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[Soul of Japan] Visiting a Jinja



Many of Japan’s traditions and ideas are unfamiliar to those outside of Japan. Therefore, JAPAN Forward and Jinja Honcho have collaborated to bring readers an explanation of the key concepts of kami, matsuri, shrines, myths, and many other traditions and beliefs which form the core of Japanese culture.

The “Soul of Japan” series provides an introduction to Shinto and Ise Jingu, focusing in this last segment on the form and etiquette for visiting a shrine and providing a glossary of terms as a key to understanding the language of Japan’s Shinto shrines.


Temizu (How to Purify your Hands and Mouth)


When visiting a jinja, pass under the Torii (sacred gate) and proceed to the Temizuya, a purification font usually consisting of a stone water basin, to cleanse your hands and rinse your mouth.


This is a simple act of purification before approaching the main sanctuary. These are the steps to take:


  1. Take the dipper with your right hand and fill it with water. Pour some water over your left hand to rinse it.

  2. Shift the dipper to your left hand and rinse your right hand.

  3. Take the dipper with your right hand again, and pour water into your left cupped hand and rinse your mouth. Please do not touch the dipper directly to your mouth.

  4. Finally, rinse your left hand once more.   Like this:


Praying Etiquette to Kami



When you have cleansed your hands and mouth, you may proceed through the gate to the jinja, or other object where you wish to pray to the kami. Your prayer should be your own.


Here are some simple steps to follow, to call the attention of the kami to hear your prayer:

  1. Bow twice deeply.

  2. Clap your hands twice.

  3. Then bow once, more deeply.



There are jinja and kami throughout Japan, in great natural areas and in every neighborhood. They celebrate the fierceness and beauty of nature and resilience of Japan. Please enjoy visiting the jinja and other places where kami reside, while keeping in mind what you have learned in this series.



BETSUGU (別宮) | Fourteen affiliated jinja of Ise Jingu closely connected with the main sanctuary (Shogu)
DAI-GUJI (大宮司) | Supreme priest of Ise Jingu
EMA (絵馬) | Small wooden plaques at jinja on which worshippers write their prayers or wishes
ENGISHIKI (延喜式) | Japanese book of laws and regulations from the early 10th century which regulates Shinto rituals and has a list of important jinja
GOSHINTAI (ご神体) | A sacred object that is worshiped at or near shrines and represents the spirit of the kami. It may be a natural object such as a stone, mountain or waterfall or a man-made object, commonly, a mirror, sword or jewel.
GUJI (宮司) | Chief priest of jinja
GOSHINPO (ご神宝) | Sacred treasures; related to the enshrined kami or dedicated to the kami
HARAI (祓い) | General term for Shinto purification rituals of the mind and body; often performed at the beginning of ceremonies to cleanse the participants before presenting offerings to the kami; referred to as Shuhatsu at Ise-Jingu
HEIHAKU (幣帛) | Ritual offerings of textiles
HIMOROGI (神籬) | A temporarily erected branch or tree which summons the kami and defines a sacred space
JINJA (神社) | This word is often translated as “Shinto shrine” or “Shinto temple.” However, both words do not express its exact nature, and using “jinja” instead is recommended in order to express its unique characteristics.
JINGU - TAIMA (神宮大麻) | Special talisman of Ise Jingu
KAGURA (神楽) | Ancient dance and music dedicated to kami
KAMI (神) | Shinto deity; also defined as sacred spirits found in the natural world. Refer to [Soul of Japan] Kami, the Divine Powers of Nature for details.
KAMIDANA (神棚) | A miniature altar that houses the protective kami of a house or shop. An ofuda as well as offerings, such as rice, fruit, and water, are placed on the altar.
KANNUSHI (神主) | Standard term for a Shinto priest; alternatively called shinshoku and shinkan
KOJIKI (古事記) | Text written in the 8th century, outlining the mythical origins of Japan and the role of kami in its foundation
KOMAINU (狛犬) | Stone lion-dogs that stand guard outside the entrance gates to jinja to ward off evil spirits
MIKO (巫女) | Jinja maiden or attendant who supports Shinto priests and performs rituals at jinja such as kagura
MIKOSHI (神輿) | A portable jinja where kami are carried in a procession during festivals
MIKOTO (命) | A suffix to indicate divinity
MISOGI (禊) | Ritual purification through bathing or ablution
NIHON-SHOKI (日本書紀) | The second oldest book of classical Japanese history after the Kojiki with a focus on the lineages of Japan’s imperial rulers and their deeds; contains stories from the divine age
NORITO (祝詞) | Shinto liturgy recited during a ritual
OFUDA (お札) | Talisman issued by a jinja, symbolizing the presence of a kami to protect a household
OMAMORI (お守り) | Protective amulet or charm to ward off evil or danger and bring good luck
OMIKUJI (おみくじ) | Fortune sold at jinja written on strips of paper. Bad fortunes are often seen tied to tree branches at many jinja, where the belief is that the kami will exorcise the had luck.
SAISEN (賽銭) | Monetary offering when people pray at jinja
SAISEN-BAKO (賽銭箱) | Monetary box where offerings are tossed prior to worship
SAISHU (祭主) | Sacred priestess unique to Ise Jingu. Saishu is appointed according to the will of the Tenno.
SAKAKI (榊) | Sacred evergreen tree whose branches are often used in rituals and ceremonies
SHIMENAWA (注連縄) | A length of braided rice straw rope placed around objects/trees to indicate the presence of kami, often attached with zigzag paper called shide
SHINSEN (神饌) | Food offerings to the kami, including staples such as rice, fish, sake, salt, water, etc.
SHOGU (正宮) | Main sanctuary of Naiku or Geku; a prefix “go” is usually added for politeness and respect
SHO-GUJI (少宮司) | Assistant to the Supreme Priest
TAMAGUSHI (玉串) | A sacred sprig of evergreen sakaki offered to the kami during rituals by a priest or worshiper
TEMIZUYA (手水舎) | Fountain at the entrance to jinja where worshippers can purify themselves by washing their hands and mouth
TORII (鳥居) | Shinto gate which indicates the entrance and border to the jinja sanctuary
UJIGAMI (氏神) | Community or clan deities who are venerated ancestors of the clan. In present day, they are commonly the local guardian llami of villages and communities.
UJIKO (氏子) | Parishioners of a local jinja


Source: Jinja Honcho



Click here for additional information about Jinja Honcho through their website.




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