Tourist Tip #8: How to Pray at Temples and Shrines

Whether a tourist or native, visits to temples and shrines are par for the course while in Japan.

While there are – usually – no strict rules aside from using common sense and exercising common courtesy (be considerate to others, mindful of property, no smoking, respect no photographing signs, etc.), there actually is a right way to perform the prayers and self-purification rites that you've either attempted yourself or haven taken pictures of other people doing.

Believe it or not, there are of a lot of native Japanese that mostly just go through the motions without knowing the proper procedure. (I only mention this to quell your embarrassment if you have ever tried and felt silly afterwards for it.)

With that in mind, here’s a basic primer to help you look like you know what you’re doing (and not upset any Shinto or Buddhist gods in the process *wink*).


Purify your body and mind before entering the main shrine.

1. Take the ladle in your right hand and scoop a cup of water
2. Splash some water onto your left hand (to cleanse it)
3. Transfer the ladle to your left hand and then splash some water onto your right hand
4. Transfer the ladle back to your right hand and pour some water into your (cupped) left hand. Sip the water from your left hand and rinse your mouth (by drinking the water – do NOT drink directly from the ladle. Many people avoid this bit out of safety concerns).
5. With the remaining water, tilt the ladle back so that the water runs over the ladle, thereby cleansing it. Return the ladle to the well.


1. Toss a coin into the offering box.
2. Bow (deeply) twice
3. Clap your hands twice
4. Pray or make your wish (if there is a gong, you may ring it before you pray to attract the temple/shrine’s god’s attention -)
5. Bow (deeply) once more and then leave

That’s it! Now your temple and shrine visits can take on a deeper (Japan), more meaningful experience. Leave a comment if you've any questions. I’ll be more than happy to answer!

by Former Deep Japan Writer

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