Hello! My name is Kazuha Takanashi.
I started working as a miko* when I was still in school. I have been doing this work for more than 10 years and since then I have developed a strong interest in Shinto and shrines.
*(= young woman assisting Shinto priests)
People who have little contact with Shinto may wonder whether a shrine is a religion, they may have difficulties getting close to the place, or they only go to the shrine on New Year's Day. However, I think that learning about shrines and Shinto is learning about the Japanese spirit.
From now on, I intend to write little by little on this subject in order to transmit the charm of the shrines and Shinto to the greatest number of people. I also would like to say thank you in advance for your reading.
What are the right manners in a shinto shrine?
For example, if you were to visit the Imperial Palace, what would you pay attention to?
You would probably make an effort to wear formal clothes, you would straighten your back as much as possible, you would pay attention to your every move for not being rude, and you would be careful about how you speak.
When you visit a Shinto shrine, the home of the deities, it is best to behave in a way that shows your gratitude. This is called "the etiquette".
What do you do in a shrine?
How to pass under a torii
How to use the ablution fountain in the sanctuaries
- First, hold the ladle in your right hand to take the water and purify your left hand by pouring water.
- Hold the ladle in your left hand and purify your right hand.
- Hold the dipper in your right hand again, rinse your mouth, and be careful not to touch the dipper with your mouth. Spit the water onto the rocks below, not into the fountain.
- Purify your left hand.
- Rinse the handle of the ladle with the remaining water and put it back in place for the next person to use.
It is better to carry a handkerchief or towel with you to facilitate the procedure.
Let’s go to the Sandō!
The word sandō refers to the main path of a Shinto shrine. Since the deity passes through the exact middle of this path, it is best to walk on the sides when walking towards the shrine.
How to pray in a shrine in 7 steps
To convey greetings, the following expression should be used: "two bows, two claps and a prayer".
- Bow slightly;
- Gently place the money in the offering box;
- Ring the bell;
- Bow twice;
- Clap your hands twice, then say your prayers;
- Bow once;
- Bow again slightly.
This practice became common during the Meiji period.Until then, many shrines had their own way of worshiping, making 8 bows and clapping hands 8 times, or 2 bows, 4 claps, and one bow. Even today, Izumo-taisha Shrine and other shrines continue to follow these original ways of worship. However, if the shrine you are visiting has its own way of worshiping, it is good to follow it. Bowing is used to show respect, but there are many ways to do this depending on the shrine.
Should I give money to a shrine?
In the past, offerings were made not with money, but with rice. This practice is also called sanmai, which literally means "scattering rice" in Japanese. With time, exchanges were made with money and not rice, leading to a change in the practice and the Japanese began to scatter coins (saisen) instead of rice.
The aim is to transmit gratitude to the deities, and consequently I think it is important to perform this procedure with your heart. You don't even need to give a large amount of money.
Is it forbidden to walk under a torii under specific circumstances?
According to the belief, deities hate dirt. For this reason, people with recently deceased relatives and women with their periods should not enter the torii gates.
Dirt is referred to in this context by the word kegare in Japanese. It is often written with the characters of "stain" or "defilement", but in this particular context it means "withering of the spirit". In this state, it means that there is a big hole in your heart, you feel sad and painful feelings, and your energy decreases.
When we lose a loved one, a feeling of great sadness is common. For this reason, it is said that you should avoid walking through the door of a torii.
During menstruation, the hormonal imbalance causes the body and mind to be in a different state than usual. That is why it is best not to pass through a torii. Shinto priests and miko are generally required to follow these rules.
But for ordinary people who absolutely want to pray or absolutely have to go to the shrine, I think it is better not to worry too much about this rule. Just be more respectful than usual if you are in one of these situations.
In this article, I was able to explain the good manners to follow when visiting a shrine. I think that the feeling of gratitude to the deities is the most important thing when you worship at a Shinto shrine. I hope you will enjoy your next visit to the shrine, and that you will not shy away from the idea that it might be impolite to make a mistake in etiquette.
Text and photos by Kazuha Takanashi, member of the 供TOMO editorial team
★供TOMO brand manufactures products based on the image of the Japanese concept of food offerings. We export our products to France, Monaco, New Zealand, the United States and other countries.
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