The first day of the year, regular days, unlucky years, lucky years, and weddings. These are some of the many times practically every Japanese person has visited a Shinto shrine. But when you stop and think about it, do you really know what to do at shrines? Can you explain how to behave to tourists from other countries? Do you have the confidence to be able to teach them about shrine manners?
Why not take this chance to rehearse some surprisingly unknown shrine basics that you might feel it’s already too late to ask about?
(The following article contains information on rituals and practices that include components based on Japan’s traditional religions (such as Buddhism and Shinto). This content is presented solely for informational purposes; these practices are not enforced in these facilities in any way.)
What are Shinto shrines in the first place?
Shrines are rooms and buildings built for the purpose of worshiping kami, the gods of Shinto, Japan’s native religion. Simply put, they are places where gods can come to, and places in which gods can subside. Shrines are places where gods reside, and which we can visit to pray. The focus of these shrines is the “myriad gods”. The number of festivals and objects of worship in Shinto is large even compared to other world religions. There are many shrines dedicated to the gods living in all of the rocks, mountains, and plants in creation, which are said to have come from the gods written of in the Nihon-shoki, an ancient chronicle of Japan.
Gods worshiped at shrines
As described above, a number gods are enshrined as objects of worship, but if you know more about them before going to a shrine, you’ll be able to understand and enjoy your visit even more.
Here, we divided the various kinds gods into broad categories.
１．Shrines dedicated to gods from Japanese myths
Many gods appear in Japanese myths, but among Japan’s many shrines, there are some that have a close relation to a particular god of legend.
Ise Grand Shrine (Mie) : The Inner Ise Shrine is dedicated to Amaterasu-ōmikami, the deified sun goddess, whereas the Outer shrine is dedicated to Toyouke-Ōmikami, the goddess of food, clothing, and shelter.
Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine (Ōsaka) : This shrine is dedicated to the Sumiyoshi sanjin, Sokotsutsu no O no Mikoto, Nakatsutsu no O no Mikoto, and Uwatsutsu no O no Mikoto, who were born when Izanagi, the god who created Japan, performed a purification ceremony.
２．Shrines dedicated to great people who actually existed
Numerous shrines exist throughout Japan which were built and dedicated to important historical figures who achieved great things, such as Sugawara no Michizane, Taira no Masakado, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Emperor Meiji, and Empress Shōken.
Dazaifu Tenman-gū (Fukuoka) : A shrine dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, worshiped as the god of learning
Meiji Shrine (Tōkyō) : A shrine built on ground with close ties to the emperor, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken
３．Shrines dedicated the god Inari, Inari messengers, and Inari Daimyojin
Shrines dedicated to the god Inari are all generally called Inari shrines, but the main Inari shrine is Fushimi Inari-taisha (Grand Shrine) in Kyōto. There are many symbolic, mystical shrines featuring vermillion torii and the white foxes which serve the gods, and they are quite popular with visitors from overseas.
Fushimi Inari-taisha (Kyōto) : The main shrine of the many Inari shrines found throughout Japan. Inari was originally the god of abundant harvests, but nowadays, he is also famous as the guardian deity of thriving businesses, prosperous households, and improvements of skills.
Let’s learn the proper way to visit and enjoy a shrine!
Shrines are popular as places flowing with mystical energy, so let’s rehearse some surprisingly unknown shrine-visiting manners, and enjoy a refreshing visit to a shrine!
１．Be polite when passing under the torii
There is at least one torii at the entrance to most shrines, marking them as holy ground. When you pass under the torii, it is respectful to bow once, while wishing in your heart for the gods to pardon your intrusion into the holy ground. After you pass through the torii, take care not to speak too loudly.
２．The center path to the shrine is for the gods
The center path to the shrine is a special road meant for the gods to use. When visiting a shrine, show respect to the gods by taking the path off to the left or right.
３．Cleansing yourself~Let’s purify our hands and mouth
As shrine grounds are holy places, it is necessary to make use of holy water to wash off impurities from outside.
１）First, hold the ladle in your right hand and wash your left hand
２）Next, hold the ladle in your left hand and wash your right hand
３）Hold the ladle in your right hand again, then pour water into your left hand, and use it to wash your mouth (Do not bring the ladle directly to your mouth)
４）Lastly, stand the ladle upright, using the water left inside to cleanse whatever parts you touched, and put the ladle back
At the offering box~2 bows, 1 clap, 1 bow
When standing before the gods, if you greet them courteously and calmly, then you will leave feeling refreshed. At places like Izumo Grand Shrine, there are special things to do when visiting, so we recommend checking beforehand.
１）Gently put your offering in the offertory box.
２）If there is a bell, ring it.
３）Straighten your back, and bow until your body forms a 90 degree angle, twice.
４）Bring your hands to chest height and clap them twice. If you shift your right fingers down, you will make a better sound when you clap.
５）To finish, bow deeply one final time
If you’re able to do all of this correctly, you and the other visitors will feel better about the visit, and maybe you’ll even be blessed. Please try it for yourself.
What did you think? If you use the knowledge and manners you learned here when visiting shrines, you might end up feeling better about your visits. Have confidence and pay homage to the gods, and make sure to share your blessings when you receive them.
This post is also available in: Japanese