommon to have many deities enshrined in one pavillion. A honden may house Goshintai, which is an object of worship believed to contain the spirit of a deity (e.g., a mirror).

Haiden: a pavillion for worship and prayer. The building which visitors typically see when they visit a shrine is the haiden. In most cases, worship takes place by clapping hands at the front of haiden; in some cases, such as for purification ceremonies, people may enter the haiden building. It is also a place for Shinto priests and priestesses to sit during worship. Haiden is typically built larger than honden and have raised floors of timber; in some cases, however, the center of the building has earthen floors with vaulted ceilings, a structure called wari-haiden, to allow people to pass through. A well known example can be found in Sakurai-jinja Shrine, Sakai City, which is designated as a national treasure. In some shrines, haiden serves also as a place for mai-den or kagura-den, a place for floor dancing performance, or shamusho, a shrine office. Some shrines including Kasuga-taisha Shrine and Ise-jingu Shrine do not have haiden; others including Fushimi Inari-taisha and Meiji-jingu Shrine have two haiden halls. When there are two haiden halls, the one toward you is called ge-haiden, or outer haiden, and the one at the back nai-haiden, or inner haiden. There may be waniguchi, or a medal shape steel drum, or suzu, a bell with a cord.

Heiden: a pavillion for having ceremonies and presenting offerings made of paper or silk cuttings, called heihaku. In some shrines, heiden is built as an independent structure; more commonly, however, heiden shares the building structure with haiden. Some shrines do not have a heiden structure.

Heiden may have additional features including: kaguraden, or kagura hall, chozubachi, a basin for water to purify before entering a shrine, toro, a lantern, and komainu, guardian dogs.

Characteristics of shrine architecture: honden

The following characteristics have been pointed out as features of honden architecture:

Gabled roofs
Highly raised timbered floors
Absence of tile used for roofing
Absence of earthen walls
Simple and not decorative

Having tsuma, or a gable pediment, at each end of the roof, is a feature of kirizuma-zukuri, or gable style, which is the dominant style of shrine architecture with the other style being irimoya-zukuri, a gabled hipped roof style. Irimoya-zukuri is derived from Buddhist style of construction. As can be seen from the lack of non-gabled styles such as yosemune-zukuri or hougyo-zukuri, the irimoya-zukuri is considered to have been willingly adopted as an architectural style maintaining the values of Shinto shrine architecture, over passively influenced Buddhist styles.

Whereas the meaning of gabled roof in shrine architecture is not clear; there seems to be little doubt that it was of great religious significance. The religious importance is evident, for instance, in the hardware parts of tsuma, or gabled pediment, which are specially treated, and mounting them during periodical occasions when moving shintai to a new shrine was carried out as a secret ceremony at the Shoden of Ise Jingu, and in nagare-zukuri pavillions jointed side by side in rows, each pavillion has chidori-hafu, a dormer bargeboard at the front side to differentiate the pavillions from each other.

A highly raised floor presents a sharp contrast to doma, or earthen floor, a basic element of Buddhist architecture.

However, some ancient shrines, like sumiyoshi-zukuri structures, have earthen instead of timbered floors.

It is considered that tile roofing was not used appropriately to distinguish Shinto architecture itself from Buddhist architecture, or even to avoid it. In principle, roofing material in shrine construction is wood (wood strip roofing or cedar bark roofing); later on, in the modern era, copper sheeting became a material of choice. However, there are exceptions to the rule in honden roofing; in Okinawa, for instance, shrine buildings are commonly roofed with traditional red tiles. Similarly, earthen walls are not used.

Simplicity in decoration can be interpreted as a result of shrines preserving the styles of ancient Japanese architecture. Traditional Japanese design elements were incorporated to distinguish itself from Buddhist architecture because a shrine is a place for Japanese deities.

These characteristics however do not always apply to all structures of shrine architecture, which also changes from time to time.

Origin of honden

There were no shaden, or pavillion structures in the ancient days. Kami or deities were believed to dwell not in shaden, but in mountains and forest, and not in any single, definite location. Kami were believed to visit specific rocks and trees with special shapes, and therefore worship to kami was conducted at such places. These places are called iwasaka or iwakura, both of which refer to an area a deity sits, and are found all over Japan. Deities, however, were not believed to live there; rather, deities were invited to the place only when worship took place.

Later, people started to set up temporary alters at ceremony sites. The alters are considered to be so called himorogi. Himorogi were placed above the worship site at the time of the ritual. Later, himorogi is considered to have developed into a substantial structure and subsequently became shaden, a shrine pavillion.

It is the process of a temporary alter developing into a permanent structure called shaden and then the existing construction style was later incorporated into the pavillion structure. However, there are probably inconsistencies between the beginning date of an architecture style and the beginning date that particular style started to be used for shrine construction. This is because it is likely that traditional techniques and styles, which were archaic in those days, were adopted in a revivalist manner when the pavillions were built as shrines. Furthermore, the time pavillion construction emerged saw a culmination of Buddhism architecture, suggesting that it is likely that pavillion construction may have been affected by Buddhist architectural styles. The idea of an architectural structure being the object of worship per se may have originated in Buddhist influence.

It is considered that construction of the jinguji affected the establishment of shrine architecture. Jinguji are temples which were built within a shrine; it emerged at an early phase of the syncretic process of Shinto and Buddhism. After jinguji temples had started being built, Shinto Shrines were exposed to the influence of Buddhist architecture; however, having been built side by side, differentiation of shrine and Buddhist architecture from each other became rather desirable.

Origin of haiden

Establishment of haiden postdates that of honden. Today there are many old shrines that do not have a haiden, such as Ise Jingu, Kasuga Taisha, Usa Jingu, and Matsuo Taisha.

Haiden is now a place for ceremonies for kami that are worshiped at a specific shrine; however, originally, the ceremonies were performed outdoors. Honden, which was originated as an alter, used to be an object of ceremonies instead of a place for having ceremonies. Prior to the establishment of haiden, shrine ceremonies were held at outdoor ceremonial places in the front of a honden. Priests and priestesses were seated on the left and right sides of the ceremonial place, from which they moved to the center of the place to perform a ceremony.

Later on, when ceremonies began taking place indoors, the central part of the ceremonial place became haiden; the places which used to be the seats for priests and priestesses became kairou or corridors. A two-storied gate or romon was built at the entrance of a corridor.

As we have seen, the original forms of ceremonies were developed into the structures of romon, corridor, and heiden; on the other hand, a small size shrine, which was not big enough to have all the sections, subsequently consolidated all the features into a single pavillion. This is haiden. Haiden was therefore established by squeezing together all the functions of romon, corridor, and heiden.

Types of classic shrine architecture (honden)

Classic shrine architecture (honden) can be categorized as follows:

Structures that have sills under posts. Structures that have shin-no-mihashira, or non-structural symbolic post. Structures that have two divided rooms. The first type of structures with sills under posts is represented by nagare-zukuri and kasuga-zukuri architectural styles. In this type of structure, a timber grid is formed on the bottom of the pavillion, on top of which posts are placed, instead of placing posts directly onto the ground or building a foundation with stone. The structure assumes the pavillion to be mobile; which is considered to be a trace of ceremonies practiced in ancient times when a pavillion was placed only at the time of ceremony and the rest of the time it was not set up. It has been suggested that a temporary alter in ancient times called himorogi was developed into a permanent pavillion structure.

Both in the nagarezukuri and kasugazukuri styles, the space under the floor is surrounded by a wall. Generally, the feature which is common in shrine architecture is the idea that the point of connection between the pavillion and the ground is sacred. In other words, the sacredness of a pavillion stems from the place where it is located. This supports the view that pavillions originate in himorogi, in which a temporary alter was placed in a sacred area or on the large rock to invite kami to descend.

Misedana-zukuri, a small pavillion style, which is characterized by the absence of steps that are present in nagare-zukuri and kasuga-zukuri, and by the presence of a shelf instead; the misedana-zukuri probably is closer to the original form of shrine architecture rather than being a simplified version of a normal size shrine building.

As we have seen, the origin of these styles go back to ancient times, and the structure having sills under the posts are considered to be one of the oldest shrine architectural forms.

Structures that have shin-no-mihashira, or non-structural symbolic post are shinmei-zukuri style and taisha-zukuri style. These styles are characterized by having hottate-bashira, or earthfast posts, such as shin-no-mihashira and munamochi-bashira. Shin-no-mihashira, which is in the center of a pavillion structure, is a non-structural post, and is considered to have been yorishiro, an object originally capable of attracting kami. In shinmei-zukuri, shin-no-mihashira is completely separated from the body of the structure. Munamochi-bashira is a post which directly supports the ridge, unlike other posts that support the beam in the main part of the building.

All the posts, including munamochi-bashira, are hottate-bashira, which are erected by excavating a posthole to insert and secure the post without using any foundation stones. (Note: Today's Izumo-taisha Shrine is built on a sill.)
Hottate-bashira was used in structures throughout history since prehistoric times when it was used in primitive dwellings.

Structures that are divided into two buildings are sumiyosi-zukuri and hachiman-zukuri styles. In both styles, the honden structure consists of two buildings, one in front of the other. Sumiyosi-zukuri differs from hachiman-zukuri in that in the former, the building situated in the back has kamiza, or a place for the deity, and in the latter, the front and back buildings have daytime and nighttime places for the deity, respectively; however, sumiyoshi-zukuri and hachiman-zukuri share a commonality in that the two buildings were not developed from one building. It is considered that these styles include otori-zukuri style structures and daijo-gu, a temporary shrine prepared at the palace for Daijo-sai festival, which is held only once in an emperor's lifetime after his succession, or his first "niiname-sai."

Architectural styles of honden

There are various architectural styles for shrines; shinmei-zukuri, taisha-zukuri, and sumiyosi-zukuri are considered to be the oldest. The styles commonly seen in general shrines are nagare-zukuri, followed by kasuga-zukuri. While there are varieties of architectural style names, each shrine has a distinctive style, which creates a huge number of styles, thus making the classification rather meaningless; shrine architecture is therefore simply classified by the various forms of the roof. The architectural styles for shrines should be treated separately from the complex styles of shrine pavillions.

Shinmei-zukuri (Ise-jingu Shrine, Ise City, Mie Prefecture)

Kirizuma-zukuri, hirairi (i.e., a style in which the entrance is located in one of the sides parallel to the ridge of the roof)
In principle, kirizuma-zukuri uses hottate-bashira posts, which were erected by excavating a hole in the ground and being secured directly in the ground. Kirizuma-zukuri have munamochi-bashira, posts which directly support the ridge. Hafu-ita, which are gable boards, extend to become chigi. Many shrines built in Meiji period and later have a shinmei-zukuri style. The honden of Ise-jingu Shrine, in particular, is called yuitsu-jinmei-zukuri, literally, the unique shinmei-zukuri style. Tsuriyane, or a hanging roof above the dohyo (sumo wrestling ring) is classified as shinmei-zukuri style.

Taisha-zukuri (Kamosu-jinja Shrine and Izumo-taisha Shrine, in Shimane Prefecture)

Kirizuma-zukuri, tsumairi (i.e., a style in which the entrance is located in one of the gabled sides of the building. The kirizuma-zukuri structures have munamochi-bashira, or posts which hold the ridge. The entrance is located either on the right or left side instead of in the middle because the front is two-bays wide.

Sumiyosi-zukuri style (Sumiyosi taisha, Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture)
Kirizuma-zukuri style, tsumairi. Some shrines that are related to Sumiyoshi-jinja in Kansai Region have this style. Internally, the structure is divided into two buildings. The structural similarity with the buildings which were built at the time of Daijo sai has been suggested.

Otori-zukuri style (Otori-taisha Shrine, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture)

Kirizuma-zukuri style, tsumairi. A simplified version of the sumiyoshi zukuri-style with half the standard depth.

Kasuga-zukuri style (Kasuga-taisha Shrine, Nara City, Nara Prefecture)

Tsumairi. A style in which an eave is added at the front of the main building. This style is widely seen all over the Kansai Region.

Oji-zukuri style (or alternatively called Kumano-zukuri style) is a variation of kasuga-zukuri tsumairi style.

Nagare-zukuri style (Kamo-jinja Shrines, encompassing Kamigamo-jinja and Shimogamo-jinja in Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture)

Kiritsuma-zukuri style, hirairi. A style in which an eave is added at the front of the main building. This style is seen all over Japan.

Ryonagare zukuri (Itsukushima-jinja Shrine) is a variation of kasuga-zukuri hirairi style.

Hachiman-zukuri (Usa-jingu Shrine, Oita Prefecture; Iwashimizu hachimangu, Hachiman City, Kyoto Prefecture).

Internally, the honden structure is divided into two buildings, in the front and back, and each building has a roof independent from the other.

Irimoya-zukuri style (Mikami-jinja Shrine, etc.)

Irimoya-zukuri style is considered to have been established in medieval times under Buddhist influence.
Hie-zukuri style (or alternatively called shotei-zukuri style or sanno-zukuri style) is a variation of irimoya-zukuri

Oki-zukuri style (Mizuwakasu-jinja Shrine)

Kibitsu-zukuri style, other name: hiyoku-irimoya-zukuri (Kibitsu-jinja Shrine, Okayama City)

Oda-zukuri style (Tsurugi-jinja Shrine, Echizen Cho, Fukui Prefecture)

Owari-zukuri style (Masumida-jinja Shrine, Tsushima-jinja Shrine, and Owari Okuninotama-jinja Shrine)
A particular unique shrine is Oagata-jinja Shrine, which is specifically called ogata-zukuri, or mitsumune-zukuri.

Mikumari zukuri (Takemikumari-jinja Shrine, Chihaya Akasaka Village, and others)
A style, in which a roofed passage connects the honden in the middle, which is kasuga-zukuri style, and the two buildings, which are nagare-zukuri style, located one on the right and the other on the left. This style is typically seen in shrines which enshrine Ameno mikumarinokami.

Shrine pavillion complex styles

Gion-zukuri style (Yasaka-jinja Shrine)

The honden and haiden buildings are under one large roof.

Gongen zukuri (Kitano-jinja Shrine, Nikko Toshogu, etc)

The honden, heiden, and haiden buildings are connected together.

Sengen-zukuri (Fujisan Hongu Sengen-taisha Shrine).

Upper story is the honden, which is nagare-zukuri style, situated on top of the pavillion.

Architectural styles of haiden

Haiden can be classified into three types:

Yoko-haiden (literally, a wide rectangular prayer hall)
A structure in which a beam runs parallel to the front and rear sides. Yoko-haiden is one of the most typical styles. Yoko-haiden is structured in the way that those who pray are seated to face the honden.
The styles can be kirizuma-zukuri, irimoya-zukuri

Tate-haiden (literally, a deep breadth rectangular prayer hall)
A structure in which a beam runs parallel to the right and left sides. Tate-haiden serves as a passageway to the honden, and the space toward the end of the long axis of the haiden serves as heiden, or offering hall. The corridor style heiden, which had been common in olden times before haiden was established, is believed to have been developed into tate-haiden.

Wari-haiden (literally, a divided prayer hall)
A structure in which there is a passageway in the center with vaulted ceilings, and there are raised timber floored rooms in both sides separated by the passageway. It is considered that the chumon, or middle gate and the corridors on the right and left in the corridor style structure were developed into the form of wari-haiden. Today there are only few structures that retain the form of warihaiden style, such as: Omiwa-jinja Shrine, Isonokami Jingu Sessha Izumo Takeo-jinja Shrine, and Osaki Hachimangu Shrine.