“When in Rome do as the Romans do” is no doubt one of the must-bear-in-minds to every travelers and if you are planning a trip to Japan – the country of temples and shrines – you should also “do as the Japanese do” when visiting Japanese shrines as a way of showing respect and learning their religious life.
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Japanese shrines are places revered in the Shinto religion in Japan since time immemorial as places where gods are deified.
The easiest way to identify shrines is that a shrine has one of the famous torii gates. If you have the chance to pray at a shrine, here is 10 notes showing how to properly pray and respect the shrine!
1. Bow at the torii gate
There is always a torii gate at the entrance of Japanese shrines. The very front of the shrine has the “shrine has the “Ichi no torii” (the first torii) and you walk through it to get to the “sando,” the road approaching the shrine. Avoid walking in the center of the torii, just stick close to the sides near one of the pillars. Stop and bow before you walk through!
2. Don’t walk in the center of the sando
When you walk up the sando, do not walk in the center. The center of the sando is called the “seichuu,” and it’s where the gods walk. We should not be walking there. Also, while you’re on temple grounds, do not speak loudly.
3. Do clean your mouth and hands at the temizuya
There is a vessel called the temizuya on the side of the sando as you head up to the shrine at which you can purify yourself.
First, you take the ladle in your right hand, scoop up some water, and clean your left hand with it. Then, you switch the ladle to the left hand, and clean your right hand with it. Third, you put the ladle back into your right hand and scoop up more water with it. Cup your left hand and pour some water into it; with that you will cleanse your mouth. Do not put the ladle up to your mouth, make sure to only use your hand.
When you have done rinsing your mouth, once again clean your left hand using water from the ladle. Finally, lift the ladle so the remaining water streams down the handle before putting it back in its place against the temizuya.
4. Ring the bell before praying
When you get to the front of the main shrine, don’t stand in the middle. This is for the same reason you shouldn’t stand in the middle of the sando. Then, bow once. If there’s a bell, ring it.
It’s how you inform the gods that you’ve come to visit.
5. Make a monetary offering before praying
Don’t just throw your monetary offering into the box, put it in quietly. There is no set amount you should give. Anything you’d like, 1 yen or even 10,000 yen, whatever you want to give is fine. It’s popularly said that 5 yen is good because it sounds the same as the word for “bond” (as in relationship), but it’s up to you.
6. When you pray, bow twice, clap twice, then bow once more
First, when you bow twice, you face the shrine and you bow deeply until your back is flat and your hips are at a 90-degree angle. When you clap, make sure that your palms meet but that your right hand sits a little below your left. Open your hands as wide as your shoulders and clap twice. Then bring your hands together, and lower your hands while you pray. After you finish praying, bow deeply once more. Depending on the shrine, there may be a different process (for example, at the Izumo-taisha Shrine in Shimane, it’s two bows, four claps, one bow).
7. How to pray
If it’s your first time at a shrine, you should start with your name, address, and the gratitude you have for being able to pray. After that, for the rest of your visits you can simplify your introduction.
8. Pull an omikuji fortune
If you pull a fortune that’s not good, you tie it up in order to exorcise the bad luck. If you pull a good fortune, there’s no need to tie it. There are usually places specifically to tie them, so only use that for your fortunes.
9. Write an ema
In ancient times, it was thought that gods rode horses, so originally real horses were used as offerings. However, now “ema” are used, wooden votive blocks made up of the characters for “picture” and “horse.”
When you go to pray at a shrine or temple, you can pray by writing your wishes on an ema and offering it by tying it to its specific area.
10. On your way out, turn around and bow once more towards the shrine
When you pass through the torii gates on your way out, make sure to turn around and bow once more towards the shrine. The most important thing to do when you pray at a shrine is to offer words of gratitude to the gods.
The biggest difference between a shrine and a temple is the way you pray. At a shrine, you clap your hands, but at a temple, you simply bring your hands together and can chant your prayer.
Read more Japan travel guide at here.