Etiquette for Visiting Shrines & Temples

Tourist Etiquette II 5/5 (1)
August 23, 2017
The Call of Okinawa 5/5 (1)
August 23, 2017
Etiquette for Visiting Shrines & Temples
5/5 (1)

In summer, many festivals are held on the grounds of temples and shrines as part of summer rituals to ask for blessings from Japan’s many gods. Always keep in mind that shrines and temples are first and foremost places of worship. When visiting these sacred locations, please be careful to observe some basic etiquette rules to avoid offending the staff and locals.


When on the grounds of temples or shrines, please behave quietly and respectfully. Do not allow children to run around.


When walking up or down stairs at a temple or shrine, please keep to the sides. The middle of the stairways is reserved for the passage of gods and other unseen spirits. Please stay out of the path of processions, and do not block their way for any reason.


Please do not smoke when visiting a shrine or temple. Avoid eating and drinking, except in designated areas. There are few rubbish bins, so please carry your own rubbish out with you.


Please do not climb on statues, monuments, gates, walls and other architecture to take photos. While visitors are allowed to touch some statues for luck – such as the stone cow at Kyoto’s Kitano-Tenmangu shrine – it’s not necessary to climb on them when doing so.


Many shrines and temples are built in lovely natural environments, carefully landscaped with trees, shrubs and other plants. Please don’t pick flowers or climb trees or pull/break their branches. Don’t disturb fish or other aquatic animals in ponds, streams or lakes. Some shrines even have wild animals such as monkeys roaming freely. Don’t bully them or attempt to touch them.


Photography is not allowed in certain restricted areas, such as inside temple and shrine buildings. Please obey signs. Also, please refrain from taking photos of the priests and other shrine employees without permission.


An omamori (amulet) is considered more effective if someone else buys it and gives it to you. So if you are travelling with others, you can buy omamori for each other.


If you wish to offer a prayer, you must cleanse your hands and mouth at the temizuya, the designated washing area, before entering the shrine. The correct cleansing method is as follows:

  • Pick up the water ladle with your right hand, and scoop up some water. This is the only step where you may take water from the temizuya.
  • Pour some water over your left hand. Transfer the ladle to your left hand and pour water over your right hand.
  • With the ladle in your right hand again, pour water into your left hand, and use that to rinse your mouth. Never touch the water ladle to your mouth. Do not drink the water, but spit it into the trough at the base of the temizuya.
  • Tip the remaining water over the handle of the ladle to rinse it off, and replace the ladle.

Learn about tourist etiquette in JAPAN WALKER™ Vol 02! Click to purchase at

A fun-loving group of editorial team on the mission to introduce Japanese culture and lifestyle to the masses.


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