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How to Pray at a Shinto Shrine in Japan?

Shinto shrines are an important aspect of Japanese culture. Although the majority of Japanese people are not religious, the country maintains a blend of Buddhist and Shinto rituals that have been embedded in daily life. Visiting a Shinto shrine to pray to the gods is one such ritual. If you have the opportunity to visit a Shinto shrine, here is how you pray at a Shinto Shrine in Japan.

Where to go

People in Japan often visit shrines for a specific purpose, such as wishing for a family member’s rapid recovery from illness, or in the case of pregnant women, praying for the safe delivery of their child.

Some shrines are identified with specific kami (deities), therefore tourists gather there en masse to seek the gods’s favor. For example, people may travel to a shrine linked with Ebisu, the god of commerce, to pray for success in a commercial enterprise or a shrine associated with Tenjin, the deity of scholarship, to beg for luck in passing their examinations. Figure out what you are praying for and which god is allocated for that need before venturing out to discover a temple.

How to Pray at a Shinto Shrine in Japan

Before you pray, purify yourself.

It is critical to be in excellent health when visiting a shrine so that you do not bring any ‘impurity’ with you. When you enter the shrine, there is a water pavilion near the entrance called a temizuya where you can cleanse before approaching the gods. There may also be a huge incense burner nearby for smoke purification.

Approach the haiden

In the haiden, you pay your respects to the kami-sama. More sophisticated ceremonies are performed within the hall by a Shinto priest, but you can pray from the outside. A ‘saisen-bako’, or offertory box, is located in front of the haiden. Approach the box, but don’t stand directly in front of it. The corridor through which the gods walk is called as the ‘sei-chuu.’

Credit: Wikipedia

Make an offering

Drop or hurl an offering into the saisen-bako with care. You should avoid flinging your offering, though this may be difficult during the hectic new year season when big people visit the shrine for the first time of the year, and you may have to stand further away from the offertory box. Toss the money’respectfully’ in this circumstance.

While the amount of the donation is less important than the sincerity of your prayers, superstition holds that particular yen amounts bring good or bad luck. The five-yen coin is thought to be a favorable pick since it sounds similar to ‘go-en,’ the Japanese word for luck (ご縁). The ten-yen coin, despite being valued twice as much, is considered unlucky because it sounds like 遠縁 (‘tou-en’), which signifies that your luck will be far away, or as a Magic 8 Ball would say, ‘outlook not so good.’

Ring the bell

If there is a bell in front of the haiden, grab the rope with both hands and shake it vigorously to summon the kami-sama. The ringing of the bell was traditionally thought to ward off evil spirits. As a result, ringing also serves to clear the way for the kami-arrival. sama’s

Some shrines do not have a bell, or the bell is tied away, in which case you can skip this step and make your prayer instead.

二礼二拍手一礼 (Two-two-one)

Two-two-one (二礼二拍手一礼) or ‘ni-rei, ni-hakushu, ichi-rei’ is a phrase used by Japanese people to remember the correct order for worshipping at a shrine. It translates to ‘two bows, two claps, one bow.’

First, bow deeply twice to greet the kami-sama. Bend gently and deliberately at a 90-degree angle from the waist, keeping your back straight.

Then, clap twice to show your gratitude to the kami-sama. As you clap, your hands should be around chest-high and open to about shoulder-width apart. When your palms come together, your right hand should be somewhat lower than your left, as the left hand represents the kami-sama and the right hand represents the one praying, i.e. you. Clapping, similar to ringing bells, can also be used to ward off evil spirits.

Then, say a silent prayer to Kami-sama. If this is your first visit to the shrine, you should inform the kami-sama your name and address (yes, really) and express your gratitude before making any special requests.

Although it may appear absurd, the rationale for this is that the kami-sama occasionally leaves its shrine in a special palanquin known as a ‘mikoshi.’ As worshippers carry the mikoshi about the neighborhood, the kami-sama remembers who has visited the shrine and observes who lives there. (It’s true.)

Another explanation is that the kami meet in November for a large ‘gathering of the gods’ to party during the Kamiari Festival, which is held at Izumo Grand Shrine. So, if a specific kami has granted a desire for you or your family, it can speak with the resident kami of your local shrine about you. (Really, it’s true.)

Exit with a last bow at the conclusion of your prayer. It should be a deep 90-degree bow, same like before.

Exceptions

While the above is the most common way to pray at most Shinto shrines, some shrines have their own unique prayer style, such as Ise Grand Shrine in Mie prefecture, Japan’s most important Shinto shrine, where priests follow the ceremonial pattern of ‘hachi-dohai, ya-hirade’ (八度拝八開手) or eight bows, eight claps.

Noah

You see, my love for Japan is not only based on personal experience; it's based on a deep admiration for Japanese culture, history, and traditions. Thank you, Japan, for being a constant source of inspiration, joy, and wonder in my life. I may never be able to express my love for Japan in person, but I hope that through my blog and my writing, I can share a small piece of my admiration and devotion with the world.

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