Guide to Visiting Japanese Shrines

If you make it to Japan, your sightseeing itinerary will likely have a visit to a Japanese shrine on the agenda. Be mindful that the shrine is a place of worship, so there is a proper etiquette when paying a visit. Each shrine and region might have its own unique customs.

This article introduces what kind of manners one should pay heed of when on the shrine grounds.

Before entering the torii gate, give a bow.

Torii gate separates the sacred shrine grounds from the secular world - pass it and you are now on the terrain of gods.

Avoid the center of the path

When stepping through, walk to the left or right because the middle of the path is a holy ground reserved for gods.

Purify your hands and mouth at the temizuya water fountain

Once you pass the gate, you should see temizuya where worshipers are supposed to purify their body and soul before praying.

How to use temizuya:

Prepare a handkerchief in advance in a pocket or somewhere you can easily take it from.

1.Quietly stand in front of the temizuya and bow

2.Use your right hand to scoop a ladle of water and pour it over your left hand

3.Take the ladle into your left hand and pour it over your right hand

4.Use your right hand to pour some water into a cupped left hand and rinse your mouth with it. (Don’t drink the water or pour water from the ladle directly onto your mouth!)

5. Keep the ladle clean by pouring the remaining water down the handle.

6. Place the ladle back so the next person could use it.

7. Bow lightly and leave temizuya

* To prevent the spread of COVID-19, some shrines may remove the ladles. In this case, follow the rules of the shrine.

Make a monetary offering

You can now approach the main shrine to pay your respects and make a prayer.

If there’s a bell above the money box, ring it to tell gods of your presence. The sound is said to purify the worshipper.

After that, toss a coin into the offering box.

It really does not matter how much or how little you offer, since this is just a way to express your gratitude.

Make two bows, two claps, one bow

Two bows, two claps, one bow known as nirei-nihakushu-ichirei is the most common way to pray nowadays.

1.Stand up straight and bow twice deeply.

2.Place your hands together before your chest, separate them to around shoulder-width and clap twice.

3. Put your hands together and pray.

4. Bow deeply once again.

This is the most common way of praying, and if there is a sign that shows how to pray, it would be a good idea to follow it.

Besides this typical procedure for worshipping, there are other manners to pay heed of.

Goshuin (seal stamp)

The goshuin stamp is a trend that has been developing in Japan over the last few years. If you want to learn more about Japanese culture, then handwritten goshuin could be a best souvenir for you.

Goshuin is a sort of certificate that attests your visit but not a commemorative stamp so you can’t put it in a notebook. Instead, you should get a special book called goshuincho which are sold in shrines with goshuin.

Opening hours for the selling offices might differ. Also, some places will give you a piece of paper with a goshuin stamp instead of handwriting it directly in the goshuincho. In addition, please be aware that not all shrines offer goshuin stamps.

Omamori

If you want to buy an omamori charm, it is a good idea to buy it after praying, as well as goshuin.

Omamori is considered a perfect souvenir from a shrine that carries a sacred blessing to protect you and favor good fortune. There are many kinds of omamori, whether it is for good health or success in love.

Omikuji

Omikuji is a fortune-telling paper strip drawn at shrines.

They have oracles written on it that can be used as decision guidance. If you get a good fortune though, you should keep it at home for good luck!

Otherwise you can tie it to the special fence, which means ‘tying your wishes firmly’ and will make your bad luck go away.

What to wear during your visit

Our clothing choices say a lot about our heart. Although there's no strict dress code, Japanese people often wear suits or other formal attire when they go to a shrine on special occasions.

However, you should not worry if you visit a shrine just for sightseeing.

Also, some places may have gravel roads or poor footholds, so it is better to wear comfortable shoes.

We sincerely hope that customs and etiquette rules introduced above will help you enjoy your visit in its fullest!