Feb 1, 2018

Hello Japan, Hello Shrines

Culture is a part of every nation. Every part of the country and its culture, together with its tradition, plays an important role in how the people living in that particular place act and react. Being in Japan, even for a short while, you will experience some of its unique and undeniably one-of-a-kind culture. From traditional dress to the green tea ceremony, the myriad of unique cultural experiences will make you believe that Japan is indeed a one-of-a-kind country.

My new blog post here on City-Cost will feature some rituals that are part of Japanese tradition when visiting a shrine, and what to do or, indeed, what not to do. For Japan’s religion is part of its culture. In Japan there are two major religions, Shinto and Buddhism (even though some claim that Buddhism is not a religion). The shrines I visited in Japan are amazingly beautiful places, with some of them having been standing since the oldest times of Japan.

The first thing to know is what we should do upon arrival at a shrine in Japan. Basically, like in any other religion, we should behave in calm manner and respect the god enshrined in that particular shrine. According to what I’ve read, you are not supposed to visit the shrine if you have some illness or you are feeling sick. This is considered as an impurity.

There’s always a purification fountain (chozuya) near the shrine’s entrance. As the name suggests, it will be the first step before proceeding to the shrine itself -- you need to purify yourself. There is a proper way to use the purification fountain. Usually you can find an illustration to guide you on how to do, but in case there is none, below is the proper practice in getting yourself purified at the fountain.

1. Take one of the ladles provided at the purification fountain using your right hand.
2. Fill it with the water from the fountain and wash your left hand first, then transfer the ladle to your left hand to wash your right hand.
3. After washing your hands, transfer once more the ladle to your right hand and pour some water into your left hand using this to rinse your mouth.
4. Last step is to hold the ladle vertically to let the remaining water flow down the ladle.
Please be careful to not directly rinse your mouth using the ladle. And don’t skip this ritual before going to the shrine's "offering hall".

After the purification ritual you may now proceed to the offering hall. At the offering hall (and "offering box"), like the purification ritual, there is also a proper way of making an offering. As much as possible, please follow the rituals to feel how the Japanese make their offerings to their gods.

1. Bow once, slightly.
2. Throw a coin in the offering box. Basically, the value of the coins to be tossed isn't so important. However, some Japanese people believe that throwing or tossing a five-yen coin (5¥) will stand them in better stead when it comes to relationships as “go-en” or "5-yen" has a connection to the term “relationship” in Japanese.
3. If there is a gong (bell), ring it twice or thrice. People believe that doing so will get the god’s attention.
4. Bow twice but unlike the first bow, make a nearly 90-degree bow or deep bow.
5. Clap your hands twice also.
6. Pray
7. Bow once more. This time deeply.

What are the things to avoid when visiting a shrine in Japan?

Simple things first -- being loud and noisy when speaking. Please bear in mind that Japanese people believe that their gods reside in their shrines so you must be respectful.

The second thing is not to capture or shoot photos inside the shrine. Be careful and watch for the signs -- they are usually easy to understand.

Hello Japan, Hello Shrines photo

Long queue at the Hakone Shrine offering hall.

If you have any comments or suggestions to improve this article just add your thoughts below at the comment section. It will be highly appreciated to improve my article and make it more useful to the expat community.

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