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As religious centers for the Japanese people, temples and shrines exist everywhere in the country, and while in Aichi you are most likely to see a great number of them - many among them are rich in history and important in the communities they serve. We listed below some of the basic ritualistic behaviors when visiting them. Just be aware that some places may have a slightly different set of procedures.

If you are not Buddhist an find yourself concerned that visiting a temple or shrine may offend your religion, remember that bowing, joining hands and etc. are just forms of paying respect. It does not mean you “believe” in Buddha or Japanese “Kami” gods. Enjoying the rich history, the interesting local customs and the gorgeous architecture does not require a faith. Have fun!

Common notes about temples and shrines

  • 1. Try dressing discreetly. Some people may be uncomfortable around women who are wearing revealing outfits or men wearing shorts, especially in those sacred places. Of course, those are by no means forbidden, but foreign tourists will notice that, when in public, Japanese people dress in a way that exposes only the minimum of skin.
  • 2. Prepare a small towel, handkerchief or tissue paper in order to dry your hands and mouth after the purification ritual of washing hands and mouth. This will show your attention to etiquette, a highly appraised treat. During the process, you may hold it under the arm. Some people hold between the legs for added dexterity, or simply prepare by leaving a tip hanging out of the pocket for a quick and non-messy retrieval.
  • 3. As the above, removing hats or other covers while paying respects, or when coming indoors, is not required but a highly appreciated gesture.
  • 4. At gates, doors or other lines separating distinct areas, never step on the threshold: it is deemed highly disrespectful. Some thresholds may have wooden beams protruding as high as 20cm (8in) or more, but visitors are expected to make the effort to step over it, never onto it. This is valid even if there is no noticeable level difference, of even if there is no discernible marking on the floor.
  • 5. Regardless if they are crowded with visitors or not, temples and shrines are the Japanese equivalent to churches, temples or synagogue of other countries, so visitors are expected to behave in the same respectful manner.
  • 6. Some places may require an admission fee, and purchasing a ticket comes with an explanative brochure. Ask for materials in your native language - sometimes they may be indeed available.
  • 7. When making a money offering, the amount is not specified. Usually, just a few low denomination coins - something between 5 to 500 yen - should be fine. Japanese people include five yen coins as much as possible because the sound “goen” (the pronunciation for “five-yen”) sounds the same as “good blessing”.
  • 8. People will be grateful if you refrain from taking pictures during rituals with priests and guests, in front of the offertory box or while they are doing a prayer.
  • 9. Refrain from crossing the line between a person doing a prayer and the altar inside the Main Hall. Some people believe that this act cuts the connection between the faithful praying and the god or Buddha.

Common notes about entering the temple or shrine

  • 1. Before stepping in at the Main Gate or “Torii” Gate, put your hands together and bow once toward the main hall.
  • 2. When entering the gate, avoid walking exactly by the center line, as that space is believed to be the “seichu”, reserved for the spirits and gods to move freely to and fro the premises.
  • 3. For the reason above, avoid taking pictures aiming straight through the center of the gate, instead aim slightly offset the center and step sideways a little for the shot.

Purifying mind and body at temples or shrines

  • 1. Look for the “chozuiya” (or “temizuya”) purification fountain: it usually is roofed and houses a basin of water. Depending on the place, there may be a dragon statue, bamboo stick or other device from which fresh water sprouts. Proceed along if you do not find this or any other similar structure.
  • 2. Fill the ladle: take it with the right hand and dip the bowl (a part called “go”) in the water, filling it up. Left-handed persons may do it inversely. If abundant fresh water is continuously being added to the basin, you may take it directly from where it pours from.
  • 3. Cleanse the left hand: pour about one fifth of the water and let it run: rubbing may be done but is not required. Make sure the water does not fall back in the basin of the fountain, instead let it fall on the ground or collecting drainage. If you are cold or otherwise uncomfortable, just cleansing the finger tips is enough. Concerned people with skin conditions may even just pretend to drop the water on their hands.
  • 4. Cleanse the right hand: pass the ladle to the left hand and cleanse the right hand in the same manner.
  • 5. Cleanse the mouth: do not take the ladle directly to the mouth - hold the ladle with the right hand again, and pour one fifth of the water in your left hand, cupping it and taking to the mouth. Do not drink, just quickly dispose it, taking care avoid the basin, and covering the mouth with the hand in order to conceal the water coming out of the mouth. Some Japanese people will even do gargles during the process, but if you are uncomfortable sipping the water, just wet the lips or pretend to splash some water to the mouth.
  • 6. Finish the ritual by cleansing the ladle handle: tilt it so the bowl is at the top and the remaining water pours vertically down along the stick. Slightly shake off the remaining water and return the ladle to its original position, resting upside-down on the stand. Dry yourself up with your towel. Some places will provide a towel, so feel free to use if you are comfortable with it.


Visiting a Buddhist temple

1. Do the reverence at the entrance and avoid the center line

As mentioned above on “Common notes about entering the temple or shrine”.

2. Do the purifying ritual by cleansing up

As mentioned above on “Purifying mind and body at temples or shrines”.


3. Ring the bell if allowed

Some temples allow visitors to ring the “bonsho” bell of bronze installed on their grounds, which is done by hitting it with the supplied mallet or by swinging the suspended wood beam. If that is the case, feel free to do so: take off hat or other cover and approach the bell respectfully. A single, vigorous hit per person is the accepted norm. Other temples prohibit visitors from doing it, so look closely for signs and off-limits warnings before attempting to do so.


4. Make a votive offering with candles or incense sticks

  • 1. Pay the prescribed fee and buy a candle or stick of incense.
  • 2. Light it up and do the offering by placing it on either candle stand or incense burner. One candle is the usual norm. Some sects stipulate offering three sticks of incense, but if no special instructions are otherwise provided, one stick should be enough. Avoid lighting your item by using the fire of other candles or incense already offered by previous visitors, as it is believed that their bad fortunes will be laid on you if you do so. Use a lighter or flame provided for this specific purpose.

5. Pray toward the Main Hall

  • 1. Make a money offering by throwing some coins at the offertory box - a few low denomination coins is usually fine. Japanese people use five yen coins as much as possible because the sound “goen” (the pronunciation for “five-yen”) sounds the same as “good blessing”. If there is something like a temple gong or chime provided for visitors, ring it by gently shaking the rope.
  • 2. Take off hat or other cover - not required but appreciated - then straighten up your posture, quietly put your hands together and make a single bow from the waist of between 45 and 90 degrees. If you have brought a Buddhist rosary (beads collar) with you, put it around your hands now. Unlike shrines, clapping hands is not a practice, so make a point to avoid it.
  • 3. Usually, the prayer is done quietly without speaking words aloud. However, some temples provide signs instructing visitors on what to pray (the temple Buddha’s mantra or name, a chant, or similar words). If this is the case, you may try chanting as per directions. If the temple does not have a sign but you want to know anyway, you may ask one of the monks.
  • 4. The Heart Sutra is a common prayer if you want to recite a sutra as an offering. Say the opening chant before the sutra and then the closing prayer. However, you must not pronounce the Heart Sutra in a temple of either Shin or Nichiren sects. Even if you have memorized a sutra, the proper etiquette is to hold a sutra book in your hand and recite it from there.
  • 5. Bow slightly and leave the Main Hall.

6. Exiting the temple

Immediately after exiting the temple by its Main Gate, turn again towards the Main Hall, put your hands together and bow once more.

Visiting a Shinto shrine

1. Do the reverence at the entrance and avoid the center line

As mentioned above on “Common notes about entering the temple or shrine”.

2. Do the purifying ritual by cleansing up

As mentioned above on “Purifying mind and body at temples or shrines”.


3. Pray at the front shrine.

  • 1. Make a money offering and ring the bell.
  • 2. Straighten up your posture with arms pointing straight down alongside the body (the “attention” pose of the military) and bow deeply to an angle of 45 to 90 degrees. Do this twice.
  • 3. How to clap your hands: put your hands together at the height of your chest, slide your right hand slightly down so that the fingers of the left hand protrude about the length of one joint. Then clap twice. Align the hands together again.
  • 4. Do the “attention” pose again and bow deeply once more.
  • *: To receive a special prayer service, ask the Chief Priest or Parishioner and follow the instructions.

4. Collect the stamps

If you are collecting red stamps to mark your visit, collect it after your prayer.

5. Exiting the shrine

When exiting the shrine, if the Main Gate is a “torii”, exit by walking around the sides of it, not through it. Then turn again towards the shrine and bow deeply once more. This is a gesture that denotes humility and also helps at popular, crowded shrines when lots of people want to enter the premises by walking through the gate.

【Purchasing “Omamori” amulets】

Shrines and temples sell amulets blessed by their enshrined gods. There’s a great variety of items available, like arrows (“hamaya”), wooden tablets (“ofuda”), bamboo rakes (“kumade”) and much more. But the miniature scrolls stuffed into colorful silk brocade pouches known as “Omamori” are by far the most common, and are roughly divided as follows (all of these are small enough to be constantly carried by the person):

Traffic Safety Kotsu Anzen Protection for the car or other vehicle driven or boarded by the user
Family Safety Kanai Anzen Keeps the user’s family safe from bad fortune
Business Success Shobai Hanjo For work or business goals to come true
Education Success Gakugyo Joju For academic improvement of students
Safe Baby Delivery Anzan For pregnant or soon to be pregnant women
Romance Fulfilment En Musubi For a happy-end romantic life
Good Fortune Kai Un Boosts the luck of the user
Happiness Shiawase To get in peace with life
Bad Fortune Ward Yaku Yoke Protection from bad luck
Health Kenko Sought by those concerned with health
Exam Success Gokaku Kigan When preparing for a test or exam

A “Omamori” will be valid for a year, or until the goal has been achieved. After it, the user must return it to the shrine or temple, which in turn will burn it. Then another may be purchased. “Omamori” should not be opened, as it is believes that by doing so its powers are lost and, in the worst case, serious consequences may befall the person.

【Terms used often】

Chozuya (or temizuya) Place at a shrine or temple where visitors wash and cleanse their hands and mouth.
Ichirei Bow once.
Hishaku Ladle for scooping up water and other liquids, consists of a bowl-shaped or cylindrical container (“go”) with a long handle attached.
Kenko The act of lighting incense and offering it to a god or Buddha.
Kento The act of offering a lantern to a god or Buddha, and also the lantern itself.
Rosoku Candle
Senko Incense hardened into a stick. Used in offerings to Buddha.
Shokudai Candle stand used in olden times to provide indoor lighting. Frequently portable.
Waniguchi Gong that is hung in front of a hall or temple and struck with a hanging rope.

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