Japan Temple Etiquette

By on March 6, 2018

When visiting one of the many temples in Japan you don’t have to do specific things in particular so don’t have to worry too much as long as you behave yourself, but knowing the standard etiquette may help you feel at ease.


Shrines and temples are two different things. The easiest way to tell them apart is by looking at the front gate. A shrine will have a Torii gate which looks elegant and simple while a temples Senmon gate looks more advanced with usually a tile style roof.
When going into the temple it’s important to walk under those gates instead of walking around them.


Purify And Healing


The temple or shrine has a small pavilion with wooden or wooden-like sticks with cups attached to it.

You’re supposed to take one of the laddles scoop up some water, pour it over both of your hands and you’re done. You have now purified your body and mind.

You’re also supposed to wash the inside of your mouth with this water but that’s rarely done even by the Japanese so don’t worry about that.

At some temples visitors burn incense that is used for several reasons including ceremonies, spirituality and meditation. While the incense is burning, visitors will wave the smoke towards themselves with their hand for good luck and healing power.

There is usually a proper place for this which varies from big to small ones. If you’d like to burn one for yourself, bigger temples usually sell those in bundles.



Photography is usually allowed on the temple grounds but may be forbidden in the temple itself so watch the signs just to be sure.
Some temples allow visitors to come inside the temple building which you may be required to take off your shoes. The staff will most likely give you a plastic bag, it’s so carry your shoes in. If not then there will be shelfs to place your shoes on.


Altar Etiquette

When at the altar of a shrine you will see an offering box. Before paying your respect it is expected to throw in a small offering. A popular decision is a 5 yen coin.
Throw in your chosen coin, ring the bell, bow twice, clap your hands twice and while holding your second clap express your feelings for a brief moment. Bow one more time and you’re done.

When you’re at the altar of a temple you’re not supposed to clap. Instead you throw in your coin and then hold your hands together for a small prayer.




At some temples you’ll see racks with white papers bond on it. Those are fortune papers called omikuji. The Japanese buy an omikuji at the start of a new year in hope luck is on their side. When luck is not on their side you can tie your omikuji on the rack to make the bad luck go away.
Omikuji goes from dai-kichi all the way to dai-kyou. There is a total of 12 different fortunes.

In big temples you’ll be able to find omukuji throughout the whole year, so don’t worry if you can’t make it to Japan in January. When going to very famous one in touristic areas you might also find english translated omikuji.


That includes the basics of Japanese temples. Now you’ll have roughly a good idea at all the stuff you see around you in temples and shrines. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.