Praying in Japan   祈る

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Prayer to the Japanese.

Prayer to the Japanese.

To purify, you must wash their hands and rinse their mouths in the fountain.

To purify, you must wash their hands and rinse their mouths in the fountain.

Incense smoke in the Buddhist temple would have beneficial properties.

Incense smoke in the Buddhist temple would have beneficial properties.

A shimenawa, braided rope at Meiji shrine in Tokyo.

A shimenawa, braided rope at Meiji shrine in Tokyo.

Prayer at temples and shrines

Japan's two largest religions, Shinto and Buddhism, ask the faithful for a few ritualized gestures to satisfy the gods. Some tips to get it right!

Shinto shrines are easily recognizable. The entrance is marked by a torii, a large gate, often made of wood, yet sometimes stone, and covered with a bright red color. Arguably the most famous Shinto shrine is in Miyajima. The huge torii's posts get covered in the water when the tide rises at Hiroshima Bay.

In the majority of the sanctuaries, sacred gods are also reflected in the shimenawa, a large braided rope that is placed around a tree or at the shrine's front entrance.

Buddhist temples themselves are characterized by a entrance bigger than a torii, guarded on either side by statues (niô) to ward off evil spirits.

Nothing compares to the massive Buddha at Todaiji in Nara.

Purification

The Shinto torii gate marks the separation between the world of humans and that of the gods. Also, visitors must bow when they walk through the torii. A temizuya, or fountain, is provided for people to purify themselves. First, wash your right hand, then your left, and finally your mouth. Spit the water into the basis around the fountain and rinse the spoon.

The time of prayer

In a Shinto shrine, prayer follows a specific pattern. First, put a little change into the big red box at the entrance of the honden, or the main building, and ring the bell. Bow twice, then clap your hands twice to signal your presence to the local deity. After you have a moment of silence, bow one last time.

The approach is similar to a Buddhist temple, but don't clap your hands. It may be that there are incense sticks available at the temple as an offering. Do not hesitate to fan the incense smoke around your head and body.  It is believed to have therapeutic and purifying properties.

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