Customs and Etiquette for Visiting Japanese Temples and Shrines

in Japan

japanshrineAs a tourist traveling to Japan, you should be mindful of local customs and etiquette, especially when visiting the nation’s temples and shrines.

When visiting these religious sites behave calmly and respectfully. You may show your respect at a temple by tossing a coin into the offering box and saying a short prayer.

Shrines also have offering boxes, but the practice here is slightly different. After donating you should take two deep bows, clap twice, take another bow, and say a quick prayer. If the shrine has a gong, strike it before praying to get the attention of the kami, or Shinto gods.

It may seem strange to Western audiences, but it is important to appear pure when visiting a shrine.

The Japanese consider guests tainted if they are unwell, have an open wound, or are mourning the loss of a loved one.

To ensure cleanliness, guests engage in a purification ritual. A purification fountain is typically located at the shrine’s entrance. Fill one of the ladles provided with fresh water and rinse both hands. Then move some water into a cupped hand and rinse your mouth. Once your mouth is cleansed of impurities, spit the water out next to the fountain. It’s impolite to drink directly from the ladle and swallow the water.

Cleanliness is also important at temples. You may need to remove your shoes before entering. Some temples have shelves at the entrance for footwear. Otherwise you should carry your shoes in a plastic bag. Remember to wear good socks in case it’s necessary to remove your shoes.

Photography is usually permitted on temple grounds and at shrines. Many temples however forbid photography indoors.  In any case, you should look for signs stating the rules before taking out your camera.

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