How To Worship At A Shinto Shrine

When visiting a Shinto shrine it is important to be respectful of the Shinto faith and to perform the correct shrine etiquette. This post will go through the entire process from start to finish so that you can worship in a respectful and correct way.

Entering the Shrine

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Make sure not to walk in the middle of the torii (the wooden TT-shaped gates) or sando (the path leading to the shrine) – it is believed that this sacred space is where kami walk.

Te Mizu (Hand Purification) 

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The first thing that you need to do before worshipping is to purify yourself. If possible, it is ideal to shower yourself before you arrive at the shrine. In any case you must purify yourself by washing both your hands and mouth in the shrine’s bachi (wash basin).

  • Pick up the ladle in your right hand and rinse your left hand. The spilled water should be spilled onto the gravel, NOT back into the basin.
  • Holding the ladle in your left hand, rinse your right hand.
  • Hold the ladle in your right hand, pouring water into your left cupped hand and rinse out your mouth, spitting the water onto the rock area outside the basin. Do not gargle the water.
  • Rinse your left hand again and then empty the remaining water in the ladle by letting the water pour vertically down the handle, cleansing the handle for the next person.

Matsuri (Offerings)

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Next, it is customary to make an offering by dropping money into the saisen bako, or wooden box in front of the shrine. Make sure to wait your turn if the shrine is busy, and not push in front. At larger shrines it may be possible for more than one person to make offerings and pray.  Following this, you will perform nirei nihakushu ippai.

The term matsuri refers not only to offerings, but describes a state of mind – of reverance and gratitude towards the kami for all they provide, and for listening to our wishes.

If you request a special ceremony on your behalf, it is customary to make an additional offering called hatsuhoryo in gratitude for the services of the shrine and the protection of the kami.

Nirei Nihakushu Ippai (Two Bows, Two Claps, One Bow)

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When entering the shrine, you need to announce your presence to the kami by performing nirei nihakushu ippai. Some shrines have large bells on ropes (suzu) which you can ring to announce yourself to the kami. You can do that before nirei nihakushu ippai.

  • When bowing, bend approximately 90 degrees, showing gratitude and humility towards the kami.
  • When clapping, the hands are held at chest height in front of the body with the palms facing each other. Slide the right hand back slightly so that the fingertips of your right hand are about 1 inch back. With your hands slightly cupped, clap twice, making a sharp sound. This sound helps purify the area of any stagnant or negative energy. In addition, the initial clap is seen as the sending of energy, whilst the second clap is the receiving of energy.
  • Make your wish or prayer – try not to take too long as other people will be waiting. Only wish for one thing and know that the kami will do their upmost to grant this.
  • The final bow is a closing of this ritual, with a feeling of gratitude for the gifts of life you receive.

Omamori and Ema

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At any time during your shrine visit, you may purchase an ema prayer board or omamori (amulet). There are many other items you can buy at Shinto shrines, which I will cover in a future post.

Leaving the Shrine

Just before leaving the shrine, you should bow towards the area where the altar is to show your gratitude once again.


References:

Shinto Norito: A Book of Prayers, Ann Llewellyn Evans

Temizu: http://www.tsurugaoka-hachimangu.jp/manner/temizu.html

Faux pas at Shinto Shrines: http://www.qooljan.com/newsandreport/faux-pas-at-shinto-shrines/

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