Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Rites at Japanese Shinto Shrine
[A Shrine alter at Sendagaya]
Foreigners visiting Japan are greatly impressed with Japanese Shinto rites and culture. Shinto is the native religion of Japan, and foundation of Japanese culture. Visiting a Jinja, a Shinto shrine may be one of the many choices to experience and to get the feel of Japanese culture.
Meijijingu is one of the best-known Japanese shrines in Tokyo. This shrine was dedicated to the Emperor Meiji [1867-1912] and Empress Shoken by the Japanese government. A large number of Japanese and foreigners visit this great shrine every year.
Foreigners are often confused about the Shinto and how prayer offerings are made at these Shrines. Here is what little I knew and learnt from my Japanese friends.
[Torinomon of Meijijingu]
Most of the Japanese omatsuri [festivals] are associated with Shinto kamis and belief. Kamis are gods or semi/demi gods in Shinto belief. People go to Jinja to make request, and for yaku barai [cleansing of bad omen]. These Jinjas are mostly built at secluded places inspiring the presence of natural grace and beauty with trees, rocks and ponds. A gateway to Jinja is a torii nomon, a wooden gate erected at the entrance of a Jinja. Once you are inside the torii, you are in the sacred realm of kamis. You are supposed to walk at the side of the path to leave the middle for kamis.
[Chozuya, where misogi is to be done]
Before visiting the main Shrine for prayers, you need to do misogi [water purification or ablution]. You will find a free-flowing water-shed known as chozuya with a few bamboo ladles. Picking up a ladle with right hand, you wash your left hand and vice versa. Then with the ladle in your right hand pour water in your left hand and rinse your mouth. After this raise the head of the ladle so that the remaining water in the ladle flows on the handle as if to wash it. Restore the ladle to its original place. This is misogi rite; how you clean yourself before appearing in front of the Kamis of the shrine.
Once before the main shrine, you pull the dangling rope above the offering box to sound the bell-like-signal at the top to inform your presence. Standing solemnly before the shrine, you take two deep bows, then bring your both hands closed before your chest, and make two hand-clap followed by one deep final bow. They say it "ni-rei, ni-haku, ichi-rei" [two bows, two claps and one bow]. Number of bows and hand-clap may differ in some situation, but this the generally accepted ritual. Your time to pray or make request is one before and after the hand-clap.
As a standard form of prayer – "harai-tamai, kiyome-tamai, mamori-tamai, sakiwai-tamai" is silently recited in heart. Meaning of this recitation is – sweep and clean me of the impurity of sins, protect me from evils, and let everyone prosper.
[A bride & bridegroom being led by a Shinto priest]
You can buy protection talisman or amulet called omamori from the counter, you can have amulet for house protection, safe driving, obstacle clearance, good result in exam etc. Then there is Ema, a small votive wooden tablet, where you can write your wishes or prayers, and hang the same at ema stand.
[Ema, a votive tablets with wishes & prayers]
This is how you make your visit to a shrine, and how offering of prayers is made at a Japanese Shinto shrine. If you are lucky, you may come across marriage ceremonies or some local festivals at the Shrine.