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August: The Return of Souls

August is peak summer season in Japan.  We can look forward to some of the most spectacular fireworks displays and festivals in the world, ...

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

I have a slightly different take on this shrine for this post. A slight departure from the way how most media portray sacred places in Japan....i.e. this post will not necessarily talk about how cool it is to visit  a shrine, but more about how to appreciate it.  Without going into  history, this post will focus on a couple of points you should take into consideration  when visiting a shrine. 


I was treated to a visual expose of an elderly Japanese man teaching the ancient ways of shrine etiquette to a group of kids, apparently he's working for a volunteer group that teaches children how to properly carry on at a shrine.   I didn't know you had to cover your mouth when rinsing and spitting. 




( water trough)

Before you enter a shrine it's  customary to rinse your hands and mouth at a water trough.

1) You take a cup.  Rinse it with water.  Then fill it.

2) Pour water over both of your hands.

3) Fill the cup again.  Pour some water into your left hand.  Put that water in your mouth.  Move it around a bit then spit.  Being careful to cover your mouth during this whole process.

4) Rinse the cup and then place it back on the water trough.  Show that you have rinsed the cup by extending your arms.


Now you have been purified and are ready to enter the shrine.  Millions of Japanese do these things on a daily basis before entering these hollowed grounds.


Working your way to the top


Good to see Japanese kids enjoying themselves and their cultural heritage.


This inner sanctum where you can see a screen mesh is where special prayers are offered up either to consecrate a marriage or the birth of a child.   Matters related to the death of a loved one is not traditionally handled nor supported by the Shinto faith, but by the Buddhist clergy instead.  The dead are not recognized by Shinto.   The lady in the top right is called a  Miko or a female shaman or a spirit medium, sort of like a go- between for the living dead and the sentient living.  Beautiful girls actually.   In front of this screen there's another trough but for donations this time.  I threw in a coin and prayed. 



How much of what's left of Japan can be preserved? 


Take for example these roof tiles and the long ornate spine columns at the top; an architectural wonder that's been around for 1300 years.  Architects are just now coming to terms with how difficult it is to replicate the same techniques used to recreate these tiles....i.e. temperatures used to melt the clay, the configuration of the molding, and so forth and so on. 


Some of you who've visited shrines have seen these exact same roof tiles, others have perhaps seen onigawara style roof tiles here.   These are all marvelous and ornate pieces to behold.  They were made by master craftsmen who were at the height of their skills and ability hundreds of years ago.  The long columns and designs are what a lot of tourist and sight seekers take for granted. 


I don't know about some of you, but whenever I get around to visiting these huge sacred edifices I always feel so much better after leaving.  Clear mind and body. 


Another thing you may consider doing is requesting an oracle.  In Japanese it's called "omikuji."  It's in a wooden box and some shrines have em' in English.  You shake the box then pull out a stick.  The priest hands you your fortune.  If it's good you keep it, if it's bad you tie it to a post and leave it at the shrine to be interceded over.


Shrines for me are spiritual places, so aside from the historic value of it, its symbol as a spiritual edifice bares just as much relevance as its architectural wonderment.  I could've turned this post into a history lesson, but not all history is relevant to spirituality.  


Good to see that some things never change.  Nice to see history being passed down to future generations.  Good to see Japanese female Miko honoring their cultural legacy.  Good to see that these things still exist and are not commercialized or desecrated. 


  1. Great post. Beautiful shrine and interesting facts in Shrine Etiquette.

  2. Yes, great photos. I visited Hachiman-gu only a few weeks ago. There were literally thousands of children there and at Daibutsu. It is great that Japanese youth experience these places.

  3. Great post, and timely for me since I will be visiting Japan in August. I relate to what your saying about how you feel after you visiting a shrine.

  4. Tornadoe,

    Are you living in Japan now? We seem to be in each others footsteps. Good to see you hanging out at these places.

  5. Hi Nancie,

    You couldn't have picked a better time to visit Japan. As you may already know, in August is very humid. If you have any questions feel free to ask.



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