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Temples, Shrines and Charms - A Summary of Japanese Religion

Temples, Shrines and Charms - A Summary of Japanese Religion

Translated by Shinji Takaramura

Written by Mayo Nomura

2016.10.28 Bookmark

If you plan to visit temples and shrines in Japan, it is better to know some basic information on Japanese religion. This article summarizes all you need to know in order to enjoy visiting sacred grounds in Japan.

The Differences Between Shrines and Temples


Photograph from: There Is A Great Buddha Statue in Tokyo!? Yes! At Jorenji Temple
Japan's temples and shrines are the institutions of two different religions, Buddhism (temples) and Shintoism (shrines). In terms of design, there are Buddhist statues and graveyards inside the temple grounds, while at shrines torii (archway gates) can be seen.

Another image of shrines is that of places to worship and celebrate, while temples are places for memorial services and to pay respects to one's ancestors.

For further information, take a look at the following articles.

Also read:

Temple or Shrine, What's the Difference?
Things You Don’t Often Hear: The Difference Between “Jinja”, “Taisha”, “Jingū” and “Gū”

How to Visit Temples and Shrines


Photograph from: Toyoiwa Inari Shrine - A Hidden Shrine in Ginza
Since the religion is different, visiting manners to a temple or shrine are also different.

How to Pay a Visit to a Shrine

The following is the proper procedure when visiting a shrine.

1. Wash Your Hands at the Chozuya


Wash your hands and rinse your mouth at the chozuya (purification place).

2. Ring the Bell at the Main Shrine


There is a large bell with a long rope at the main shrine. Swing the rope firmly and ring the bell.

3. Throw in the Osaisen (Money Offering)


Some people just throw the money in, but dropping it quietly is the right way.

4. Nirei, Nihakushu (Two Bows, Two Claps)


Bow twice, and clap your hands twice.

5. Praying


Place your hands together, but don't interlace your fingers. One hand should be placed slightly in front of the other.

6. Bow Once


Take a final bow. The fourth, fifth and the sixth step may be different at each shrine. If you want to do it properly, ask the staff at the shrine for assistance.

For further information, please take a look at the following article.

Also read:

Things You Don't Often Hear: How to Pay a Visit to a Shrine

How to Pray at a Temple

The following is the proper manner to pray at a temple. The biggest difference from the shrine is that you don't clap your hands at the temple.

1. Wash Your Hands at the Chozuya

asakusa temple 44

Photograph from: A Guide to get the Most out of Sensoji Temple
This is the same as at the shrine. If there is a chozuya, wash your hands.

2. Soak in the Smoke


If there is a jokoro (incense burner), soak in its smoke. This is a way to purify your body. The incense burner has a canopy, and smoking is performed as shown in the photograph above.

3. Throw in the Osaisen and Pray


To repeat, do not clap your hands. Hold your hands together, and bow.

4. Bow Once, and Step Back from the Main Temple Hall


After the prayer, make a slight bow, and step back from the main temple hall.

Also read:

Four Things to Do When Visiting Shrines in Japan

How to Properly Pray at a Temple

A Guide to get the Most out of Sensoji Temple

The Mysterious Smoke at Sensoji

Check Out the Omikuji

fox fortune telling

Photograph from: The Fox-themed Items at Fushimi Inari in Kyoto (Japanese)
The Japanese love to draw a omikuji (fortune telling slips) at a shrine or a temple, to see how their luck will turn out.

Don't worry if the result isn't good. It only costs 100 to 200 yen, so just draw them and have fun.

If you want to learn more about omikuji, take a look at the following article.

Also read:

Japanese Encyclopedia: Omikuji (Fortune Telling)

The Eto Goods at the Shrine

animal year

In Japan, similar to the constellations assigned to each month of the year, a specific animal from a group of 12, called eto, is assigned every year.

That is why the Japanese say things like "the year of the rabbit."

An omamori (charm or amulet) with a design of that year's animal is sold at shrines. If the animal of the year you were born is being sold, that might make a nice souvenir of your trip.

If you want to know the symbolic animal of your birth year, take a look at this English Wikipedia page.

To learn more about eto, read the following article.

Also read:

Japanese Encylopedia: Eto and Juni-Shi (Chinese Zodiac)

What is an Omamori?


Photograph from: Sensoji Temple: How to Handle Charms (Asakusa)
An omamori (charm/amulet) is an item to ensure good fortune, sold at shrines and temples. Each omamori has its own power, such as keeping the owner safe, or inviting good fortune - it depends on which type you select.

For further information, read the following article.

Also read:

Sensoji Temple: How to Handle Charms (Asakusa)

An Ema: Making a Wish Come True


Photograph from: Make Your Wish At A Shrine! How To Dedicate Ema
An ema used to mean a wooden tablet dedicated to a shrine or a temple to offer thanks for making a wish come true. Now, it is used to send one's wishes to the deities. If you want to learn more, read the article Japanese Encyclopedia: "Ema" and "Goriyaku".

Also read:

Japanese Encyclopedia: "Ema" and "Goriyaku"

Goshuin: Stamp Seals from Shrines and Temples


Photograph from: Sacred Monkeys in Central Tokyo: Hie Shrine
A goshuin is a stamp seal to prove that a person has visited a shrine or a temple. If you plan to visit shrines and temples, collecting these beautiful seals will be fun.


Photograph from: Collect Seal Stamps from Japanese Temples and Shrines

For further information, read the following article.

Also read:

Collect Seal Stamps from Japanese Temples and Shrines

How to Properly Visit a Grave


Photograph from: Cemetery Landscape; Feel Someone's Presence at Yanaka Cemetery, Nippori
There is often a graveyard inside the temple grounds. If you're going to visit someone's grave, be sure to check the article How to Visit a Grave Using Good Manners.

Also read:

【SUMMER】Spirits of Lost Ones Come Back: Obon
Japanese Encyclopedia: Tōrō Nagashi ("Lanterns On The River")

What do you think? It may seem that there are many rules, but even the Japanese don't know all the rules regarding the right manners at shrines and temples. Don't worry too much, and enjoy visiting the various Japanese shrines and temples!

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.

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