Visiting a Japanese Shinto Shrine: Travel 101 Tips

Shinto is the indigenious religion of Japan and the jinja, or shrine is where believers will go and worship. Visiting a Japanese Shinto shrine is one of the things which should not be missed when travelling in Japan. There is an estimated 100,000 Shinto shrines in Japan and some of them are famous and historically significant to the Japanese culture. Shinto ‘gods’ are known as kami. People visit shrines to pray for good fortune, as well as to pay respects to the kami. A shrine visit is also culturally significant on special festivals such as New Year, marriage, setsubun amongst others. As a visit to Japan is never complete without visiting some of the Shinto shrines, it is advisable to be educated on some of the etiquette involved when visiting shrines.

Torii Gate: Entrance to a Shinto shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto)

Torii Gate: Entrance to a Shinto shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto)

The bright vermillion torii gate marks the entrance to the Shinto shrine. Most torii gates are made of wood and painted like the above. There are also some torii gates which are constructed using cement or stone. One of the most spectacular torii gates belong to Itsukushima Shrine at Miyajima – at high tide, the torii gate seemingly floats on the sea and it is one of the 3 most scenic views of Japan.

Top 3 scenic views of Japan: Floating torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine at Miyajima Island

Top 3 scenic views of Japan: Floating torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine at Miyajima Island

Another of my favorite torii gates will have to be the endless toriis at Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto. Here, thousands of torii gates snake up the mountain forming a spectacular view.

Thousands of torii gates snake up Mt. Inari at Fushimi Inari Taisha

Thousands of torii gates snake up Mt. Inari at Fushimi Inari Taisha

An awesome sight

An awesome sight

Near the entrance of the shrine, you will see a purification trough where the water from the fountain is meant to be used for purifying oneself prior to entering the main shrine hall.

Purification trough at the entrance of the shrine

Purification trough at the entrance of the shrine

The process of symbolic cleansing is call ‘temizu‘ and there is a particular sequence to it:

1. Scoop water from the fountain or trough using the ladle. Holding the ladle with your right hand, pour some water onto your left hand and rinse.

2. Pass the ladle to your left hand, pour some water on your right hand and rinse.

3. Pass the ladle back to your right hand, and cup your left hand. Pour some water into your cupped left hand and use it to rinse your mouth or use the water to dab the lips (I usually practice the latter). Note: Do not touch the ladle with our lips/mouth directly.

4. Empty the remaining water from the ladle and place the ladle back.

Foxes as Komainu, guardians at the entrance of the shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto)

Foxes as Komainu, guardians at the entrance of the shrine (Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto)

After you have passed the entrance and enter the shrine proper, you will be likely seeing the main hall of the shrine.

Main hall - offertory box in the foreground ; sashes/ropes hanging from the bells (Jishu Shrine or Love Shrine, Kyoto)

Main hall – offertory box in the foreground ; sashes/ropes hanging from the bells (Jishu Shrine or Love Shrine, Kyoto)

At the main shrine hall, you may do the following:

1. Bow gently and pull the rope to sound the bell. This is like a notification to the kami that you have arrived.

2. Put some coins into the offertory box.

3. Bow twice, clap twice and make a wish as you like with your hands joined together in front of the chest.

4. Bow again when you are done.

Buy a omamori, omikuji or ema at the shrine shop for good fortune (Jishu Shrine, Kyoto)

Buy a omamori, omikuji or ema at the shrine shop for good fortune (Jishu Shrine, Kyoto)

Thereafter, feel free to roam around and explore the beautiful architecture of the shrine buildings and beautifully trimmed gardens of the shrine grounds. It is also worth noting that there are shops in the shrines which sell all sorts of lucky charms and amulets (omamori), fortune telling paper slips (omikuji), and wooden plaques (ema) for you to write your wishes. Personally, I love collecting omamori from different shrines as I find that the embroidery on the pouches are so intricate. There are different omamori for different purposes such as love luck, good fortune, good health, success at work or studies etc.

Various kinds of omamori for different wishes and purposes

Various kinds of omamori for different wishes and purposes

A wide range of omamori from every shrine

A wide range of omamori from every shrine

Cutest omamori I've ever came across

Cutest omamori I’ve ever came across

Some shrines offer omikuji (fortune telling slips) in English. For the fun of it, try buying one! However do note that if you bought an omikuji, you will have to fold it up and tie it on a post when you are done reading it.

Omikuji (fortune telling slips) for sale

Omikuji (fortune telling slips) for sale

Fold and tie up the omikuji slip of paper when you are done reading it

Fold and tie up the omikuji slip of paper when you are done reading it

Wooden plaques known as ema are also available for believers to pen down their wishes. I’ve come across quite a few interesting ema plaques from different shrines across Japan.

Ema plaques for the New Year - the zodiac sign for the year will be printed on one side of the plaque. (Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto)

Ema plaques for the New Year – the zodiac sign for the year will be printed on one side of the plaque. (Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto)

I love this - creativity at it's best! (Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto)

I love this – creativity at it’s best! (Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto)

Torii gate ema (Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto)

Torii gate ema (Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto)

Daruma and wooden rice paddle shaped ema (Daisho-in, Miyajima)

Daruma and wooden rice paddle shaped ema (Daisho-in, Miyajima)

That’s all from me for now! If you visit a shrine in Japan, do try out the things mentioned above if you don’t mind 🙂 I find that travelling is all about experiencing the other country’s culture. Feel it, breathe it and enjoy it!

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10 responses to “Visiting a Japanese Shinto Shrine: Travel 101 Tips

  1. Pingback: Floating torii | asiasketches·

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  3. Pingback: Cherry blossom viewing spot: Heian Shrine (平安神宮), Kyoto | miss travelosopher·

  4. Pingback: BAD FORTUNE LACK | Wandering Egg·

  5. Pingback: Fushimi Inari, Kyoto | asiasketches·

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