There are certain customs to follow when visiting shrines and temples in Japan, and with their muddled past, it can be hard to do know what to do at each place. Though they differ in many ways, sometimes even Japanese people make mistakes. Some practices are the same, while others differ completely. We’ll help make sure your temple visit is a smooth one with these top tips. For shrines, see our 101 guide.

Entering the Temple Grounds

The temple grounds are supposed to represent the pure environment of Buddha, so pay your respects before entering. To do so properly, follow these simple instructions:
1. Outside the main gate, place your hands together and bow.
2. When stepping across the gate into the temple grounds, women should step over the gate threshold with their right leg first. Men should start with their left leg. Note: Do not step on the threshold itself.

Wash Your Hands in the Same Way as at a Shrine

Wash your hands in this order:
1. Left hand
2. Right hand
3. Pour water into your left hand and wash your mouth out*
4. Wash your left hand again
5. Lift the ladle up and let the water pour down the handle Be prepared and bring a handkerchief in advance for smooth sailing.

*If you’re concerned about sanitation, simply lift your hand close to your mouth and let the water drip from it. You should still wash your left hand after this. For more detailed information, see our video on the topic.

Making a Monetary Offering at a Temple

When you make an offering, gently drop money into the collection box — do not throw money into it. Place your hands together in front of your chest and bow once. For the burning incense powder, pick up a small amount between your thumb, index, and middle fingers. Lift it up to the height of your forehead. While doing this, hold your left hand underneath in case you drop some. The number of times you do this depends on which sect of Buddhism the temple is a part of, so if you don’t know then one time is fine.

When Praying, Only Bow Once

Place your hands together in front of your chest, then bow once. Pray or make your wishes and thoughts while your hands are pressed together. Remember to only bow once after praying — many Japanese people make the mistake of bowing multiple times, but this practice is for shrines only.

Offering Incense

Some shrines will have incense powder (as described above), while others will allow you to burn incense sticks yourself. Some may have both. In the case of burning your own incense, light the stick on a nearby candle. Fan the flame with your hand to extinguish it. Do not blow on it with your mouth.

Leaving the Temple

Similarly to when you enter a temple, leave it by placing your hands together and bowing. Remember not to step on the gate threshold on your way out.

By Naoko Ijuuin, powered by LeTronc