Shinto is one of the major religions of Japan (the other one is Buddhism). Shinto is about living in harmony with nature and all things.
We visited 3 Shinto temples during our recent trip to Japan: the Heian Shrine in Kyoto, and the Asakusa Kannon Temple and the Meiji Shrine which are both in Tokyo.
When entering a Shinto shrine, you’ll notice a special gateway made up of wooden or concrete pillars - this is called a torii. The torii is believed to be the gateway to the gods (kami). It separates the ordinary space outside from the sacred space inside so you have to pass through the pillars.
|Torii of the Meiji Shrine|
|Torii of the Asakusa Kannon Temple|
The grounds of a Shinto Temple is usually covered with white sand or gravel. Walking on gravel produces a sound which is considered part of your cleansing before entering a temple.
Here's the pathway to the Meiji Shrine. It's a long walk - maybe 1 km long from the entrance - and the entire pathway is covered with gravel. The sound you produce while walking makes you very aware of the nature around you.
|Long walk to the Meiji Shrine|
At the entrance of Shinto temples, you'll also sometimes see stacks of sake drums which are offerings to the deities.
Before entering the temple, there is also a section where you can wash your hands and rinse your mouth – again this is part of cleansing before worshipping the gods.
Here are some photos of the Asakusa Kannon Temple grounds. Photography is usually banned inside the temple.
|Asakusa Kannon Temple Gate|
|Asakusa Kannon Temple|
|Asakusa Kannon Temple grounds|
At the Meiji Shrine, we chanced upon a ceremony. I think they had this special ceremony for newly-ordained priests. We were only allowed to take photos during the processional.
In Shinto temples, people write their prayers on a slip of paper and tie them to a tree. People can also purchase small wooden boards called ema where they write their wishes or prayer petitions. The paper or wood board prayers are left outside in the belief that the wind carries the wishes out into the world.
|Ema or prayer petitions|
In Shinto temples (as well as Buddhist temples), you’ll notice a section where there’s a set of drawers (like the photo below) which contains strips of paper inside. These strips of paper are called O-mikuji which bears a fortune reading. To get an o-mikuji, you usually make a small offering, then pick a stick from a wooden box. The stick has a number and whatever number you pick, look for its corresponding drawer and get your fortune reading from there.
|O-mikuji section at the Asakusa Temple|
|O-mikuji tied to a wall of wires|
|Nakamise Shopping Street|
|Sumo wrestler dolls|