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Goin’ Japanesque!

Learn for Your Trip to Kyoto: Differences in Etiquette for Shrines and Temples

Do you know the difference between a jinja (Shinto shrine) and an o-tera (Buddhist temple)? Or how there’s different etiquette for each one? Though they may appear similar, there’s really quite a difference. Today, we’ll be looking at the fundamental difference between o-tera and jinja as well as how to offer your prayer at each one, which will be quite useful when coming to Japan for sightseeing!


The Difference between Shrines and Temples

Shrines (jinja)

Shrines, which have gates called “torii”, are the abodes of the gods of Japan. The purpose of a torii is to mark the boundary between the world of humans and that of the gods. Gods are believed to dwell invisibly in nature. Here at the shrine, there is no Buddhist iconography.

Temples (o-tera)

Temples in Japan are places for monks to train: though they don’t have torii, they often have Budda statues. A Buddhist statue is the depiction of the Buddha; a deity in a visible form.


Differences in Praying Etiquette at Shrines and Temples

How to offer prayers in a Shrine

  1. Bow before the torii and go through the gate.
  1. Go to the main hall, keeping to the side of the path, as the center of the path is for the gods to walk.


  1. Purify your mouth and hands with water at the “chozuya” fountain basin. Take the ladle in your right hand, fill it with water (only once), and pour the contents on your left hand to rinse your left hand. Move the ladle to your left hand, then pour the water on your right hand to rinse your right hand. Return the ladle to your right hand, pour some water out of the ladle into your cupped left hand, then bring it to your lips and use it to rinse your mouth. Do not put your mouth directly on the ladle to sip the water. Use the remaining water to rinse the handle of the ladle by bringing it to a vertical position, then put the ladle back.


  1. Once you’re in front of the main hall, ring the bell to notify the gods of your arrival, just as you would ring a doorbell.


  1. Make a small offering of money. There’s no set amount: it’s the thought that counts. Related: Japanese Love Numbers: From Superstitions to Proper Etiquette


  1. Bow twice, clap your hands twice, then press your hands together and pray. Afterwards, bow once more (bow x 2, clap x 2, hands together, bow x 1). During this time, silently think of your name, where you’re from, your feelings of gratitude, and what you’d like to work towards.


  1. When you leave through the torii, turn around and bow once more.


How to offer prayers in a Temple

  1. Bow once at the temple entrance. Step over the threshold without stepping on it. Not stepping on the threshold is also a rule of etiquette when entering a traditional Japanese room.
  1. Use the purification fountain the same as at a shrine.
  1. Stand in front of the main hall and make a small offering of money.
  1. Join your palms together and bow once (this is called “gassho”). Don’t clap your hands.



The biggest difference between shrine and temple visits is whether you clap your hands or not. Also, pay attention to the order in which you do things when visiting. For example, a common mistake is to ring the bell after making an offering. Keep in mind that there’s no point in making an offering before you’ve announced your presence.

Now you’re all set to visit shrines and temples the correct way when you’re going around Japan!

Related: A Guide to Hatsumoude: A New Year’s Visit to the Shrine

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