All over Japan there are many Shrines and temples that you can see and visit. Japanese pay a huge respect to their gods, praying for good health, relationships or just praying for a good year ahead during New Year’s.

As a person coming from a country with a huge culture difference with Japan, the first time I visited a shrine was a little bit confusing. I did not know about the visiting rules in shrines and temples, I remember myself just taking pictures in shrines and not paying respect as described in the Japanese culture.

Visiting Shrines

Shrines are considered a sacred ground for the Japanese, the act of visiting shrines is called ‘omairi’ and when visiting during New Year it is called ‘hatsu-moude’.

Shrines have gates called ‘torii’ which acts a boundary between the human world and the sacred grounds.

  1. Walk on the left side
    • When entering the shrine and passing through the torii gate, walk on the left side and NEVER in the middle of the path.The middle of the path is believed to be for the gods and not for humans to walk in.
  2. Cleansing one’s self
    • Once you entered the shrine premises you will immediately notice a kind of well with ladles used by the visitors to wash their hands. This is called ‘chozuya’ this where you cleanse yourself before proceeding to the main shrine.
    • Below are the steps on how to cleanse one’s self.
      • First fill the ladle with water from the well or basin using your right hand.
      • Pour some water on your left hand and then your right hand.
      • With the remaining water on the ladle pour it on your left hand and gently rinse your mouth. Spit the water on the drain area.
      • NEVER wash your mouth directly from the ladle!
      • Return the ladle in a parallel position along with the other ladles on the well or basin.
      • NEVER to skip this practice even when the weather is too cold!
  3. Honoring the gods
    • Once you reached the main shrine…
      1. Bow slightly
      2. Gently toss a coin in the box in front of you
      3. If there is a bell, ring the bell 2 times
      4. Bow 2 times in a 90 degree angle bow
      5. Clap your hands 2 times, with your left hand slightly in front
      6. Pray and offer thanks to the gods
      7. Lastly, bow again after your prayers
  4. Leaving the Shrine
    • When leaving the shrine grounds, don’t forget to walk on the side and NEVER in the middle of the path. After you passed through the torii gate, turn around and bow once again.


Visiting Temples

  • The main difference between a shrine and a temple is that Shrines houses the gods and Temples houses the Buddha.
  • When visiting temples after cleansing yourself in the ‘chozuya’, burn an incense stick.
  • NEVER to light your incense stick with other’s incense because this act means taking other’s sin.
  • Unlike when visiting shrines, when you visit a temple DO NOT CLAP! Before praying.

Shrine Grounds

Inside the shrines grounds often you will see a wall or a wooden frame where small wood planks are hung. This small wood plank is called ‘ema’ you can write your wishes on it and hang it for the gods to receive them.

Another practice in the Japanese tradition is the ‘omikuji’. Omikuji is a piece of paper with fortune predictions. Although getting yourself to try omikuji is not free, usually it costs 100 yen.

How to get your omikuji

  1. You get your omikuji by shaking the box and tilting it over until a numbered stick comes out the box’s hole. Check the number on the stick and find the drawer where the drawer’s number matches the number on your stick.
  2. Get one paper from the drawer.
  3. Read the fortune written on the paper. If it is a good fortune you can keep it but if it is bad fortune you can tie it on the rope.

When is the best time to visit shrine or temples?

It is said that it is better to visit in the morning during sunrise. Sunrise is believed to be a sign that the gods is already in the shrine / temple.

Etiquette in Japan

  • Helpful-Information-for-First-Timers-in-Japan_cover

  • Meiji Shrine, Your Japan Journey