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Travel tips: Visiting shrines and temples in Japan



2020.01.16 (Thu)

What to do and what to expect, a short introduction

Visiting shrines and temples in Japan will give you insights into traditions, culture, and architecture. To make the most of your visit, here is some information about what you will encounter and what to do at a visit.

First of all, keep in mind basic manners. Behave calm and respectful. To enter some buildings, you might have to take off your shoes. Taking pictures is usually allowed in most places outside, but forbidden at some points inside. Please follow the signs or explanations.

To make the most of a visit, do a quick research of where you are going. It makes everything more interesting. And at times of festivals and events, it can get very crowded. So check the events calendar for where you want to go.

Shrines and temples may look similar to you. To distinguish them, take a look at the entrance gate to the surrounding grounds. Torii gates made from wood or stone stand at the entrance to shrines. Thick ropes are tied around sacred objects such as trees or stones. Bigger and heavier looking gates mark the entrances to temple grounds, often looking like buildings with structured roofs and statues guarding each side.

Many customs at shrines and temple visits are quite similar. Here is what to do with the main things you will see.

Small fountains are used for purification. Take a ladle, fill it with water. Hold it with you right hand and pour some water over your left hand, change hands and repeat, change hands again, pour water in your hand and use it to rinse your mouth (do not drink the water or spit into the basin). Hold the ladle up and let the remaining water run down the handle to clean it for the next person. Then return it to the basin.

If you want to offer a prayer or make a wish, throw a coin into the box at the offering hall. Customs differ among places. At most temples, bow slightly, throw the coins, put your hands together while you pray, then bow again. At shrines, bow slightly, throw the coins, bow shortly twice, clap your hands twice and keep your hands together after the second clap while you pray, then bow once.

Draw an omikuji fortune to see if your future holds good luck or difficult times. If the omikuji is indicating luck, take it with you and keep it close, for example keep it in your wallet. If the omikuji indicates bad luck, fold it into a long strip and tie it to the strings with others. Please do not tie it to other trees. Keeping it behind will keep the bad luck away.

To make more wishes, purchase an ema, a wooden tablet often marked with a drawing. Write your wish and hang it up with the others. For good luck and as a nice souvenir to take with you, buy an omamori charm. Many look like tiny embroidered bags, but there are also others shapes like cards to put into your wallet or straps to attach to your phone. Omamori come in different types for good luck in general, success in business or studies, safe driving, or to ward off evil. Choose what you like.

You can also buy a book (goshuincho) to collect goshuin stamps at temples and shrines to mark your visit. They are written by hand and are available for a small fee. Please allow time for the monks or staff. During busy times, many people can line up to collect goshuin.

Click the link below to read this related article you might like: “New Year in Tokyo, a visit to the lucky gods - The Yanaka Shichifukujin course”

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