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Visitors Guide to Japanese Shrines and Temples

Japan is famous for its beautiful temples and rich culture but it can be a little overwhelming when first trying to navigate these places respectfully. No need to worry though, here is a condensed guide for all things you need to know.

Photo by Keegan Hasegawa

Shrines and Temples are Different

First and foremost, there is a distinction between Shrines (Jinjya) and Temples (Otera).


Shrine or "Jinjya"

Temple or "Otera"





Shinto Gods


Separating Factors

Has a Tori Gate

Accomodation for religious personel

Shrine Etiquette:

At the Torī gate, it is common practice to bow as a sign of respect before entering. Once you enter you should see a small washing area otherwise known as a Temizuya. Here, you must wash you hands with the following steps:

  1. Use your right hand to grab the ladle and fill it with water. Pour the water on your left hand. Repeat the process with opposite hands.

  2. While it is customary to do this next step it can be optional. Use your right hand and pour water into your left hand and rinse your mouth. Clean your left hand again with the ladle.

  3. Refill the ladle and tilt it upwards to let water flow over the handle, purifying the part that you touched with your hand.

Afterwards, move to the shrine. Here you will bow and clap your hands. This customary act is referred to as "nirei nihakushu ichirei," which translates to "two bows, two claps, and one final bow.

Temple Etiquette:

When you walk up to the altar, perform a single bow, then gently ring the bell suspended from the ceiling using the rope. You have the option to offer incense by placing it in the designated area and making a monetary offering into the collection box. It is most common to use the 5 yen coin (五円, pronounced as "go-en"). The significance lies in a play on words, as "go-en" (御縁) also means "good luck" in Japanese. Hence, numerous shrine visitors choose to give one or more 5 yen coins, believing it brings them luck. After making the offering join your hands together and offer a silent prayer, unlike the Shrine do not clap or bow at the conclusion of your prayer.


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