Shinto shrines

Shinto shrines are all over Japan, from private backyards and small hamlet groves to the sprawling suburbs and congested inner city. Many have annual festivals attached, but Japanese visit them throughout the year for religious practice, solace from city bustle, or to observe the rituals unique to being Japanese. Etiquette for Buddhist temples differ to that of the animist Shinto Shrines, but the latter is typically the one to remember. Here are the correct steps to avoid any ‘awkward gaijin’ moments:


  1. 1. Walk through the torii (gate) at the shrine’s entrance. Sometimes they are in series, lining the shrine’s approach path. Walk through every torii.
  2. 2. Purify yourself with water from the outside fountain or spring: First, hold the attendant ladle in your right hand and dip for water to pour over your left hand.
  3. 3. With the ladle in your left hand, wash your right.
  4. 4. Swap hands again and ladle water into your left hand to drink and wash your mouth.
  5. 5. Rewash your left hand.
  6. 6. Holding the ladle handle in both hands, tilt it up as if in prayer and let any remaining water run down its length to wash your wrists.
  7. 7. At the front of the main shrine, toss a coin in the offeratory box.
  8. 8. Shake the bell to get the gods’ attention.
  9. 9. Bow twice.
  10. 10.Clap your hands twice, keeping your hands clasped in prayer on the second clap.
  11. 11. Pray. The Japanese typically keep this to minimal length.
  12. 12. Bow once more.
  13. 13. Further to this, you can write your wishes on prayer boards that the monks collect to contemplate then burn, or buy a small, lucky-dip trinket wrapped with your written fortune.
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