Japanese Temple Tattoo

Japanese Temple Tattoo: Meanings, Symbolism & More

A sacred image

Japanese Temple Tattoos

Japanese architecture is a sight to behold.

Tourists and native citizens alike make special trips to Japanese temples.

This is both to honor the spiritual significance and admire the beautiful structures.

It’s a unique experience just to take in these buildings.

They have survived hundreds of years and were built without modern techniques.

The oldest Japanese temple is over 1000 years old and does even not contain a single screw or nail.

Many people choose to pay homage to Japan with their ink.

There are so many interesting legends and mythological creatures to choose from.

But perhaps the most common element in any Japanese tattoo is the temple.

These spiritual structures are often the cornerstone of any Japanese tattoo design.

But before you rush out to get a Japanese temple tattoo, there are things to consider.

After all, the path to enlightenment is not a short little jaunt.

Nothing is stopping you from getting a temple tattoo without any background knowledge.

But why would you get a tattoo of something you don’t properly understand?

Let’s discuss Japanese temple tattoos and their significance.

Temple Vs. Shrine, What’s the Difference?

“Temple” (or Tera in Japanese) is not a catch-all term for the many religious sites in Japan.

Temples are Buddhist while shrines come from the Shinto tradition.

Japanese Buddhism came from India in 525, but it took about 1000 years to get there.

Buddha was introduced to China before Japan, and then Korea after that.

Korean royalty spread the belief system to Japan when they sent over some religious texts, images, and ritual objects as a gift.

From there the faith spread and is now joined by Shintoism as the two most common practices in Japan.

Up until 1868, a temple may also serve as a shrine or vice versa.

This is why some temples and shrines have similar structures.

After the Kami and Buddhas Separation Act, they became distinct.

It seems that everyday customs in Japan draw inspiration from both traditions.

Shintoism is an entirely Japanese belief system. It did not come from elsewhere.

It is animistic in nature, meaning there is divinity in all things.

This concept is known as Shinrabansho, which translates to “everything in the universe”.

The simplest way to tell a shrine from a temple is to look for a gate out front.

A shrine will have a simple, open concept, red structure at the entrance.

A temple will have a more ornate entryway, which looks almost like a building itself.

Visitors are encouraged to enter these gates through the left and exit through the right. The middle is kept open for gods.

Japanese Pagoda

Most Japanese temple tattoos feature Japanese Pagodas.

This is likely what you picture when you think of a Japanese temple.

The tall, many roofed structure is an impressive sight!

The roofs jet out from the building, becoming smaller as they go up.

This structure has evolved from an Indian one known as a stupa.

A stupa is a dome-shaped building. It contains sacred relics and artifacts, and functions as a meditation center.

A Japanese Pagoda may also contain relics. They are typically 3-5 stories high, though some are taller.

You may choose to get a 5 story pagoda to represent the 5 Japanese elements.

The 5 Japanese Elements

The 5 elements govern all things in the universe.

In an ideal world, it is important to have a balance of all 5 elements in a building, your home, and even your personality.

The 5 Japanese Elements are:

Earth or Chi

Stability and building blocks. In nature, this is represented by stones or anything solid.

This element can give a person confidence, but in excess, it becomes a stubborn quality.

This is why it is so important to have all 5 elements, and a 5 tiered pagoda tattoo can be a great reminder of that.

Water or Sui/Mizu

In contrast to earth, water is adaptable.

It can flow through anything and take on any shape.

In a person, water can encourage adaptability and quick thinking.

But on the flip side, it can make someone moody and impulsive.

Fire or Ka/Hi

Fire is a life force.

It means we are alive, and it represents vitality.

A person with a strong fire element is likely very passionate, but too much fire can consume them.

Wind or Fū/kaze

Wind is life-giving. We cannot survive long without our breath.

The element of air can represent an open-mindedness, but could also make someone a bit flaky.

Void or Kū/sora

This is the unseen force in the universe.

It can represent creativity and spirituality.

It is an essential component to life, but could cause a person to become untethered.

A Pagoda tattoo is the easiest way to incorporate all these elements into your Japanese ink.

What do Japanese Temple Tattoos Symbolize?

They symbolize your faith, or dedication to the deity that the temple pays homage to.

They can mean dedication to your spiritual expansion and the path to enlightenment.

Some may choose to pair temple tattoos with other Japanese symbols to enrich the meaning.

Common Themes in Japanese Temple Tattoos

Japanese temple tattoos may stand alone, but are often part of something larger.

Many people like to get large Japanese back pieces or even tattoo bodysuits. In this case, the temple may be part of a landscape.

There are so many legends and mythologies that surround Buddhist temples.

A larger piece can tell one of those stories, like a woodblock print.

Many people choose black and grey or sepia-tones for their Japanese temple tattoos.

It is a very striking effect when pops of color are added to the design.

Some artists blend traditional art with modern anime influences, making for a colorful homage.

Japanese Temple Tattoo Ideas

A Japanese temple is a sacred place, so the decision to get one as a tattoo should not be made lightly.

If you feel you’re up for it, check out our Japanese temple tattoo gallery for some divine inspiration.

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Japanese temple tattoo
Japanese temple tattoo

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Japanese Temple Tattoos FAQ

What do Japanese Temple Tattoos Symbolize?

They symbolize your faith, or dedication to the deity that the temple pays homage to. They can mean dedication to your spiritual expansion and the path to enlightenment. Some may choose to pair temple tattoos with other Japanese symbols to enrich the meaning.