People are fairly familiar with how praying is done. In Japan however, there are certain practices that need to be observed when praying in shrines and temples. Knowing just what to do before going makes the experience more peaceful.
Preparation Before Going to a Shrine
Those who intend to visit a Shinto Shrine must make an effort to take a bath or at the very least, wash face and hands. Cleanliness in physical body is required as much as possible. It is highly recommended to wear clean socks since it is a custom in Japan to remove shoes when going inside a home or any sacred place.
People who are sick, have open wounds, or are in mourning should schedule their visit to a shrine when they are well. These are considered signs of impurity. Visitors will also be required to purify themselves before proceeding to the main part of the shrine.
Upon Entering the Shrine
The pathway going to the shrine is usually lined with lanterns and visitors will just need to follow them. Purification ritual consists of washing of the hands by the use of a water dipper. Visitors will a;so be required to wash their mouth by filling their cupped left hand with water which will be used for rinsing the mouth. The water is spit back into the palm of the hands which can be dried off by a handkerchief.
Only after the purification ritual will visitors be allowed to proceed to the main shrine. Depending on the size of the shrine, one to two visitors will be allowed to worship at a time. The others will have to wait their turn.
Proper Way of Praying
Worshipers will usually have to climb the stairs and then stop before the offering box wherein they will place their coins. There is no specified amount and visitors can put in any amount they want. The bell will be rung once to call attention of the divine being as believed in the Shinto religion. After stepping back, worshipers need to bow twice, then clap twice while thinking about the intention for the prayer or wish. This could take a few minutes depending on the visitor. After which, another bow is in order.
Taking pictures is usually allowed in the shrine grounds but rarely inside the temple itself. Visitors are expected to behave with respect while on the shrine grounds.