How to visit the shrine properly: Manners and Customs



Paying a visit to the shrine while in Japan is a must-do list of everyone. But, do you know the proper way of praying at a Shinto shrine? This article introduces the correct way of visiting a shrine and its manners and customs one should pay attention to on the shrine grounds, from bowing to washing your hands to others.

  • 01

    Purification Ritual

    Before entering the shrine through the torii gates, it is customary to purify oneself in a symbolic way with the water in the spring called “Temizuya” (or sometimes chozuya) at the entrance. There will be numerous ladles called “hishaku” are arranged along the stone basin, ready to be used. Here is how the purification works.
    1. Make a bow once, then hold the ladle on your right hand to scoop water from the basin. Doing the entire ritual this single scoop is the only water to purify yourself so use it wisely.

    2. Please keep in mind that this is a symbolic purification, so you don’t actually wash your hands. Pour just a little water onto each hand, first left hand, then change the ladle to the wash your right.

    3. Take the ladle again with your right hand, pour a bit of water in the palm of your left and rinse your mouth. Do not gargle the water and spit it out onto the basin. Instead, spit it out onto your palm.

  • 4. Pour some water onto your left palm to wash the hand

    5. After you have finished cleansing your hand, slowly raise the ladle to an upright position to let the water rinse over the handle.

    6. Bow again to let the gods know you have finished your purification.

    If there are no ladles and the basin looks like this, just simply bow first, then wash hands under the running water. When rinsing your mouth, again, do not gargle the water and spit it out onto the basin, or drink it. Instead, spit it out onto your palm. Then wash again.

  • 03

    Entering the shrine

    After the purification comes the time for prayer. The gate is the passageway into the shrine’s sacred space representing the border between the secular world and the sacred worlds of the Shinto religion. It is believed that the center is reserved only for the god to pass through. Therefore, it is customary to walk on the side, and not in the middle. Some shrines have gravel surrounding the cement pathways which this gravel serves as a purification. There is no need to avoid it, rather for purification purposes, it is better to walk on the gravel. Again, even if you walk on the gravel, do not walk in the middle, but stay on the side to pay respect to the gods worshipped.

  • 04

    Paying respects: Proper way to pray

    Once reaching the main hall comes the time for the prayer. Here is how the prayer works.
    1.Bow once at a 45 degree angle.

    2. Give some offerings (money) to the gods which is referred to as “saisen” in Japanese. To wish for good fortune, many people offer 5-yen coins as its pronounciation is identical to “goen” meaning “good luck” or “to have a good relationship/connections” . After you made the offerings, if there is a bell hanging down, go ahead and ring it to let the gods know you came to visit.

    3. Bow twice deeply at 90 degrees angle.

    4. Press your hands together in front of your chest, then slightly slide down the right hand so that it is a tad lower than the left hand.

  • 5. Clap twice, and say your prayer in silence.

    6. Bow once deeply at 90 degrees angle

    This “Bow Twice, Clap Twice, Bow Once” is the standard routine for many Shinto shrines however, there are differences depending on the shrines. If you would want to pay respect to the shrine you will visit, ask the priests and they will help you. These rituals may seem difficult at first, both the praying and the cleansing, but just take your time and do it slowly, one step after another – it becomes surprisingly easy. Gods won’t be mad at you for doing it wrong, but they will rather praise your efforts.