No trip to Japan is complete with out a visit to at least one shrine. However, visiting a shrine can at times be a little overwhelming. Here are five essential tips to get the most out of your visit to a Shrine.
- How to walk through a torii gate: In front of every Japanese Shinto shrine there lay a gate made of two vertical posts connected by two posts on top. These gates are called “torii gates” and they are one of the defining characteristics of a Shinto shrine. Torii gates represent the border between the secular world and the sacred worlds of the Shinto religion. The gates act as a passageway into a shrine’s sacred space. When passing through a torii gate, it is customary to walk to the side instead of straight down the center. It is believed that the center space is reserved only for the kami (gods) to pass through. It is also custom to bow once before passing through the gate both upon entering and exiting the shrine. Even when exiting the shrine, the bow should be facing the shrine instead of outward.
- The proper way to purify yourself at the temizuya: When you enter any shrine one of the first things you will see is the temizuya. Temizuyas, are a basin of water in which you purify yourself before entering. It is incredibly important to purify yourself before you go into the shrine. First, 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 cleanse 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’re 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. If any of that sounds confusing, don’t worry we have a video that demonstrates the proper way.
- Don’t be afraid to walk on the gravel: One of the interesting things I’ve noticed at a lot of shrines is there is usually gravel surrounding the cement pathways. Foreigners often avoid walking on the gravel. When you are in a Shinto shrine, it is actually important to walk on the gravel path to the shrine’s main hall. The purpose of this gravel path is to purify yourself. It is believed that gravel represents a riverbed and gravel in riverbeds purify many things. You walk on the gravel path and purify yourself, and then you get to the main hall. 0
- The proper way to pray: When you get to the front of the main shrine, do not stand in the middle. The reason for this is similar to the belief that you should not walk through the middle of the torii gate. Standing to the side, bow once. If there’s a bell, ring it. It is believed that is how you inform the gods that you’ve come to visit. Don’t just throw your offering into the box – place it in quietly. There is no set amount you should give. However, it is said that five yen is good because it sounds the same as the word for “bond” (as in relationship), but it is up to you. When you pray, bow twice, clap twice with your left hand a little higher and then bow once more.
- Be Respectful: Although this might sound obvious, this is definitely the most important of the five steps. Shrines are considered holy places, so it is important to practice respectable manners when visiting. It’s also important to follow the signs around the shrine and be respectful of the rules. These often include no smoking and no photography in certain areas specifically inside the shrine itself.