How to visit a Japanese Temple

While doing research for an upcoming Japan (日本) trip, the topic temples and shrines has surely crossed your vision.
Ever wondered what the difference is? Let me first tell you about the temple…

The Japanese temple is the place of worship for Japanese Buddhism, one of Japan’s two leading religious faiths.

Even though most Japanese people are not very religious, visiting a temple is still considered as a big part of Japanese tradition. Thus, nearly every city or village, no matter how small, has at least one Japanese temple.

Cities like Nara (奈良) or Kamakura (鎌倉) have way more, Kyoto (京都) even has over 100 of them.

Information & Facts on Temples

Depending on the size of the Japanese temple and its grounds, there are multiple different buildings as well as a cemetery at each of them. The smaller ones usually only have a main hall, as that is the most important one.

Some have an entrance fee, some are free of charge. Those with a fee are mostly the more popular ones. Most of the time they are not high though, usually under 500 Yen (3,85€/$4.55).

Also, most Japanese temples have opening hours, often closing relatively early at around 3-5pm. Keep that in mind when planning a visit.

Now, have you ever wanted to experience real traditional Japan? Here’s your chance:
At some temples you can stay overnight and participate in the daily rituals of real monks!

The most prominent example here is the temple at Mount Koya (高野山), South of Osaka (大阪) in Wakayama prefecture (和歌山県).

How to visit a Japanese temple

The most important thing is to behave respectfully. Remember that you are at a sacred place which many people hold dear. Disrespecting the country’s culture and traditions in general will bring you no good.

So, the main part of a Japanese temple visit is the prayer at the main hall.

The procedure is fairly simple, let me give you an overview:

  • Bow as you approach the temple’s deity (a statue or another kind of sacred illustration most of the time) and the offering box before it
  • Offer a small amount of money by throwing it into the case (5 is the holy number in this regard, so try to do it with 5 or 50 Yen)
  • Bow again
  • clap your hands twice, fold them, close your eyes and think of a wish you want to have fulfilled
  • Once done, bow one last time

That’s it! Not really that hard. Don’t worry about not getting it right the first time, you will have plenty of chances to better yourself!

At some bigger temples you can burn incense in front of the main hall. You’ll need to purchase a bundle first and light it above the burner. After a few seconds, extinguish the flame by waving your hand (do not blow it out!).

Lastly, place your incense inside the burner and fan some of its smoke towards you. The smoke is said to have healing powers so it can be beneficial to fan it towards an injured part of your body.

There are Japanese temples where you can enter its buildings. Before doing so, remember to take your shoes off. Cleanliness receives high emphasis on such temple grounds.

Other temple buildings and shops

Most temples have other buildings besides them and not just the main hall. Some may have small shops where you can buy talismans or other good-luck items to bring home as a souvenir.

Another often encountered item is the Omikuji (御神籤). You usually pay 100 (0,77€/$0.91) to 200 Yen (1,54€/$1.82) to receive one. It tells you your fortune. There are different kinds of fortunes you can get, of course ranging from good to bad.

Omikuji Front
Omikuji Back

If you unluckily pull a bad luck charm, you can bind it to one of the fences around the temple grounds. Doing this, the bad luck stays at the temple and won’t follow you around.

I pulled my very first one in Asakusa (浅草) back in July 2017. I was neither lucky nor unlucky as I got a Regular Fortune.

Omikuji collection

Popular Japanese Temples to visit

Kiyomizudera - popular wooden temple in Kyoto
Kinkaku-ji - the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto
Senso-ji - famous red-colored temple in Tokyo
Todai-Ji - Japan's biggest wooden temple in Nara

Takeaway

Now that you know all about it I recommend just doing it yourself! Don’t be shy and embrace the Japanese temple’s atmosphere.

Another thing to keep in mind: Every temple is different. You will not encounter everything listed above everywhere. There are even some temples, like the popular Kinkaku-ji (鹿苑寺) in Kyoto for example, where you cannot even say your prayers.

Especially the ones that were once part of a Shogun’s residence are mostly sightseeing attractions today.

But that’s the charm in my opinion. You need to rediscover every single one and see what they have to offer.

That’s going to be it for this one! As with everything in this world, it is best to try things out yourself and see how it goes. You will surely get the feel for it!

Thank you very much for reading this article. Share it or drop a comment below if you liked it!

Look forward to my next post which is going to be about how to visit a Japanese shrine to compliment this post!

See you there!

Please share if you liked it! 🙂

Adventurous-Japan Author

Hi! I'm Daniel and I live in Germany. Passionate lover of everything Japanese. Thank you for reading!

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