Shinto Shrine is a structure to house Gods and ancestors. Thus, visiting the Shinto shrine is a ceremony to worship the Gods. Also, Japanese people believe that Shinto shrine is a place for purification, so another purpose for visiting Shinto shrine is to pray for good luck.
Typical Objects at a Shinto shrine
At Shinto Shrines, the following objects and structures can often be seen.
Torii is a traditional Japanese gate, which is known as the entrance of a Shinto shrine. The main function of Torii is to mark the space between the sacred and the profane. So it is the simplest way to distinguish Shinto shrines from Buddhist temples. Torii is traditionally made of wood or stone, but nowadays many of them are also made of reinforced concrete, steel and other materials. The most common colors of the Torii are orange and black.
Lion-dog, which is also referred to as Komainu in Japanese, is a pair of lion-like guardians. They can be usually found on each side of the entrance or inner shrine. However, the guardians are not limited to lions or dogs. In fact, the most famous kind of Komainu is fox, which is the symbol of Inari Shrines.
Ema is a small wooden plates which shrine visitors usually write their prayers and wishes on. Visitors will hang it up at a particular place in the shrine, waiting for the Gods to realize their hopes. A large number people come to Shinto shrine to pray for health, business, love as well as a baby.
According to the shrines, the manners may be a little bit different. Here I will introduce the general manners of visiting the shrines.
In front of Torii
Since the inside of Torii is regarded as the holly place where the enshrined Gods live, therefore, before we go through the Torii, we should show respect to the enshrined Gods. There are several points we should pay attention to. First, we should stop in front of the Torii, make ourselves tidy and have the hat off. Then, we should make a slight bow religiously.
Pass through the shrine
When we walk into the shrine, bear in mind that we should walk down the way slowly on the side. Generally Speaking, we usually walk on the left side. Only the Gods as well as the priests, who sever the Gods, are able to walk in the middle of the way.
Water place- Temizuya
After we go through the Torii, we will then get to the water place, which is referred to as Temizuya in Japanese. This is a place for us to clean our body and mind before we visit the Gods. After the ceremonial purification, we can visit the Gods in a pure condition.
The purification procedure involves the following steps.
First, please hold a scoop by the right hand, scoop water and then purify the left hand. Second, switch the scoop to the left hand, scoop water, and then wash the right hand. Third, switch the scoop back to the right hand, scoop water, pour water on the left hand, and then wash the mouth by water poured on the left hand. Please pay attention that we should not wash the mouth directly from the scoop. Also, we should not drink the mouthwash. Finally, purify the left hand by water, stand the scoop in front of the chest, purify the handle of the scoop by running water and then put the scoop down.
Pray hall- Haiden
After the cleaning, we will head to the worship hall, which is referred to as Haiden in Japanese. As I have mentioned earlier, please confirm that the hat has been put off. Also, you are not allowed to walk in the middle of the way.
When we get in front of the worship hall, we should bow to the Haiden. If there is a bell in the hall, then please ring the bell. Japanese people believe that the sound has great power. Ringing the bell will help them to exorcise the ghosts and purify themselves. Also, they believe that the sound of the ringing bell will call the God into the shrine. Therefore, before we step into the hall, we should ring the bell.
After that, we can head to the offertory box and then make the money offering. Making money offering has a special meaning. It shows our intention to abandon the material desires and pursue the unselfishness. Usually, there is no specific amount of money that you should throw. However, as to the Japanese people, they usually throw 5 yen coins. It is because “5 yen” has the same pronunciation as “ご縁” in Japanese, which means good luck. Thus, you can often see Japanese people collect 5 yen coins in order to pray for good luck.
After the money offering, we should move back to the front of the hall, deeply bow two times with the respect to the Gods. After that, put the hands together in front of the chest, slightly slide the right hand backward, and then clap the hands twice with beautiful sound. After clapping the hands, slightly slide the right hand back, pray to the God and put the hands down. The movement of sliding hands means that the God and us have not been integrated into one. After we clapping two times, the God has been called to come into our body. Sliding the hand back means that the God and us have become one flesh. At that time what we have prayed is likely to realize since it has the power of God.
Finally, deeply bow to the hall, step back, slightly bow again, and then leave the hall.
Before we leave
When we leave the shrine, we will also pass through the Torii. Also, just as we enter the shrine, we should walk on the left side of the way silently to the entrance. And when we go through the Torii, stop, turn around and do a slight bow facing the shrine in order to show the respect to the Gods.
The above is all the manners we should remember when visiting Shinto shrines. Don’t forget them, and enjoy the time at Shinto shrines!