Reasons why stairs in Japanese shrines and temples are so long

In Japan, there are many temples and shrines with very, very long approach stairs. Elderly people also visit them, catching themselves on the handrails, using trekking poles, or taking a break.
Why are the stairs so long if they know it is so difficult to pay homage? There are several reasons.


Because temples and shrines are in the mountains

Ancient people believed that gods dwelled in nature, such as mountains, islands, large trees, and huge stones. Mountains themselves were also objects of worship, as were large trees and huge stones in the mountains. Shrines were often built in mountains as places to worship and give thanks to the gods.

Mountains were also places for ascetic practices.

It is said that in the Buddhist tradition, temples were built from a vantage point so that the Buddha could watch over the people from on high.

To lower one’s head

When going up the stairs, look carefully at our feet. Naturally, we lower our gaze and bow our heads.
It is said that long staircases were built in temples and shrines to show respect by bowing down.

To place Buddha or God in a high position

In Japan, it is customary to place respected objects in high positions and not to look down on them.
By making the stairs longer, the gods and Buddha will naturally be seated in a higher position.

One of the practices

Climbing long steps is considered a form of ascetic practice.

To purify the mind and body

It is believed that each step up the staircase purifies the body and mind by removing impurities and worries.

A place of refuge

In Japan, where natural disasters occur frequently, shrines and temples located on high ground have served as places of refuge in times of emergency.

Climbing the long flight of stairs is a challenge, but the sense of accomplishment after the climb and the view from the temple grounds is wonderful. Enjoy the long staircase and climb it carefully!

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