Purity & Prayer at Japanese Shrines

Feb 4th, 2009 | By | Category: History & Culture

Purification Fountain Japan Praying at a Shinto Shrine in Japan in not that different from saying a prayer anywhere else in the world.  If you come with and open heart and pure intentions and speak your mind to whatever higher power that you believe in with respect and reverence. Each religion has its own customs and prayer etiquette and Shintoism is no different.

Upon entering the precincts of a Shinto Shrine you will usually find a purification fountain (similar to the one pictured on the right) off to one side where visitors who wish to pray should stop to cleanse themselves before proceeding further.

At all Shinto shrines, worshippers and casual visitors are asked to purify themselves (Harai) of impurity before praying to the Shinto deities. The act of cleansing is called Misogi, and the actual washing of hands and mouth with water is called Temizu. An associated term is Imi, meaning “abstention from defilement.”

Source: Japanese Buddhist Statuary, Purification by Water

Shrine Prayer GuideThe purification process is simple:

  1. Hold the dipper in your right hand and pour water from the fountain onto your left hand.
  2. Reverse the procedure to purify your right hand.
  3. More the dipper back to your right hand and pour a small amount of water into your left hand and bring the water to your mouth.  Do not drink directly from the dipper or swallow the water, spit it out on the stones at the base of the purification fountain.

Now that you are free from impurities, approach the offering box in the front of the main shrine building, bow to the altar twice, say your prayer, clap your hands together twice, and bow once again before you turn to leave .  If you are so inclined, toss a few Yen into the offering box to show your appreciation.

Lastly, please keep in mind that a shrine is not just a sightseeing destination but a place of worship for many local people and should be treated with the same reverence that you would accord to any place of worship.

Image Credit:  Personal Collection

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  1. It is my understanding that you can also purify using incense. I remember one visit to Japan at what I believe was a Shinto shrine, there was a place out front with incense burning and we waved the incense smoke over to ourselves to purify before entering the shrine. Am I understanding this correctly?

  2. Tornadoes28 – Thanks for stopping by to comment. You pose an interesting question.

    I think that I have read that the smoke from incense is used for healing and prayer itself rather than purification and that it’s use a Buddhist rather than Shinto practice. More research is in order…I will report back.

    In the meantime some other readers may be interested in reading about the difference between a Shrine and a Temple.

  3. […] The path to the shrine itself is usually a peaceful portal even if it is the midst of a bustling city.  As you reach the end of the path you likely will pass by a purification fountain where worshippers stop to cleanse themselves before heading the the main hall of the shrine to pray.  (To learn more about the etiquette of visiting a shrine in Japan take a moment to read Purity & Prayer at Japanese Shrines.) […]

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