FEATURE

How to worship at a shrine

The act of visiting a shrine is called sanpai in Japanese. In Japan, be it the city or countryside, you will find various shrines of all sizes. Needless to say, anybody can enter the shrine grounds and pay their respects, regardless of the religious belief they may hold.

Some shrines became tourist attractions over the years. and they are also a place to find relaxing for some people. Everyone is welcomed at a temple and a shrine, regardless of your own personal beliefs. You don’t have to be a follower of the religion to enjoy the peace that these places share, so if you are looking for a serene spot to stroll, visit a temple or shrine during your time in Japan.

It is worth it to take a moment to learn the correct way to pray and enjoy a casual trip to some of these wonderful places.

1.Make a bow in front of the tori gate (shrine gate)

A torii gate is the boundary line between holy ground and the secular world. Passing through the torii gate signifies that you have stepped into the domain of the deity. 
Though awareness of torii etiquette has dwindled recently, bowing once in front of the torii gate is the correct procedure. So, before passing the gate, make a bow to show your respect for the gods. 

2.Try not to walk in the middle of a pathway, and walk slowly.

The center of the pathway entering into the shrine is set aside as the area where the deity passes. Avoiding this center space and walking to the side area of the pathway is one key to a polite visit.

3.Purify your hands and mouth at the “temizuya or chouzuya” water pavilion

The water pavilion is where you purify your body and mind (a ritual known as misogi) before coming face to face with the deity. 

First, let’s find the water pavilion to purify yourself. Depending on the shrine, the design of the chouzuya may be different.

There is a big spoon-like ladle called hishaku, so please use this to spoon out a generous amount of water.

The order is important! To purify yourself, pick up one of the ladles resting on the water pavilion, fill it with water using your right hand, and pour that water over your left hand.

Then repeat the process with your left hand.

Please keep in mind that it is a symbolic purification, and it doesn’t mean that you should actually wash your hands.
Using your left hand, ladle some water and touch your mouth slightly with it. This is a symbolic purification of the mouth. Afterwards, pour some water on your left hand again.

※Don’t let the ladle touch your lips and don’t swallow the water.

Afterwards, pour some water on your left hand again.

After you have finished cleansing your hands, lift up the mouth of the ladle and lay it down like this, allowing the leftover water to run down the handle. This gesture represents the act of purifying the ladle.

The last step is, to put the ladle with face down back at its original place.

4.本殿の鈴を鳴らす

The main shrine building (honden) is the place where the gods reside. When you look up at the structure, there should be a large bell. Give it a big shake to tell the deity of your presence. The bell will chime quite loudly, so be prepared.

5.Osaisen (monetary offering)

Quietly throw in a “saisen” coin into the “saisenbako” offering box. The “saisen” coin is an offering to the deity.  

Many people offer 5 yen coins, which is a very small amount, but not because they want to save money. The Japanese pronunciation for ‘5 yen’ is identical to ‘goen’ which means “good luck” or “good connections”, so this wordplay is used to convey a wish for good fortune.
5 yen has a hole in the middle and it means you can see through the future and your future goes through well.
※It doesn’t have to be 5 yen. You can donate any Japanese coins or bills.

Slowly toss your Osaisen into the box which is placed in front of the main shrine.

6.Pay your respects! Bow twice, clap your hands twice and bow once again.

First, bow twice. (Stand straight and then make 2 deep bows)

Then, clap your hands twice.

When you have finished clapping, join your hands in prayer position by straightening your fingers and placing your hands together. (Don’t cross your fingers and keep your fingers straight.)

When you have finished your prayer, bow once more. (Stand straight and give a deep bow)

This whole process is called “Nirei Nihakushu Ichirei” (2 bows, 2 claps, and a bow) in Japanese.

7.Bow in front of the shrine gate (torii)

When you exit the shrine’s grounds through the torii, face towards the gate and bow once. This last gesture implies a feeling of giving thanks to the gods for allowing you to enter the shrine.

We hope that this small guide is helpful. You can find relaxation at a shrine and forget about the stressful daily life. Enjoy the peace that these places share, so if you are looking for a serene spot to stroll, visit a temple or shrine during your time in Japan.

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