11 Sacred Japanese Symbols and What They Mean - YouGoJapan (2023)

In Japan, there are two main religions: Buddhism and Shinto. It is estimated that around 80% of the Japanese population follow Shinto rituals.

These include worshiping spirits and ancestors at public shrines and altars.

Around a similar percentage also follow aspects of Buddhism because people follow both religions simultaneously.

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While more people are familiar with Buddhism, Shinto is somewhat of a mystery for non-Japanese folk.

Both religions have lots of sacred symbols.

In This Article – We’ll first explore some sacred Japanese symbols from the Shinto religion before exploring some from Buddhism.

Table of Contents

Sacred Japanese Symbols in Shinto

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We’re going to look at six sacred Shinto symbols.

These include:

  • Torii
  • Shimenawa
  • Shide
  • Sakaki
  • Tomoe
  • Shinkyo

1.Torii Gates – Entrances to Shinto Shrines

Arguably the most iconic and easily recognizable of sacred Japanese symbols are torii – the majestic-looking gates that mark entrance ways to shrines in the Shinto religion.

Either made of stone or wood, torii have two posts and two horizontal platforms. The torii gates mark the boundaries where Kami (spirits or holy powers) will live.

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When you pass through a torii, it is believed to purify you. Purification is a big aspect of Shinto and there are many purification rituals.

Often, torii are red or orange. This is because the color red is seen as representing life and the sun in Japan.

It’s also believed to fend off disasters and bad omens.

When you pass through the torii, you’re said to be cleansed of your bad energy and you’ll only be bringing good energy to the resident Kami.

Lots of torii aren’t red; you can see a huge variety in wood, stone, and even metal. There are also different shapes of torii.

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The most common two are Shinmei and myojin. Myojin torii have upward curves at the ends.

Their crossbeam also extends past the posts. Shimei, on the other hand, have a straighter top and the crossbeam doesn’t go past the posts.

2. Shimenawa – the Sacred Rope in Shinto

A shimenawa is a rope that is typically adorned with white ornaments in zig-zags. These vary hugely in their diameter and size.

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Some are just a few threads thick, while others are huge. These ropes have the purpose of warding off evil spirits.

You’ll often see one displayed on a torii, or wrapped around sacred rocks and trees (where Kami reside).

You might even see one around the waist of a champion sumo wrestler.

3. Shide – White Zig-Zag Paper Decorations

As mentioned above when talking about shimenawa, there are often white paper ornaments in a zig-zag form. These sacred Japanese symbols are called shide (pronounced “shee-day”).

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As well as decorating shrines, you will see them during purification ceremonies or along wands that Shinto priests use during ceremonies.

There are different beliefs about why shide have a zig-zag lightning shape.

Some people believe it represents the gods’ infinite power, while others believe it suggests lighting, rain, and clouds are what makes a good harvest with shide being a prayer to the Shinto gods for a bountiful harvest.

4. Sakaki – Sacred Trees in Shinto

A key part of Shintoism is worshipping nature and trees play an important role. Particular trees are believed to be sacred.

These are called shinboku. Like torii, you’ll see these trees surrounding a shrine to create sacred fences within which the space is purified.

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There are a few different shinboku trees but the most important is the sakaki. This is a flowering evergreen tree that is native in Japan.

You’ll find these trees planted around shrines and you’ll see sakaki branches being used to provide offerings to the gods.

One reason why sakakis are believed sacred is because they are evergreens. This denotes their immortality.

They’re also linked to a legend in which one was decorated to lure the sun goddess Amaterasu out of a cave where she had been hiding.

5.Tomoe – Swirling Commas

The swirling commas, called tomoe are a sacred Japanese symbol reminiscent of China’s yin-yang symbol.

The meaning, however, and its use are different. Tomoe is translated often as “comma”.

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This symbol was often used in badges for people with authority. Tomoe symbols are specifically associated with samuai.

Tomoe symbols can have between two or four commas. The most common is three, which is called mitsu-domoe.

This symbol represents the three realms of existence and their interactions with one another. The realms are the underworld, earth, and heaven.

6. Shinkyo – God Mirror

Our last Japanese sacred symbol from Shinto is the God Mirror, or shinkyo. This is a mystical piece that is believed to connect the spirit realm with earth.

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You’ll see shinkyo on display at alters. The idea is that the spirits will enter the shinkyo to get to our world.

Legend says that Amatersau, the Japanese sun goddess, hid in a cave and was in complete darkness.

To get her to come out, other gods had a party and hung a mirror and some jewels from a sakaki tree outside the cave to attract the sun goddess’s attention and get her to come out.

She looked out and asked what the celebration was.

The gods told her that there was a beautiful goddess outside the cave. When she came out, she saw herself in the mirror and the gods sealed the cave with a shimenawa.

Sacred Japanese Symbols in Buddhism

We’re now going to look at five sacred Japanese symbols in Buddhism.

These are:

  • Shakujo
  • Hokyo
  • Gachirin
  • Kyobaku
  • Hoju

7. Shakujō – Scepter or Staff – the Pilgrim’s Staff

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In Buddhist tradition, pilgrims, beggars, and monks would carry staffs with rings dangling from the top.

The shakujo has six rings, which represent the six realms of karmic rebirth.

8. Hōkyō – Mirror

The mirror is said to draw forth intelligence in order to liberate your mind.

It also represents how life is an illusion; with a mirror not representing reality but rather a reflection of it.

This is, therefore, a metaphor depicting unenlightened minds that are deluded by appearances.

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9. Gachirin – Moon Disc

This sacred Japanese symbol is a round circle that represents the full moon.

It’s used frequently in sculpture and paintings in Buddhism.

It is said to represent Buddha’s virtue and knowledge, which are all-encompassing and perfect. You can also find talismans of the gachirin with rabbits drawn inside.

People buy these talismans under the belief that they reduce fever.

10. Kyōbaku – Sutra box

This sacred symbol is said to bring happiness for the next world.

A kyobaku represents a treasure box of sorts and typically would be a receptacle for Buddhist scriptures and teachings.

11. Hōju – Wish-Granting Jewel

According to Buddhism, the hoju brings wealth and grants wishes.

This sacred symbol looks like a single orb with a pointed top.

It can also be depicted as three jewels, representing the Three Jewels of Buddhism – Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

You might see this jewel depicted as an ornament on a temple-roof, as a held object by deities, or on weapons carried by deities. It’s also in mandala paintings.

Other Symbols in Japan

As well as the sacred symbols, Japan is full of lots of other interesting symbols too. There is the symbol of a chrysanthemum with sixteen petals.

This is typically orange or white and you’ll often see it on Shinto shrines. It is the Imperial Seal of Japan and its coat of arms.

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Another huge symbol that we can’t fail to mention is the Japanese flag. Most people who know a little about Japan know that its flag, the Nisshoki or more commonly the Hinomaru, is the rising sun flag.

One final symbol that deserves a mention (in case you see it and start worrying!) is the Temple symbol called the manji.

Why would you start worrying? Well, it is a swastika but has absolutely no relation to the Nazis, thankfully!

Final Thoughts on Sacred Japanese Symbols

We’ve only really scratched the surface when it comes to uncovering sacred Japanese symbols but now, you’ll certainly have some things to look out for on your travels around Japan.

Visiting a Shinto shrine is a must, and you’ll certainly see lots of sacred symbols in one visit there! See if you can spot torii gates, a shimenawa, shide, or tomoe on your visits.

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FAQs

What is Japan's sacred symbol? ›

Majestic and enchanting, a sacred symbol and the trademark of Japan.

What does a tomoe represent? ›

Tomoe (巴, also written 鞆絵), commonly translated as "comma", is a comma-like swirl symbol used in Japanese mon (roughly equivalent to a heraldic badge or charge in European heraldry).

What is a Mitsudomoe symbol? ›

The mitsudomoe (三つ巴) is a common design of three swirls or three magatama and is seen on Japanese family crests (see below) and on roof tiles on traditional Japanese homes, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.

What are the main symbols of Shinto? ›

The six Shinto symbols we will be covering today are "torii," "shimenawa," "shide," "sakaki," "tomoe," and "shinkyo."

What symbolizes powerful in Japan? ›

The lion traditional symbolises power, strength, and protection. The Japanese animal symbol of a lion is often associated with places of worship, where you often find a pair of lion statues guarding the entrances to shrines or temples.

What is the most famous Japanese symbol? ›

Holy Mount Fuji. Fuji (富士山) is one of the most iconic symbols of Japan.

What does 3 tomoe represent? ›

This specific Tomoe is called a Mitsudomoe, a three-fold Tomoe, and is perhaps one of the most widely recognisable. Some believe it to be the representation of the threefold division (man, earth and sky) at the heart of Shintoism, while a Buddhist variant is called the Hidari Gomon and symbolises the cycle of life.

What is the 3 tomoe? ›

Tomoe. A tomoe or the archaic writing tomoye (巴) is a Japanese abstract shape, usually used as a necklace, (i.e. a swirl) that resembles a comma or the usual form of magatama. Tomoe are usually seen in a design of three known as mitsudomoe (三つ巴).

What does the Hidari Mitsudomoe mean? ›

ARCHERY. The Hidari Mitsudomoe is better understood as a spiraling design most frequently called a “tomoe” in Japanese². The word tomoe is believed to have been derived from archery. There are records that point to its roots being that of an armguard worn on the left hand used during archery in ancient times.

What is the meaning of 🔰? ›

Emoji Meaning

A yellow and green shield symbol, called a Shoshinsha Mark. Must be displayed by drivers in Japan for one year after they receive their drivers licence. Similar to L-Plates used to identify learner drivers in other countries.

What does Ebisu mean? ›

Proper noun. Ebisu. (mythology, Shinto) The Japanese god of fishing and commerce. One of the seven gods of luck.

What is Rajin? ›

Raijin (雷神, lit. "Thunder God"), also known as Kaminari-sama (雷様), Raiden-sama (雷電様), Narukami (鳴る神) Raikou (雷公), and Kamowakeikazuchi-no-kami is a god of lightning, thunder and storms in Japanese mythology and the Shinto religion.

Are the 7 lucky gods Shinto? ›

The Seven Lucky Gods of Japan, known as Shichifukujin in Japanese, are an eclectic group of deities from Japan, India, and China which originated from Shinto, Buddhism and Hinduism.

What is the symbol for god in Japan? ›

It is written with the kanji 神, Sino-Japanese reading shin or jin. In Chinese, the character means deity.

What symbolizes love in Japan? ›

Using the Kanji Character Ai

Writing love in Japanese is represented as the kanji symbol 愛 which means love and affection.

What is the sacred flower of Japan? ›

The Japanese cherry blossom, or sakura, is Japan's national flower, and it represents hope and renewal.

Is it OK to wear red in Japan? ›

It is believed that red can protect people from evil and disaster. However, do not buy anything red to your friends as a house warming gift. Japanese think red associate fire, which might bring bad luck such as fire accidents to the new house.

What symbolizes healing in Japan? ›

Senbazuru, 1,000 paper cranes

Senbazuru have become a symbol of healing and hope.

What is the hardest Japanese symbol? ›

The Most Difficult Japanese Kanji on Record: たいと(Taito)

たいと(taito) is the most difficult Japanese Kanji on the record with a total of 84 strokes. It is formed by combining 3 雲 (くもkumo) with 3 龍 (りゅうRyuu). 雲means cloud and 龍 means dragon in English.

Who is the Japanese symbol of power? ›

Domestically, a line of reasoning came into play that used the emperor as a symbol of power to overthrow the shogunate, while on the global stage, he was presented as a presence that would rule Japan in line with the rule on law, as per the norms of international society.

What is the Japanese symbol for loyal? ›

#kanji - Jisho.org.

What does the 2nd tomoe do? ›

Upon unlocking the 2nd tomoe, the user gets increased clarity of perception. It's basically being able to see things in slow-motion which gives you time to react, not to be confused with enhanced reflexes.

What kind of demon is tomoe? ›

Tomoe Gozen (巴 御前, Japanese pronunciation: [tomo.e]) was an onna-musha from the late Heian period of Japanese history. She served Minamoto no Yoshinaka during the Genpei War and was a part of the conflict that led to the first shogunate. Her family had strong affiliations with Yoshinaka.

What does choku tomoe meaning? ›

Choku Tomoe means the tomoe of sharingan( the comma shaped )is straight instead of comma-shaped, which is more efficient for analysis of opponents movement than other sharingan. Though Sasuke's Mangekyo Sharingan doesn't show any tomoe. Similarly Madara's Mangekyo Sharingan also doesn't have any straight tomoe.

What does Rinnegan mean in Japanese? ›

The Rinnegan (輪廻眼; Literally meaning "Saṃsāra Eye") is reputed as the most exalted eyes amongst the Three Great Dōjutsu (三大瞳術, San Daidōjutsu; Literally meaning "Three Great Eye Techniques"). [2] It is characterised by its ripple-like pattern which spreads over the eyeballs, with light purple irides and sclerae.

What does the Byakugan mean? ›

The Byakugan (白眼, literally meaning: White Eye, meaning (Viz): All Seeing White Eye) is a kekkei genkai dōjutsu that originated from the Ōtsutsuki clan. After the Ōtsutsuki settled on Earth, the Byakugan became more commonly associated with the Hyūga clan, descendants of the Ōtsutsuki.

Is tomoe male or female? ›

Tomoe (Japanese: ともえ), a Japanese given name or surname. It can be used by males or females, but is more commonly used by females.

What does Datemaki symbolize? ›

Datemaki (伊達巻 or 伊達巻き or だてまき), sweet rolled omelette mixed with fish paste or mashed shrimp. They symbolize a wish for many auspicious days. On auspicious days (晴れの日, hare-no-hi), Japanese people traditionally wear fine clothing as a part of enjoying themselves.

What does Tsukumo mean? ›

So 'tsukumo' means 'ninety-nine'; 'incompleteness'.

What is the main symbol of Amaterasu? ›

The symbol of the sun goddess Amaterasu, worshipped at the main Shintō shrine at Ise, is a mirror (along with a jewel and a sword), one of the Three Sacred Treasures (Sanshu no Jingi) of Japan.

What is the meaning of this symbol (#)? ›

Answer. The symbol known as the hashtag (#) in Twitter has a history of different names and uses in American English, including pound sign – used after a number to mean “weight in pounds,” number sign – used in front of a number to mean “number” (as in "Please review item #2 on the list"), crosshatch, and hash mark.

What do two cherries symbolize? ›

🍒 means you're in a committed relationship since the emoji features 2 cherries joined by their stems. It might also mean “twins” or “best friends.”

What is the symbol meaning and called? ›

The term ampersand is a corruption of and (&) per se and, which literally means "(the character) & by itself (is the word) and." The symbol & is derived from the ligature of ET or et, which is the Latin word for "and." — Geoffrey Glaister, Glossary of the Book.

What does Yukimaru mean in Japanese? ›

This name is used as 幸村 with 幸 (kou, saiwa. i, sachi, shiawa.se, yuki) meaning "blessing, fortune, happiness" and 村 (son, mura) meaning "town, village." One bearer of this name was Japanese samurai Yukimura Sanada (or Sanada Yukimura if surname is used first) (真田 幸村) (1567-1615). Yukimura is also used as a surname.

What does YUHI mean in Japanese? ›

Meaning & History

From Japanese 由 (yu) meaning "reason, cause" combined with 陽 (hi) meaning "light, sun, male" or 日 (hi) meaning "sun, day".

What does Katsuragi mean in Japanese? ›

Katsuragi was a historical place name of Nara. It can also mean: Mount Yamato Katsuragi, a mountain in Gose, Nara Prefecture, Japan.

What does Ikimasu mean? ›

Ikimasu is a verb meaning "go". Ikimashita is the past tense of ikimasu. Ni is a particle. This particle is basically used to indicate an indirect object. Put simply, here, the particle ni indicates the direction of going.

What does Fujin and Raijin mean? ›

Raijin's three fingers represent past, present, and future while Fujin's fingers represent the four directions of the wind, north, south, east, and west. These gods are considered especially powerful in Japan, where great storms have the ability to wreak havoc on the small island nation.

What does Amenotejikara mean in Japanese? ›

Amenotejikara is a space–time ninjutsu used by Sasuke Uchiha through the power of his Rinnegan, which was entrusted to him by the Sage of Six Paths. Usage. Using his left eye, Sasuke can instantly shift himself between spaces, causing anything currently occupying the space he targets to swap places with him.

What's the Japanese symbol for God? ›

means 'god'

What is the Japanese symbol of life? ›

One of the most basic meanings of is “life,” as expressed in the compound words 人生 (jinsei, person/life, human life) and 一生 (isshō, one/life, lifetime).

Who is the most powerful Japanese god? ›

Amaterasu is the highest deity in Japanese mythology. In the most famous legend about her, she shuts herself away in a cave, bringing disasters to both the world and heaven.

What is the Japanese symbol for demon? ›

The oni (鬼), the Japanese devil or demon, is elusive.

What is the Japanese symbol for love? ›

Using the Kanji Character Ai

Writing love in Japanese is represented as the kanji symbol which means love and affection.

What do white roses mean in Japan? ›

White roses indicate devotion, innocence, and silence. Pink roses mean confidence, trust, and happiness. Yellow roses let a partner know you are feeling jealous. Camellias have deep historical meaning in Japanese culture. Among the samurai, red camellias represented a noble death.

What is the Japanese symbol for unconditional love? ›

The Japanese phrase mujouken ai meaning "Unconditional Love" is composed of the words 無条件 (read mujouken) meaning "unconditional" and 愛 (read ai) meaning "love".

What is the Japanese symbol for eternity? ›

#kanji - Jisho.org.

What is a symbol of happiness in Japan? ›

A White Cat.

White cats are often associated with purity, good fortune, and Happiness in Japan.

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