All About Japan

Basic Etiquette at Japanese Temples & Shrines

| Temples & Shrines

Blogger/filmmaker Davy Michiels has put together a quick little guide to temple and shrine etiquette in Japan. While most Japanese people aren't too fussed about what you actually do as long as you're polite, you may enjoy knowing the standard procedures so you can take part yourself!

Michiels starts with an easy way to spot the difference between a Shinto Shrine and a Buddhist Temple (check the gate!), and goes on to the basic hand-washing technique at the temizuya, or fountain, by the entrance. There are actually a number of ways to wash your hands, so don't sweat it too much!

To pray at a shrine, you typically throw in a ¥5 coin, ring the little bell at the altar, bow twice, clap twice and hold the second clap, then pray and finish with another bow. At temples, you usually just toss in your coin, then pray quietly. Temple bells tend to be pretty big and off to the side, so don't go about ringing them!

You may also see an incense stand (線香立て・senko-tate) before the main hall of a temple. Waving the smoke toward you is supposed to have a beneficial effect on the part of your body you wave it on.

Michiels' guide is made all the more palatable by footage of some beautiful temples and shrines around Japan. He offers shots of Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺), Ninna-ji (仁和寺), Yasui Konpira-gu (安井金比羅宮), Mount Kurama (鞍馬山・Kurama-yama) and Byodo-in (平等院) in Kyoto; Todai-ji (東大寺) in Nara; Kazenomiya Shrine (風宮神社・Kazenomiya Jinja) in Kurayoshi, Tottori Prefecture; and Kotohira-gu Shrine (金刀比羅宮・Kotohira-gu) in the town of Kotohira, Kagawa Prefecture.

You might want to finish off a temple or shrine visit by buying an omikuji (おみくじ), or fortune. There are a number of types, ranging from "great blessings" (大吉・dai-kichi) to "great curse" (大凶・dai-kyo)—but don't worry: most tend to be in the good-to-great range!