Praying at Japanese Shrines: Experience Tranquility

Japan’s spiritual landscape is dotted with thousands of 神道 Shinto shrines, each offering a unique and serene experience. One of the most captivating aspects of visiting these sacred places is the act of praying, a ritual that allows you to connect with the divine and immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Japanese culture. In this blog, we’ll explore the profound and peaceful act of praying at Japanese shrines.

A Quick Jump To…

The Significance of Praying at Shrines

Shrines hold a special place in the hearts of the Japanese people. These sacred spaces are dedicated to the 神道神 Shinto kami, the spirits believed to inhabit the natural world, ancestors, and historical figures. Praying at a shrine is a way to respect these deities and seek their blessings for various aspects of life, including health, success, and happiness. Interestingly, each shrine has its own specialty, depending on the kami or god you prayed for! Some shrines are reputable for intelligence, and some for love.

Preparing for Your Shrine Visit

Before you embark on your journey to a Japanese shrine, it’s essential to understand the customs and rituals associated with the experience.

1. Dress Respectfully

While there is no strict dress code, wearing clean, modest clothing is respectful. Avoid revealing outfits or beachwear.

2. Bow and Rinse Your Hands

At the 手水舎 temizuya (water pavilion) near the shrine’s entrance, use the ladles provided to rinse your left hand, then your right, followed by rinsing your mouth. This purifying ritual symbolizes the cleansing of impurities.

3. Approach the Main Shrine

As you approach the main shrine building, take your time to reflect and quiet your mind. It’s customary to bow as a sign of respect before entering.

Praying at the Shrine

二礼二拍手一礼 Nirei nihakushu ichi rei – Bow twice, clap twice, and bow once (the traditional way to pray at a Shinto shrine) is the rule to remember when praying at the shrine. When you reach the main shrine, you can offer your prayers and wishes. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Bow twice

Bow twice to show respect to the kami or the gods.

2. Throw a Coin into the Offering Box

Before you pray, throw a coin (usually a 5-yen or 10-yen coin) into the offering box as a symbolic gesture of gratitude. 5-yen symbolizes 縁 en or fate, so it is always nice to offer a 5-yen.

3. Ring the Bell

Next to the offering box, you’ll often find a bell or gong. Ring it to alert the deity to your presence and begin your prayer.

4. Clap Your Hands

After ringing the bell, clap your hands together twice to get the kami’s attention. It’s important to do this respectfully and with a sense of concentration.

5. Pray Silently

With your hands together, bow your head and offer your prayers silently. You can express your wishes and gratitude or seek guidance, depending on your intentions.

6. Bow Again

Conclude your prayer with another bow to show respect to the kami.

Embrace the Moment

Praying at a Japanese shrine is not just a ritual; it’s a profound moment of connection and reflection. As you participate in this timeless tradition, take a moment to soak in the peaceful atmosphere, admire the intricate architecture, and appreciate the natural surroundings. Shrines are often nestled in serene landscapes, offering a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Things To Get At The Shrines

お守り Omamori

These small amulets or charms are believed to bring good luck and ward off evil. They come in various styles and colors, each with its own specific purpose. 

Photo By Kyoto Masters

絵馬 Ema

Ema are wooden plaques where visitors can write their wishes or prayers. These plaques are then left at the shrine for the kami to consider.

Photo By Pacalla

おみくじ Omikuji

Omikuji are random fortunes written on strips of paper. After drawing one from a box at the shrine, you can read your fortune, which may predict blessings, challenges, or advice for the future.

Photo By 供TOMO

御札 Ofuda

These small paper talismans are believed to bring good luck and ward off evil. They can be bought at the shrine and then placed in your home or car. 

Photo By ANA Mall

だるま Daruma dolls

These are round, red dolls that are believed to bring good luck and perseverance. They are often given as gifts to people who are starting a new job or business. 

Useful Phrases When Getting Items At The Shrine

  • お守りは、どこで買えますか。Omamori wa, doko de kaemasu ka. – Where can I buy the lucky charms?
  • 絵馬は、どこで書けますかEma wa, doko de kakemasu ka. – Where can I write the wishing plaques?
  • おみくじを引いてもいいですか?O mi kuji o hiite mo īdesu ka? – May I draw a fortune slip?

Famous Shrines In Tokyo


Photo By Wikipedia


Photo By 明治神宮

護国山尊重院 天王寺

Phot By 安心葬儀


Photo By 上野東照宮



Praying at a Japanese shrine is an experience that connects you with the spiritual essence of Japan. It’s a gesture of reverence, a moment of personal reflection, and a bridge to the country’s deep cultural and religious heritage. The act of praying at a shrine is a serene and contemplative experience that allows you to immerse yourself in the beauty and spirituality of Japan. As you embark on your own shrine visits, remember that it’s not just about the ritual but the journey and the sense of peace and connection it brings to your life.

You Might Be Wondering…

What is the difference between a 神社 shrine and a 寺院 temple?

Shrines and temples are both important places of worship in Japan, but there are some key differences between them.

  • Shrines (神社, jinja) are dedicated to worshipping kami, spirits or deities of nature, ancestors, and heroes. They are typically characterized by 鳥居 torii gates at the entrance, and the main buildings are often made of wood.
  • Temples (寺院, jiin) are dedicated to the practice of Buddhism, which originated in India. They are typically characterized by pagodas and statues of Buddha, and the main buildings may be made of wood or stone. Usually, you will see tombstones in the temples.

Can I take photos inside a Japanese shrine?

It is generally considered polite to ask permission before taking photos inside a Japanese shrine. Some shrines may have areas where photography is prohibited, so be sure to look for signs.

What are some of the festivals held at Japanese shrines?

Many Japanese shrines hold festivals throughout the year. These festivals are often lively and colorful, and they offer a great opportunity to experience Japanese culture.

Can I get married at a Japanese shrine?

Some Japanese shrines offer wedding ceremonies. If you are interested in getting married at a shrine, you will need to contact the shrine directly to inquire about their policies and procedures.

Can I stay overnight at a Japanese shrine?

Some Japanese shrines offer accommodation for pilgrims and visitors. This is a great way to experience the traditional atmosphere of a shrine.

What is the best time to visit a Japanese shrine?

The best time to visit a Japanese shrine depends on your desire. If you want to avoid crowds, you may want to visit during the week or outside of peak tourist season. However, if you want to experience the full atmosphere of a shrine, you may want to visit it during a festival or on a weekend.

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