What do you do at a Shinto Shrine?
Which are the most famous Shinto shrines you have to visit?
And how are they different from a temple?
Here’s what you need to know…
Table of Contents
What Is A Shinto Shrine?
Shinto Shrines are everywhere in Japan and for good reason. In fact, there are over 80,000 of them.
Shrines are a quintessential part of Japanese culture and many locals add visiting one as part of their daily routine.
The shrines main purpose is to house a kami, which the Shinto religion believes are spirits or holy powers.
Each shrine houses the body of the kami, which can be represented by man-made objects such as jewelry or natural occurrences such as a waterfall.
So, what happens at a Shinto Shrine? What objects are typically found there? Why do the Japanese view them so fondly?
What do you do at a Shinto Shrine?
Shrines are usually visited with a specific purpose in mind. For instance, if a loved one has ill health then a shrine may be visited to pray for their quick recovery.
With so many shrines in Japan, it stands to reason that they don’t all represent the same thing.
Tenjin is the god of scholarship, so it is usually visited when business ventures or exam success is needed.
If you’re seeking love then you may want to visit the Tokyo Daijingu as here you can pray for your path to cross with your soulmate.
How to Pray in a Shinto Shrine?
So, you’re in Japan and you want to visit a shrine? If so, then make sure that you follow these rules so that you don’t end up upsetting the locals.
Make sure you don’t visit a shrine if you don’t feel well, as you’ll be seen as bringing impurities with you.
Only priests are permitted to go inside the shrine structure which is known as the haiden.
You can pray from the outside but make sure you don’t stand directly in front of the offering box, as this is regarded as the passageway for the gods to walk through.
You can make a donation in the offering box which is known as the saisen-bako. It’s best to drop your donation in with care and then move away to let others make their offering.
If you go at a busy time and the only option you have is to throw your offering into the box then make sure that you do it as respectfully as you can.
The Japanese regard the 5 yen coin as good luck, while the 10 yen coin is said to bring bad luck. My advice would be to stock up on 5 yen coins before you visit the shrine.
Ringing the Bell
If there is a bell in front of the Haiden then feel free to ring it, as this bell is believed to call the kami while also warding off evil spirits.
If there isn’t a bell or the bell is tied away then you can miss this part out and go straight into praying.
When praying at a Shinto Shrine, it’s important to follow the two-two-one rule, as this will remind you of the proper order in which it’s custom to pray.
Firstly, great the kami by bowing deeply two times while maintaining a straight back.
Next, clap two times to show appreciation, make sure that when your hands meet your right hand is just below your left as the right hand represents ‘you’ and the left the ‘kami’ you’re praying to.
Now you’re ready to offer a silent prayer. If it’s your first visit there then it’s custom to tell the kami your name and address and give thanks before you continue with your request.
Remember to finish with a bow before you leave.
Some shrines are known only by locals while others are well known and receive visitors from different parts of the world.
Below I have listed some well-known shrines and why they are so sought after.
Ise Grand Shrine
The Ise Grand Shrine is located in the city of Ise and dates back to the 3rd century. It’s considered to be Japan’s most sacred shrine.
This comprises of 125 shrines, with the main central shrine being dedicated to the sun goddess Jingu.
Here, the Sacred Mirror of the Emperor resides which is said to have been gifted by the sun goddess herself.
This mesmerizing shrine pulls in over 6 million visitors every year.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Located in Kyoto, the Fushimi Inari Shrine shrine is known for the 5000 orange torii gates that lead the way to the shrine which is located up the mountain.
This shrine is dedicated to the god of rice, Inari and was built in the 8th century when agriculture was on the demise.
Dozens of fox statues can be found at this shrine, as the fox is seen as a messenger of grain foods.
This shrine can be found in the city of Izumo and is regarded as one of the most important shrines in Japan.
Belief is that this shrine is the yearly meeting point amongst the kami which takes place in November.
Many vistoris believe that luck and good fortune will come their way if they visit while one of these meetings is in occurrence.
Tsubaki Grand Shrine
The Tsubaki Grand Shrine is found in Washington State, USA. It was the first shrine built in this country after World War Two.
It’s the main shrine of Sarutahiko-No-O-Kami who is the kami of positiveness, justice, and guidance.
Structures and Objects Found in a Shrine
There are many kinds of objects found in a shrine. There are also specific names for the structure of a shrine.
Below is a list of some of the objects and structures that you’re likely to see on your visit to a Shinto Shrine.
This is a traditional Japanese gate that is most commonly found at the entrance to the Shinto Shrine.
It symbolizes the transition into sacred ground.
The komainu are known in English as lion-dogs and are paired statues of lion-like creatures that are usually found standing guard at the entrance of the honden or in the inner shrine.
Sometimes, instead of lion-dogs the statues are of foxes as these creatures are held in high regard in the Shinto religion.
This trough is found near the entrance to the shrine and is used to clean your hands and mouth before entering the shrine.
It’s custom to use the ladle provided to collect water for purification before entering the shrine.
Main and Offering Hall
The main hall is known as the honden and the offering hall is known as the haiden.
Sometimes they’re combined into two buildings and other times they’re separate.
Some shrines have stages, these are used for special performances such as kagura, which is a form of dance that is dedicated to Shinto gods.
These wooden plates are found near to the shrine. Visitors often leave their wishes on these in the hope that they’ll come true.
These fortune-telling paper slips are drawn at random and contain predictions for the future.
They’re commonly tied around a tree branch to bring good luck forward or to avert bad luck.
This straw rope has white zigzag paper strips on it.
It’s often found on torii gates and marks the boundaries to a sacred place.
This pavillion has an appearance similar to that of a wishing well and is used for the ceremonial purification of water.
This is a building in the shrine grounds where priests can rest and visitors can purchase talisman to protect their homes.
The haiden is known as the offering hall and is usually found in front of the shrine.
This is the box in which money is offered in. It’s usually made of wood and is covered by a top grate.
The honden is the main part of the shrine where the kami is kept. It’s regarded as the most sacred space of a shrine.
These are miniature shrines that can be found alongside larger shrines, usually because they are both connected to the same kami.
These paper tags can be purchased from shrines and hung in homes as talisman to offer protection.
The name of the kami and shrine are inscribed on them.
These are decorative arrows that are sold at shrines and are especially popular around New Year.
They’re said to attract good luck and ward off misfortune.
These are protection charms that are usually sold at shrines. They often come in a colorful, rectangular shaped pouch with embroidery on them stating what power is held within.
These pouches remain closed as opening them is said to remove their power.
This is the entrance path to the main shrine. Usually these are built from stone in a straight line unless the shrine is on a mountain in which case the sandou will likely be a soil path.
These traditional Japanese lamps can be found along the sandou and they’re placed there to light up the pathway.
These stone monuments have inscribings on them.
Sometimes these markings represent the name of the shrine while other times they have inscribings on them about the object of worship.
FAQs: The Short Answers
Below are some to-the-point answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Shinto Shrines.
1. What is a Shinto Shrine?
A Shinto Shrine is a structure that houses one or more kamis, which are represented by sacred objects.
These shrines are popular amongst visitors, especially during the New Year and other festivals.
2. How is a Shinto Shrine Different From a Temple?
Shrines are part of the Shinto religion while temples are part of Buddhism. They’re both unconnected religions that have different practices of worship.
3. What do People Usually do in a Shinto Shrine?
Usually, shrines are visited by people with a specific request for the kami.
They will toss a coin into the offering box then follow the two-two-one rule of bowing twice, clapping twice then making a silent prayer.
They will bow again before they leave the shrine.
4. When Not to Visit a Shinto Shrine?
It is a tradition that you don’t visit a Shinto Shrine if you’re sick or mourning as this is a sign of impurity.
5. What is the Dress Code?
There isn’t a specific dress code for visiting Shinto Shrines.
They attract many tourists throughout the year so it’s commonplace to see visitors in shorts, jeans and skirts.
6. Why are Many Shinto Shrines Found in Forests and Mountains?
You can find lots of shrines nestled amongst forests or on mountains as both of these are considered sacred places.
7. How Much Should You Donate?
Most people donate coins which range from 5 yen to 100 yen.
However much you choose to donate it is advisable to offer it in blocks of 5 yen coins, as these are thought to be good luck.
The number 5 means ‘go’ in Japenese and yen is pronounced ‘en’. go-en means honourably good luck.
This is why the 5 yen coin is regarded so highly above others.
8. Why is it Custom to Tell the Kami Your Name and Address During First Time Pray at a Shrine?
Telling the kami your name and address before you pray to them for the first time may seem strange but there’s a reason for this custom.
Sometimes a mikoshi takes place, this is where the artifact representing the kami is taken by worshippers through the neighborhood.
If the kami pass your house them they are said to bring you good fortune.
It’s also said that the kami like to discuss who they have granted prays for when they have their annual meeting which is held at the Izumo Grand Shrine.
9. How Long Should You Stay at a Shinto Shrine For?
As long as you visit during opening hours then there is no time limit.
If you are respectful of other visitors then there is no reason why you can’t stay for as long as you’d like.