It’s always more fun when you know more about the places you travel to. Tokyo may not be as exciting to you if you didn’t know it was the capital of Japan, and Shibuya Crossing may be just a crossing to you if you didn’t know it’s the crossing where the most number of people cross at one time, in the world.
With all these fun facts in mind, there are some things you can find interesting about shrines. Having more knowledge about a destination you’re travelling to, will not only increase your urge to go, but even make it more intriguing to the ones you’re travelling with, such as your kids!
So here are some fun facts about shrines and temples, that maybe even not all Japanese people know!
Why is the “Torii”, the “symbol of a shrine”, always coloured scarlet red?
They say, that the scarlet red colour used on the torii represents fire, the sunset, and blood. It is the colour that has been used to cast away evil spirits, and torii has existed from even before they started worshipping god at the shrines. Originally, they believed they’re god will come down where there is a mountain or ocean nearby. That is why sometimes there is just a torii in those locations, with no shrine. Eventually, shrines would made to accompany the torii. The name “torii”, is similar to the Japanese word “tori”, which means “bird”. Birds were thought to be the closest thing to god, or god’s helper. Many ancient Japanese stories often end with a character turning into a swan like bird to enter the world of death.
Why are there so many “animal” statues at the shrines and temples?
At most shrines and temples you visit, you will see statues of foxes, cows, and all sorts of “creatures”. The animals in the shrines are also told to be known as “gods helpers”.
The most often animal statue you may come across are the “guardian dogs”, on the left and ride side, as if to welcome you. These guardian dogs are told to have been originated from the Egyptian and Southwest Asian oriental lions that were their guardians, 3000years ago or so. This soon carried into China then to Japan, where the lion image transformed into something new. Now, you will find that the guardian dogs on the right hand side with have its mouth open, and the left guardian dog has horns and its mouth closed. -The shape of their mouths are known to make the “a-un” sound, or a sound of breath.
There is known to be 12 of god’s helpers that are animals. Out of the 12, the snake is thought to be one of the most worshipped. The snake is the incarnation of one of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune, “Benzaiten”, and therefore to all shrines that worship Benzaiten, there is a snake statue placed.
Is there a correct way to visit a shrine?
We don’t want you to feel uncomfortable when visiting a shrine, or feel like you are doing something wrong. Yes, there are etiquettes to visiting somewhere holy, anywhere in the world, and shrines and temples are included. So let’s just learn it and become professionals!
First, when you see the torii at the entrance, take a moment to bow lightly, before you enter. It is best if you enter from either the right side or left side of the torii, and not the centre, because the centre is where god passes through. If this is inevitable, it’s ok, don’t panic! The only thing that is really frowned upon is to walk diagonally through the torii.
Once you enter the shrine, you will see a place to wash your hands. Wash your left harnd, then right hand, then ideally wash your mouth using your left hand. Once you have rinsed your mouth, wash your left hand again.
Once you reach the hall of worship, bow your head, ring the bell, and lightly throw coins into the box beneath the bell.
Soon after, take a deep bow, clap twice -when you do this, make your right hand slightly higher than the left, as the right hand represents the human being and left hand represents the divine spirit. While you have your hands together, make a wish! After you have made your wish, bow deeply again. Walk away without facing your back to the hall of worship.
When you leave the shrine, make sure to bow lightly before you walk through the torii again.
It wasn’t too hard, was it?
Now that you have all the insight of the shrine and temples, you can truly enjoy the beauty. It’s easier to appreciate beauty when you also understand it!
And please do not feel nervous to visit the shrines and temples anymore! Many people stumble across and go in and out shrines/temples. But by having more knowledge into the background, you will also feel a lot better, and sense the real power of the spirits.
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