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How To Visit a Japanese Shinto Shrine

If you’re ever lucky enough to behold the beauty of a Japanese Shinto shrine, knowing how to pay your respects will come in handy.

Instructions

  • Step 1: Toss a coin or two into the offertory box. Make two 90-degree bows, and then clap your hands twice and say a silent prayer. Bow deeply once more.
  • Step 2: Approach the entrance to the shrine. If there is a rope in front of the shrine that’s connected to a bell or gong, tug it sharply to announce your arrival to the deity.
  • TIP: A five-yen coin is supposed to be the luckiest coin you can offer, in part because in Japanese, "five yen" is a homophone for "good fortune."
  • Step 3: Take three steps backward until you're away from the main offering area. It’s considered disrespectful to turn your back on the kami.
  • FACT: The Izumo-Taisha is considered the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan. It has been rebuilt 25 times, most recently in 1744.
  • Step 4: Keep to the left or right along the stone path leading to the shrine. Avoiding the center shows modesty.
  • Step 5: Drain excess water off the ladle by holding it vertically, with the dipper at the top and the handle at the bottom. Return the ladle to its place.
  • Step 6: Be fit for a visit. Some consider it disrespectful to visit a Shinto shrine if a person is sick, has an open wound, or is in mourning.
  • Step 7: Stop and bow lightly at the gateway to the shrine, called a _torii_, before walking under it.
  • Step 8: Stop at the purification pavilion, called a _chozuya_ or _temizuya_, to cleanse yourself. Ladle water with your right hand and pour it over your left hand, and vice versa, stepping away from the basin so the water doesn't drip back inside. Then pour water into your left hand, use it to rinse your mouth, and spit it out on the ground.
  • TIP: Some people skip the mouth-rinsing portion of the ritual.
  • Step 9: Familiarize yourself with Shinto, an ancient religious tradition originating in Japan. There is no one principal deity in Shinto, but a reverence of many gods, or _kami_, represented in nature. Each shrine contains a manifestation of a deity.

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