With an estimated 80,000 Shinto shrines scattered across Japan, they are a very important part of Japanese tradition and culture. These jinja (神社, shrines) house one or more kami, in addition to a holy item that is related to the kami of that shrine.
Although the general population is slowly moving away from practicing daily Shintoism, worship and rituals are still deeply embedded within Japanese culture. We see this during the new year when locals visit shrines to pray for good fortune and a prosperous coming year. A few weeks after a baby is born, the family will often take the baby to a shrine to be blessed and to pray for its future.
There are certain structural elements that are almost always present at shrines. The most famous and hard-to-miss one is the torii gate: a tall, vermillion gate that marks the entrance to a shrine. Because shrines are such a sacred place, you’ll often see locals bowing before and after passing through a torii gate. Another way to show respect is to purify yourself before entering the main hall of a shrine by washing your hands and mouth at a temizuya purification trough. And those white paper zigzags you see hanging around shrines are shimenawa which mark the boundary of something or someplace that is deemed to be sacred.
Savvy Tip: When visiting, be sure you know the proper prayer etiquette: shake the rope to ring the bell, throw a coin into the offertory box, bow twice, clap twice, pray, and bow one final time.
1. Meiji Jingu Shrine
Meiji Jingu Shrine (明治神宮) is without a doubt one of Japan’s most famous shrines. It is an imperial shrine that was built in dedication to the first emperor of modern Japan, Emperor Meiji, and his wife, Empress Shoken. Because of the impressive Shinto structures, the strong connection to Japanese culture, and convenient location beside Harajuku station and Yoyogi Park, Meiji Jingu is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Tokyo.
During the new year, over three million Japanese will come visit Meiji Jingu to pray and open the new year. This shrine isn’t just for praying either: the shrine hosts dozens of traditional Japanese weddings! Every aspect of a traditional Shinto shrine can be found here including a great torii gate and a temizuya for purifying your hands and mouth.
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