How to Visit Shrines

So you’ve wanted to visit Japan and you’re so excited about finally seeing a lot of cool cultural locations like shrines and temples – but how do you do it?

Since these are religious sites that people go to for prayer and various services, it’s very nice of you to be concerned about this.

In this article, let’s learn how to visit a Shinto shrine in Japan.

There is No Wrong Way

First of all, relax.

Shinto existed for centuries before Buddhism came along and during that time, it didn’t have any set ceremony. It was very, well, natural. In modern Shinto, yes, there are proper ways to do things, but the most important thing is sincerity. Even people who grew up in Japan and visit shrines regularly don’t know every little detail or occasionally skip steps.

As long as you show respect and use your manners, you’ll be fine.


The Proper Way

Now that you’ve relaxed a bit, lets talk about the proper way to do things.

Heian Shrine's Torii

Heian Shrine Torii

Entering the grounds

When you pass through a torii gate, you enter the realm of the deity housed in the shrine. Before entering this special place, it’s polite to bow at the gate. Also, mind the center. The middle of the path is supposed to be for the kami (deity).

You’ll probably notice that the vast majority of people skip this step. It’s polite to the kami to do this, but don’t kick yourself too hard if you forget.


Temizuya at Iouden in Naritasan Shinshoji

Temizuya at Iouden in Naritasan Shinshoji


Soon after you enter, you should see a small fountain with ladles. This is the temizuya. You should purify yourself by rinsing your hands and mouth.


(usually done without refilling)

1. Rinse your left hand.

2. Transfer ladle to left hand and rinse your right hand.

3. Transfer ladle back and rinse your mouth. Don’t drink the water; spit it out off to the side.

4. Hold the ladle vertically to allow the remaining water to run down the handle.

And you’re done!


Nanba Yasaka Shrine

Nanba Yasaka Shrine


Once you’re in, you can go to the shrine and pray. The following steps are the common procedure, but some shrines will have their own special way of praying. As I said before, there is no single perfect way to do this, just be sure to do it with sincerity and respect for the deity. 5 and 50 yen coins are popular offerings because they’re associated with good luck.

1. Throw in a coin (5-100 yen)

2. Ring the bell. If there is no bell, skip this step.

3. Bow twice

4. Clap twice

5. Pray. You can pray for anything, but please do it silently in your head. Also be sure to express your gratitude to the deity.

6. Bow once


Ema and Omikuji

Ema and Omikuji

You’re finished

That’s it. Once you’re done, feel free to draw an omikuji fortune or go visit the shrine shop. There are many omamori charms for luck, you can write a wish on an ema… and get a goshuin for your goshuincho.


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