Shinto shrines are a must-see attraction on a trip to Japan.
For those visiting for the first time, surely you’ll feel confused about the visitation protocol and how to pray.
In this article, I will share the etiquette when visiting and how to pray at shrines in Japan.
Read through before going to admire the beauty of the temple and express your reverence to the deities in the most complete way.
Bow at the Torii gate before entering
Torii gate (鳥居) is the entrance gate to the temple, serving as a barrier between the secular area and the sacred area.
Before entering, bow to the Torii gate as a request for permission to enter the “house” of the gods.
Once you enter the temple grounds, head left or right of the road. It would be rude to walk in the middle of the road because this is considered the path of the gods.
Water purification in Chōzuya
Chōzuya (手水舎) is an area that provides water for visitors to purify their minds and bodies before meeting the gods.
Use the water bucket placed here to wash your hands and mouth before entering the temple.
Proceed as follows:
- Hold the ladle with your right hand, scoop water and wash your left hand.
- Switch the handle to your left hand and wash your right hand.
- Switch the handle to your right hand, scoop a little water into your left hand.
- Use the water in your left hand to rinse your mouth and spit the water out next to the water tank. Absolutely do not rinse your mouth directly with a ladle.
- Wash your left hand again.
- Hold the ladle upright with both hands to rinse the handle with the remaining water. Then put the ladle back to its original position.
- In case there is no ladle available in the Chōzuya area, proceed the purification ritual by: washing your hands first, pouring water into your hands to rinse your mouth, and then rinsing your hands again.
- You should prepare handkerchiefs or paper towels for convenient wiping after washing.
Pray at the worship hall
From Chōzuya (hand washing area), continue on the left (or right) side of the path to reach the worship hall.
Here, perform the following prayer ritual:
- Bow once.
- Gently put the money into the offering box.
- If there is a bell in the offering box, hold the rope and gently shake it 2 ~ 3 times to ring the bell.
- Bow deeply twice.
- Clap your hands twice and then pray.
- Bow deeply once more and finish.
- If you see other people in line, stand at the end of the line and wait your turn.
- If you go in a group, you can step up and pray together.
- If the shrine you visit clearly states how to pray, prioritize following those instructions.
- There are no specific regulations on the amount of offerings. You can use the amount in your wallet at the time, such as 50 yen or 100 yen.
- Before saying your wish, express your gratitude to the gods. It is said that doing so will make your prayers more effective. Try it!
Bow before leaving
Before leaving the Torii gate, turn towards the shrine and bow once to show your respect.
- Bow at the Torii gate before entering.
- Use water from Chōzuya to wash in this order: left hand right hand mouth left hand hand holding dipper.
- Praying at the shrine: “2x2x1” rule, meaning “2 times bowing”, “2 times clapping” and “1 time bowing”.
- Bow before leaving.
Above are 4 basic steps when visiting a shrine in Japan.
Depending on the shrine, there will sometimes be different specific regulations, but just remember these 4 steps, you can confidently visit without fear of being rude.
Hope this article will be useful for your next shrine visit.