How to Visit Temples

Visiting temples in Japan is very similar to visiting shrines. If you looked at my last post on how to visit shrines, then you may also recall how to tell the difference between a temple and shrine. Just in case here is a brief reminder: Shrines will typically have red torii (鳥居) gates, and Buddhist temples will have sanmon (山門) as well as images or statues of Buddha.

Just like when you visit a shrine, when you come up to the gates at the entrance you want to give a slight bow out of respect.You also want to make sure that you walk on the sides and not directly through the center of the gate.

Next you will go to chozuya ( 手水舎 ) to purify yourself with water. The steps are exactly the same as when visiting Shinto shrines, but here are the steps as a reminder:

  1. First take the ladle with your right hand and fill it with water.
  2. Next Rinse your left hand, and switch the ladle to your left.
  3. Next Rinse your right hand and switch the ladle back to your right hand.
  4. (Optional) Pour some water into your left hand and rinse your mouth, DO NOT drink the water, just rinse and spit out the water (don’t spit it back into the basin) 
  5. Turn the ladle vertically and let the remaining water cleanse the ladle you just used, then put it back to dry

If the temple has a bell, and they let you ring it, then you should go ahead and ring it. This typically requires money but only about ¥100-200. You also do not have to do this step! Just be careful to read the signs to know whether you can ring it or not, because not all temples allow you to, or they only have certain times when you can.

After you have rang the bell you can also go ahead a purchase incense or senkou (線香). You can light the incense let them burn for awhile, and then wave your hand to put them out. After this place the incense sticks into the incense burner and fan the smoke towards you. I often see students fanning the smoke towards their heads in hopes that they will become smarter for a test. The incense is also optional since you have to purchase the incense while you are at the shrine, but this too is only about ¥100. Also it is important to note that you should NOT light your incense from someone else’s, because it means you are taking on their sins.

When you are finished with both those activities you can make your way to the main temple. Unlike Shinto shrines there is a lot less bowing and NO clapping.

  1. First you want to bow slightly and then you should throw your coin into the offering box.
  2. After this if there is a gong or bell you should ring it 2 to 3 times.
  3. Then you will put your hands together in front of your chest and make a deep bow. If you have a prayer or a wish now would be the time to say it.
  4. When you finish you can make one more slight bow

And that’s how to visit a Buddhist temples in Japan!

Once again just like Shinto shrines there are many different things you can purchase at temples such as:

  • Omamori (お守り)
  • Ema (絵馬)
  • Omikuji (おみくじ)

If you want more information on these please refer to my other post on how to visit shrines.

Please go and enjoy both temples and shrines in Japan! Especially now that you know how to~

When in doubt just wait and follow the example of the people around you! If you are uncomfortable with praying at temples and/or shrines you can still go and enjoy the beautiful architecture and scenery!!

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