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What to Do When Visiting Japanese Shrines

Apr 13, 2020

When you visit Japan, you’re sure to come across a few shrines and temples. As they are not something that you typically find in western countries, you may be wondering what you should do when you see one. Common points of confusion are how to pray and what to do at the water basin at the entrance. Keep reading this article so you don’t feel confused about what to do when you make a stop at a Japanese shrine!

Step One – Bow at the Torii Gate

When you first arrive at a shrine, you will be greeted by a torii gate like the one seen in the picture above. The torii gate marks the division between the shrine and the secular world, so it makes sense that it would be the entrance to the shrine. As soon as you set foot on shrine grounds, you are in religious territory, so your time of worship has begun. Make sure your clothes are looking their best, then give a slight bow before passing through the gate.

Step Two - Avoid Walking in the Middle of the Path

The path from the torii gate to the shrine is called the sando. It is said that the Gods walk along the middle of the path, so you should walk along the side. Use the walk to get ready to make a wish.

If you visit during hatsumode, the first prayer of the new year, there will likely be crowds making it impossible for you to avoid the middle of the sando. In unavoidable cases such as that, it is OK to make your way down the middle of the path.

Step Three – Wash Your Hands and Rinse Your Mouth at the Water Basin

If you keep walking along the path, you’ll find a water basin that looks like the picture above. This is a place where you should remove any impurities from your body before meeting the Gods at the shrine. Use the ladles provided to wash your hands and rinse your mouth out. Be sure to at least wash your hands before making your way to the shrine.

The purpose of using the ladle is to have the water pouring from it cleanse you without having to scrub your hands. However, these days it is OK to rub your hands together to clean them.

Step Four – Praying and What to Do at the Offertory Box

Take a small bow and put some money in the offertory box. If there is a bell for you to ring, then be sure to do so before bowing, clapping, and making your wish. There are a lot of steps which you can find below.

1. Put some money in the offertory box
2. Pull the rope to ring the bell and call upon the Gods.
3. Bow deeply twice
4. Put your hands in front of your chest, with the right one slightly lower, and clap twice
5. Keep your hands in front of your chest and pray or make a wish
6. Bow

When leaving the shrine, be sure to avoid walking in the middle of the sando just as you did when entering. Also don't forget to and give a small bow before leaving.

Use Your New Skills at Hanazono Shrine in Shinjuku

In the middle of Shinjuku’s shopping district sits Hanazono Shrine, a solemn structure that has been watching over the city since the 17th century. The beauty of the shrine changes with the seasons, so lots of people come all throughout the year to experience its charm.

Location information

Hanazono Shrine

This shrine in Shinjuku has drawn the faithful since before the establishment of the Edo shogunate by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603 and continues to be cherished as an urban oasis to this day. The vivid ver…

5-17-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0222
Telephone number
03-3209- 5265
Hours of operation
· Prayers 9:30–16:30
· Office 8:00–20:00

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Though there are a lot of steps to properly worshipping at a shrine in Japan, it isn’t that difficult once you get the hang of it. Once you visit a few times, you’re sure to remember the steps and protocols with ease. As long as you remain respectful, things are sure to be OK. Even if you make a mistake, as long as you are visiting with pure intentions, then things will be fine. Explore Shinjuku for yourself and find a shrine that speaks to you!