Visiting a Japanese Temple

Kinkaku-ji, a famous Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, known as the Golden Pavilion – credit “Global Basecamps”

By Hallie Munsat

Temples are considered to be places of worship for those who practice Japanese Buddhism. Because of this, almost every Japanese municipality has at least one temple. While you can find them many places, cities like Kyoto, Nara, and Kamakura are the most popular places to go to temples. Popular temples include Osorezan, Kiyomizudera, the Todaiji Temple and Kinkakuji.

I chose this topic because we were learning about temples and a bit about temple etiquette in Japanese Tamago class. I think it’s important to adjust to your environment when you’re somewhere unfamiliar. That’s why I’ve taken a big interest in the culture in Japan because showing proper manners in a place you’re unfamiliar with is a great way to show your thoughtfulness. So I am here to share some of the things I learned about visiting a temple.

The structures you can usually find at a temple include:

-The main hall in which the sacred objects of worship are displayed

-The lecture hall where meetings and conferences take place

-The pagoda which stores the remains of the Buddha

-The gates mark the entrance to the temple

-On New Year’s Eve there is a bell that is rung 108 times for the Buddhist concept of worldly desires

-And a cemetery containing people’s ancestors

Because this is such a place of worship, there is proper etiquette when visiting a Japanese temple or shrine. I wanted to share some examples with you in the case that you decide to visit one of these beautiful places of worship.

To start off, there is no dress code when visiting one of these areas. However, it should go without saying that dressing modestly or appropriately is respectful. In temples they contain offering boxes in front of sacred objects of worship. You can show respect by throwing a coin into the offering box and then following it with a short prayer. In some temples you will find an incense burner for visitors. If you’d like you can purchase a bundle of incense and light it, waving it around with your hand and putting it in the incense burner. In temple buildings, it’s very possible you’ll be required to take off your shoes so make sure you’re wearing a pair of socks along with that and leave your shoes at the entrance. Make sure to take hats off as well. You may take photos on the temple grounds, but it’s often prohibited to take pictures inside the buildings. Overall, you should take into account that this is a peaceful and sacred place for many people so be respectful in the level of your voice and what you do with your body so as to not disturb others. As long as you’re showcasing proper manners and temple etiquette, enjoy your visit to these beautiful temples!

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