It has been two weeks since I first arrive in Tokyo on a misty Monday afternoon. Like most pictures of downtown Tokyo, my days are filled with bright neon lights and bustling crowds that seem to be endless. This can be quite overwhelming, especially when I can’t read the myriad of complex kanji characters that line the city streets. Thankfully though, I have a basic understanding of about 500 kanji, but that still leaves me quite exhausted by the end of the day because my brain is constantly trying to process all the new sounds and sights around me. In the midst of all this controlled chaos, when your brain is telling you to rest (much like mine does on most days), you can find the most beautiful of shrines that offer weary travelers a little bit of peace and quiet in a city that seems to never sleep.
Since coming to Japan, I never would have imaged that you could find a little Jinja tucked away in a secluded side street of downtown Shijuku-Sanchome, let alone any part of metropolitan Tokyo. Yet to my surprise, I did and I’ve been finding these shrines all over Tokyo! It is actually quite breath-taking when you first enter a shrine in Japan because the sounds from the streets around the shrine seem to almost disappear, and you are left with a peace of mind that is almost unnatural, but greatly appreciated.
Below, is a picture of Hanazono Shrine, which is only a few minutes walk from the Shinjuku Ward Office.
In addition to being a haven of peace, these shrines also offer us a chance to experience firsthand one of the many cultural traditions of Japan. As a cultural anthropologist, I live for these kinds of experiences because these sacred areas have so many unique customs associated with them. For instance, at some shrines, like the Meiji-jingu Shrine you are asked to cleanse yourself with the sacred water of the shrine before entering. Luckily, the instructions for this were written in English because the actions were quite complex and I was afraid that I was going to mess up. That beings said, failure is only one part of the learning process, so don’t be afraid to make a mistake because there are so many considerate Japanese people out there, who greatly appreciate it when a foreigner tries to conform to there culture.
Six Easy Steps to Praying at a Shinto Shrine
For the sake of those interested in the actions required to properly pray at a Shinto Shrine, I will list them below because many of the smaller shrines don’t have the instructions written in English.
- When you walk up to the alter, you will see a brown box located right in front of you. This is where you can offer tribute to the Gods before praying. Now, you can offer both coins and bills, but most people choose to offer five yen coins because they are considered lucky.
- Once, you toss your coin into the box you can now being to pray for whatever you desire. This means you should keep the wish in you mind and get ready for some ritual movements. In my case, I usually ask Kami-sama for some help with my Japanese since I still have a long way to go before becoming proficient.
- With your wish in mind, you can now grab one of the ropes hanging in front of the shrines inner chamber. The picture above depicts a shrine that has a few ropes hanging down, but keep in mind that not all Shinto Shrines have ropes to pull on, so if that’s the case please go to step four. With the rope in your hand, shake it as hard as you desire, so that the bell located at the top of the rope will ring. I would do this about two-three times.
- Next, place you hands at your sides and bow in front of the shrine twice.
- After bowing, clap loudly twice, but not to loud because there usually are others praying at the same time.
- Finally, you bow one last time before leaving the alter area.
I greatly appreciate everyone who took the time out of their busy days to read my blog. Please look forward to my future blogs which will cover many of the other fun things you can experience around Japan. This will include food, arcades, and some of the special things you can buy at the various shrines around Japan.