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A jinja (Japanese: 神社) is a Shinto shrine including its surrounding natural area but it is more common to refer to buildings as a jinja. Unlike a church or a mosque, a jinja traditionally has neither characteristics of a chapel nor a place for propagation and its sole purpose is to worship a kami. Traditionally, a jinja enshrined a kami that exists around a place. In recent centuries, however, especially significant kami have come to be enshrined throughout Japan. Some jinja or kami that have widespread geographic distribution include the following:
It is believed that a jinja had originally been only a temporary shrine constructed for a periodical matsuri at a sacred place like a mountain or a cave. This was because it had been believed that a kami would move about much as a man would as well as that kami are nature themselves and cannot be confined. Okinawa's Utaki is believed to retain some of ancient customs. After a permanent shrine collectively called Shaden (社殿) was started to be built, it was reasoned that a kami would take residence inside a jinja. Even today, many jinja from ancient times does not have the main Shaden and only a place to pray from looking out to a sacred body such as a mountain or a specific area which a man must not enter. Some believe that the practice of constructing Shaden is from Buddhism.
A jinja has several facilities within its boundaries and a very basic jinja has honden (本殿) and haiden (拝殿). Goshintai (御神体), lit. sacred body of kami, is placed in the honden but the building people see when visiting is a haiden. The honden is located behind the Haiden and is much smaller and undecorated. Other notable jinja facilities are torii that serves as a sacred gate to enter a jinja, chozusha (手水舎) where one cleanses his or her hands, and shamusho (社務所) that maintains a jinja.
During Nara period and even later into early Meiji period, it was not uncommon for Buddhist temple to be built inside a jinja property or built next to a jinja. When a jinja houses a Buddhist temple, it is called jinguji (神宮寺). After separation of the Buddhist temples and jinja was ordered in the Meiji period, the connection between two was officially severed but even today, most cooperate on matsuri and other occasions.
The buildings and grounds of a jinja often include these: kaguraden (神楽殿), maiden (舞殿), romon (楼門), sessha (摂社), suesha (末社), tamagaki (玉垣), toro (lantern) (燈籠), komainu (statues of guardian dogs) (狛犬), kenzoku (眷属).
A Kannushi (神主) or Guji (宮司) is responsible for maintenance of a jinja as well as leading worship. He generally does not propagate. Traditionally, most jinja did not have a Kannushi and was maintained by a committee of local populace who are called Ujiko (氏子). In a jinguji, a Buddhist monk maintained the jinja in addition to his temple.
A kami worshipped at a jinja is generally a Shinto kami but may worship Buddhism gods, Tao gods, other kami not generally considered belonging to Shinto, a fictious person from myths and legends, or a real person.
A jinja is a place for peace and except for occasional matsuri, one should not run around or engage in activities that make large noise. Most jinja however welcome children from playing with some discretions. A common faux pas by a foreigner, especially during a hot summer day, is drinking from cool water of chozusha. A more severe offense is entering the sacred area without permission or entering a Shaden uninvited.
See also List of Shinto shrines
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