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Japanese Temple Etiquette; 4 Things I Want To Tell You Before Visiting

Culture, Etiquettes
Culture, Etiquettes
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Japan is home to thousands of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.

Visiting those sacred places is one of the top attractions for many international visitors but have you learn how to pay your respects???

I explain the shrine etiquette in this post here,

Besides, visiting the temple is slightly different from those in shrines.

The essential manner for both is of course the honest feelings of respect. Learn these manners so you can enjoy the experience while respecting the Japanese customs and religion.

Bow Before The Gate

ninnou gate, Tanigumisan, Kegonji, Gifu, Japan

The temple has an entrance gate called “Sanmon” (山門). It is the same as “Torii” gate at shrines, which is the boundary between the world and the sanctuary.

Take off your cap.

The inside area from the gate is the place where the Buddha is enshrined. To show respect take off your cap. Bow, and proceed without stepping on the threshold.

Tangumisan, Kegonji, Japanese temple, Gifu, the main path

To approach to the main hall, you don’t have to avoid walking in the middle of the path like a shrine.

It repeats the same steps when going out of the gate on the way back from the temple. Bow to the temple.

Photos From Tabigumisan Kegonji Temple

Purify Yourself

Have you ever seen Japanese worshippers rinse their hands and mouth at the basin before entering the main hall? This is not for washing your hands.

The basin is called “Temizuya” or “Chozuya” (手水舎), you need to stop by to purifying your hands & mouth before proceeding toward the main hall.

Not like shrines, some temples don’t apply Temizuya. If a temple you visit doesn’t have Temizuya, you don’t have to worry, go a head to the main hall.

how to purify your hands and mouth at Temizuya, shrine

  1. Take one of the ladles by your RIGHT hand, scoop water with it, and rinse the LEFT hand.
  2. Switch to the LEFT hand, so rinse your RIGHT hand.
  3. Switchback the ladle to the RIGHT hand, and scoop the water and pour the water to the LEFT palm, and rinse your mouth.
  4. Rinse the LEFT hand again.
  5. After all, hold the ladle vertically to rinse (purify) the handle.
  6. Put the ladle back like a picture.

Since a series of these steps should be done with one water supply, make sure to scoop enough water first.

To rinse your mouth, do not touch lips to the ladle.

The Main Hall

The Incense Bunner

koukaku, the banner, temple

In a large temple, there is an incense burner (Kokaku; 香閣) where you can bathe in the smoke of incense sticks.

This is also one of the steps to purify yourself to enter the sacred area.

It is good to apply the smoke to the concerning parts of the body.

To The Altar

ring a bell, the alter, temple, shrine

Gently toss the offer (coins) into the wooden bow. At a shrine, generally clap hands following a certain rule, but it doesn’t require at the temple.

If a bell is available, ring it about three times and pray putting hands together.

After the pray, bow deeply again.

How Much You Should Offer???

osaisen box, saisen, offering money, shrine, temple, Japan

Generally, there is no rule on how much you should offer to the temple, so you can throw the offer with your feeling.

But, you don’t know the common amount of the offer, do you?

Japanese coins, currency

Some people say that the most common amounts are “two 5-yen coins” or “100-yen coins.”

In my experiences, I offer a few coins less than 100 yen (1 yen, 5yen, 10 yen, 50 yen).

Use Common Sense

Japan has been a monoethnic nation where it was unusual to see international visitors and residents like today. Since the tourism environment has changed around rapidly in recent years, there are many problems caused by misunderstandings among different cultures.

However, countermeasures are often delayed such as no sign in multiple languages, and problems are becoming more prominent.

The negative impacts of tourists visiting Japan include talking loud, hailing noise, playing music in quiet temples, shrines, and parks throwing garbage and dancing, and taking pictures in prohibited places.

Damage such as doodling and damage to property has also been reported.

In Japan, it is the crime to damage important cultural property.

Follow The Taking Picture Rule

50, Phrase

Is it OK to take photographs of the Buddha image?

Popular temples and shrines where you are visiting probably are not allowed to take pictures especially in the main worship hall (the main altar).

One of the reasons why taking pictures is prohibited is because to prevent damages from flush lights.

Also, it is an ethical issue that the main hall and Buddha image are the holy and precious things for worshippers from ancient years. It is not the artwork.

Put a camera or a smartphone away, and why not hear the inside the voice of yourself feeling the sacred Buddha as the behavior at the holy place???

For business photography, you must get permission from temples and shrines.

Better not use the equipment on the offering box or reception counter to prevent damage. Do not leave your equipment without permission.

There are also shrines and temples where you can take pictures relatively freely.

However, keep in mind not bothering other people.

Stay Out Of Prohibited Area

49, Phrase

It is forbidden to enter places with signs or fences.

“Do not enter” means do not enter.

Although you see someone in there, it doesn’t mean you can enter the prohibited area.

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Final Thoughts

Even Japanese people outside of religious people, we sometimes are not sure the proper manner when visiting temples and shrines. Unfortunately, there are some impolite people who don’t follow manners.

All new travelers feel some jitters when visiting temples and shrines for the first time, but the most important thing is “respect” to the sacred places and also respect local customs. If you don’t doing impolite behave without common sense, you don’t have to be so nervous about the proper manners too much.

Japanese temple etiquette

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