Etiquette when visiting a Shinto shrine (Jinja) – Let the locals admire you
To continue my last article about Shinto, this time I am sharing with you some important manners and etiquettes when you are at Jinja!
A part of the young Japanese people may not be aware of all manners I am going to mention now (It is not uncommon that some young Vietnamese people are still criticized for inappropriate clothes when visiting a pagoda). For that reason, I think all Japanese people around you will be blown away if they see how good you are with the following etiquettes!
Let’s get it started!
Step 1: Enter the Shinto shrine
Found easily at the entrance of every Shinto shrine in Japan, a gate or torii, is the threshold to separate the world of Gods and the human-beings. It is a must that you should bow to the gate one time before entering as a way to ask the Gods for permission to get into their spiritual home.
The centre area of the gate is only for the Gods to pass through so you should walk to the side of the pathway area when going in.
Step 2: Purification
After going through the gate, it is customary to "purify yourself" at an area called Chozuya (in Japanese: 手水舎) which you also have to give a bow to.
First, you take a wooden ladle in your right hand, fill it with water, pour the water to your left hand for cleansing. Then, pass the ladle to your left hand, pour water and cleanse your right hand. When you’re done cleansing both hands, you hold the ladle in your right hand, pour some water to the palm of your left hand then carry it to your mouth to rinse it out. Do not forget to cleanse your left hand one more time after that.
Finally, you tilt the ladle so that the remaining water run down to wash the handle. Put the ladle back to its place and slightly bow to it.
Please note that you scoop the water one time only and you should follow all the steps above with that amount of water.
Step 3: Pray
There is a giant bell called suzu (鈴), hung in the central hall of the shrine. You throw ¥5 coin and shake the rope 2 or 3 times to ring the bell. By doing so, you awake the Gods so that they can hear your prayers. Before saying your prayer, you should make a bow twice and clap your hands twice. Bow again when you finish.
And before leaving the main hall, make a bow. The bows you make before and after your prayer should be at 90 degree angle while others can be done at 45 degree angle.
I’ll take a pause here to explain why Japanese people use ¥5 coin to make a wish! ¥5 and ご縁 are homophones in Japanese and both of them are pronounced as Goen (ごえん). ご縁 means fate or fortune for good things happen or a nice person you meet by coincidence in your life. For that reason, Japanese people believe that ¥5 coin can bring them good lucks.
Let’s pray for luck and good fortunes!
It is easy to find a place for a strip of fortune paper called omikuji (おみくじ) or wooden wishing plaques called Ema (絵馬).
After praying, you can go to this place to draw a fortune paper or Japanese amulet for you beloved family, friends or buy Ema to write wishes to achieve your targets as success in the exams or best performance on any important events.
When you draw a good fortune paper, you can take it home with you but if you unexpectedly draw a bad one, you should tie it at the temple (you will find the place to tie the bad fortune paper in every shrine) with the hope that the Gods help you to wash it away.
When you write your wishes on the Ema, you can hang it here or take it home. (You are given a pen to write your wish on Ema when you buy one)
Some Japanese people have a record notebook to collect all the stamps from every Jinja they pay a visit and keep them as a memory and as a life protector. These unique stamps are called Goshuin (御朱印). You can ask the staff in Jinja to get a stamp.
Jinja is my haven of peace!
I know it’s strange but excluding big and special occasions, I do not have a habit of going to pagodas or temples. I always feel unexplainably mysterious and a little scared, creepy when going there (It is a very personal thought and I do not discuss anything about temples or pagodas here). But I love going to Jinja in Japan.
I don’t even know why but possibly I find my inner peace and tranquility when walking through the torii. Maybe when at Chozuya, it purifies my body, my soul and washes all my worries and sorrows away.
After all, it is the time for me to put my life on pause for a while, take a deep breath and then, continue my life journey.
I guess you will be surprised if I tell you I come to Jinja not only for praying but also for seeking my inner peace. At the end of the day, I believe it’s worth visiting Jinja once to experience and feel the things. Don’t you think so?
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