Happy Lunar New Year!

On Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, Hawaii’s Plantation Village celebrated the Lunar New Year with an open house that included entertainment, ethnic and cultural foods, free access to exhibits, and educational and cultural activities. A Shinto priest greeted visitors at the Wakamiya Inari Shrine.


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Book on Shinto Shrines


A book by Joseph Cali (with John Dougill) called Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan’s Ancient Religion (University of Hawaii Press, 2013) provides some interesting information about Shinto in Japan. Here are some highlights from the book:

  • There are roughly 80,000 Shinto shrines in Japan today.
  • Of the two main belief systems in Japan — Buddhism and Shinto — Shinto has existed since ancient times and is considered native to Japan whereas Buddhism entered Japan from the outside world sometime during the 6th century.
  • Shinto rituals revered nature and thus often took place outdoors.
  • The Kami (spirit or deity) in Shinto can embody places, things, animals and even people.
  • From the book: “Shrines can be found everywhere in Japan, from the densest metropolitan area to the most desolate mountaintop. They may be cared for by Shinto priests, by local communities, or by the families on whose property they reside.”
  • Shinto shrines come in many different sizes.
  • Shinto shrines “are readily identified by the distinctive torii — a simple two-post gateway, with one or two crossbeams at the top — that stands in front of every shrine. It marks an area as a sacred space where kami dwell.”

Read the book to learn more about Shinto and to learn about specific shrines in Japan.

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The Torii

One of the most recognizable features of Japanese architecture is the torii — or “gate” — which symbolizes a passageway to a sacred space. As such, before proceeding to the shrine, you wash your hands at a basin in a symbolic act of cleansing. Many shrines will have water for this cleansing available between the torii and the shrine. There may be a bamboo ladle for dipping into the water and pouring onto the hands. The Wakamiya Inari Shrine does not have this feature at the Hawaii Plantation Village, but many other shrines in Hawaii and Japan do. See some photos of torii, below.


This torii belongs to another Shinto shrine in Mo`ili`ili — the Ishizuchi Jinja. Notice the folded white paper (they look like lightening bolts) hanging from the torii. These zig-zag paper ornaments are called “shide” (pronounced “shi-deh”) and are often found hanging at Shinto shrines. They can be attached to a wand and waved by a Shinto priest during blessings and rituals. They signify a sacred space.


This torii is not associated with a shrine but is a familiar landmark in Mo`ili`ili on the strip of land between South King St. and Beretania St. It is a reminder that this area was once occupied by Japanese American businesses, residences and organizations. Not far from this torii is the Mo`ili`ili Hongwanji Mission, a Jodo Shin Buddhist temple. The Wakamiya Inari Shrine was located in the western direction on South King St., although this torii did not exist when the Inari Shrine was in use. 

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Daijingu Temple: By Contrast


Entrance to the Daijingu Temple in Nuuanu.


This shrine looks more like a large residence than a traditional Shinto shrine.

The Daijngu Temple, a Shinto Shrine in Nuuanu, does not have a traditional-looking torii, as you can see in the photo to the right, above. This shrine’s torii does not have the horizontal post over two vertical pillars, as is typical at most shrines. Rather there are two long rectangular pillars joined by a thick, braided rope with white paper streamers hanging from them. Visitors walk between the pillars and under the rope to enter the shrine grounds into the a garden-like environment. This shrine has a more modern look to it, with fewer traditional Japanese architectural elements than other Shinto shrines on Oahu. In fact the shrine building itself looks more like a part of a large residence than it does a religious structure. However, there are many other elements of this shrine that reflect Shinto values and practices. Note: Usually the word “shrine” is used for Shinto structures, whereas “temple” is used for Buddhist structures. In this case, the word “temple” is used for a Shinto shrine. The photos below, from left to right, show 1) the altar of the Daijingu Temple, 2) one of two animal guardian statues; 3) this omikuji box allows visitors to drop a quarter into it and receive a printed fortune. The fortune can be tied to a nearby tree.


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Fushimi Inari Shrine

The main Inari shrine in Japan is the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. It is considered to be the headquarters of all the Inari shrines in Japan and features thousands of red torii. Search for “Fushimi Inari Shrine” on Google Images and you will find dozens of photos of this impressive shrine, with so many torii lined up — one after another — that they form a kind of canopy. Here’s some information about this famous shrine:

From japan-guide.com:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3915.html

This is the shrine’s website, but it is all in Japanese. You might just enjoy looking at the photos if you can’t read Japanese: http://inari.jp/

Here’s an English-language resource: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/spot/shritemp/fushimiinaritaisha.html

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Other Shinto Shrines on Oahu


The Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii as seen from across the river on the corner of River St. and Kukui St. near the Chinese Cultural Plaza.

There are other Shinto shrines on Oahu. For example, visitors to the Chinatown district can see a Shinto shrine on the corner of River St. and Kukui St. west of the Chinese Cultural Plaza. This shrine is called the Izumo Taishakyo Mission. Learn about other Shinto shrines on Oahu via the following links:

Daijingu Temple of Hawaii, est. 1916 (61 Puiwa Rd.)

Hawaii Kotohira Jinsha — Hawaii Dazaifu Tenmangu, est. 1920 (1239 Olomea Street)

Izumo Taishakyo Mission, est. 1906 (215 N. Kukui Street)

Ishizuchi Jinja (2020 S. King St.) — no website

On other islands:

Hilo Daijingu on the Big Island (10 Anela St.)

Maalaea Ebisu Jinja on Maui

Maui Jinja Mission in Wailuku, Maui (472 Lipo St.)


Entrance to Daijingu Temple in Nuuanu.

The Hawaii Ishizuchi Shinto Shrine on 2020 S. King St.

The Hawaii Ishizuchi Shinto Shrine on 2020 S. King St.

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Shinto Symbols, Rituals and Practices


Example of a washing basin at a Shinto shrine. Visitors to shrines are expected to wash their hands prior to advancing beyond this point. This basin was photographed at the Hawaii Ishizuchi Jinja.

Here are some sites that explain and/or illustrate Shinto symbols, rituals and practices:

A good overview of Shinto by Jeffrey Hays: http://factsanddetails.com/japan.php?itemid=590

Shinto Ritual in Words and Pictures: http://www.nihonbunka.com/shinto/shime.htm

Shinto (from Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinto

“Studies in Shinto” by Yoshimi Umeda, International Shinto Foundation: http://www.internationalshinto.org/isf/studies/role_of_shinto.html

Inari Shrine (from Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inari_shrine

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The Shrine’s Interior


This is the altar that is enclosed within the shrine walls. It is visible from the front of the shrine after ascending the stairs leading to the shrine’s lanai area. Notice the red torii in the front of the altar, the zig-zag-shaped paper streamers (called a “shi-de”), little fox statues, and other objects of significance. NOTE: YOU CAN CLICK ON THE PHOTO ABOVE FOR A LARGER VIEW!

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What are “omamori”?


Example of an “omamori.” This one is for good health.

You can usually get “omamori” at a Shinto shrine or at festivals where a Shinto priest is present. They are protective charms or amulets that people get for various purposes — e.g., for good health or safe driving, etc. — and either keep for themselves or give away to others. They also help support the shrine since they are either sold by the shrine or visitors are expected to make a donation for them. Pictured here is a close-up of an “omamori.” This is just one type of “omamori” — there are many others. They come in different colors and with different designs. Some people believe in the effectiveness of these charms; others buy them more as souvenirs.

What are some other types of “omamori”?

Overall Protection from Harm/Misfortune/Illness, Long Life, Good Relationship, Safe Driving, Business Success, Success in Studies, Safety When Traveling, Protection of Children, Protection for People in Critical Life Stages, Happiness, Protection When Giving Birth, Protection of Pets, Marathon, Sports, etc.

When all the different colored “omamori” are placed together, they can almost look like a work of art.

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The “Shide”

DSCF2740Anyone who has visited a Shinto shrine has seen the zig-zagged white paper streamers called shide (pronounced “shi-deh”). They can be hanging from the torii, from different parts of the shrine, from trees on the grounds, and so forth. They are used to signify sacred space and in Shinto rituals. They can be attached to a wand and used by a Shinto priest for blessings or purification rituals. The photograph to the right is a shide hanging at the Wakamiya Inari Shrine.

There are websites and YouTube videos that demonstrate how to fold paper to create a similar-looking object, or that explain in more detail about these commonly seen objects at Shinto shrines.

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