Learn about Shinto - How to behave in a shinto shrine

【Author’s presentation】

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)

供TOMO Shinto & shrine blog・miko

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?

供TOMO Shinto & shrine blog・Etiquette and 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?

供TOMO Shinto & shrine blog・how to pray in a shinto shrine

Shinto differs greatly from many other religions because it has no doctrine or teaching book. Of course, Shinto priests have mastered many rules related to worship. However, if you ask a simple worshiper what the etiquette is, this person will probably not know how to answer. In other words, no matter how you worship, if one were to answer the question "what do you do in a shrine", I would say that it is a place where one can confess gratitude to the deities. Even if you can't do everything like a Shinto priest, I think it is very important to know the proper etiquette and to apply it.

Now let's take a look at some specific Shinto rituals.

How to pass under a torii

供TOMO Shinto & shrine blog・Manners in a shrine・what is a torii

Many shrines  have doors called torii. This torii marks the boundary between the secular and the sacred world, and tells us that behind this gate is the "territory of the divine". Some shrines have many torii, and it is said that these gates are placed at the boundary of places where the sacredness is higher. When you pass under a torii, stop in front of it and bow slightly. If there is more than one torii, you should bow at each one. Try to stand up straight and put your clothes back on. Finally, when you leave the shrine, you should turn around and bow slightly after crossing the torii.

How to use the ablution fountain in the sanctuaries

供TOMO Shinto & shrine blog・How to use the ablution fountain in a shrine

The fountain located at the entrance of the shrines is called temizuya by the Shinto Shrine Association. This is the most common name. However, other shrines may give it different names, such as chōzuya, chōzusha, or temizusha at Okunitama Shrine.

Nowadays, many shrines explain how to use this fountain, but I will still explain the procedure.
  1.  First, hold the ladle in your right hand to take the water and purify your left hand by pouring water.
  2.  Hold the ladle in your left hand and purify your right hand.
  3.  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.
  4.  Purify your left hand.
  5.  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.

This hand water cleansing, also called misogi, is a shorter and simplified practice of misogi, a Japanese practice of body and mind cleansing. Temizui is an abbreviated form of misogi (=purification of the body and mind), and aims to purify the body before visiting a shrine. Since Shinto deities do not like dirt, it is imperative to purify yourself before going to the shrine.

Let’s go to the Sandō!

供TOMO Shinto & shrine blog・What is a

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

供TOMO Shinto & shrine blog・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".

  1. Bow slightly;
  2. Gently place the money in the offering box;
  3. Ring the bell;
  4. Bow twice;
  5. Clap your hands twice, then say your prayers;
  6. Bow once;
  7. 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?

供TOMO Shinto & shrine blog・Money donation in a shinto 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?

供TOMO Shinto & shrine blog・Rules to follow for walking under a torii in Japan

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.

For those who absolutely want to respect this state of purity, there is also another way to worship outside the torii. Worshiping the deities from the foot of a mountain with a shrine at the top, or from a place far from a place of worship, is a common practice in Japan. When you go to a shrine on New Year's Day, you will see worshipers gathering in the middle of the worship hall to pray, but the deities can observe all the people praying, no matter where they are.
So being a little far from the shrine does not diminish your gratitude to the deities or their divine power.


供TOMO Shinto & shrine blog・Ema in shrines

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

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供TOMO Shinto & shrine blog・Café Genshin - organic brown rice coffee

供TOMO Shinto & shrine blog・Café Genshin - organic brown rice coffee

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