Do's and Don'ts of Shrines
As you may know, or not.. Shrines are a big deal in Japan. It ties into the foundation of their society and culture which is the belief in Shintoism.
Shintoism, or "Kami no Michi" from what I have gathered is defined as the indigenous spirituality of Japan and the people of Japan. It is a set of practices, to be carried out diligently, to establish a connection between present day Japan and its ancient past.
This belief is not so much of a religion in the way we think of it, but as more of a cultural awareness and tradition. In this tradition, there are many Kami which are things, places, and beings which are honored and seen as gods. For each of these gods, there is a shine built for people to pray to that specific god for what they are most remembered for if known.
In my short time here, I have seen tons of shrines both big and small, famous and unknown so here is a quick guide for them.
1) How to spot a shrine
Every Shinto shrine has either a Torii gate
Or a Shimenawa
2) Don't drink the water! The water is meant to purify your hands before praying at the shrine, not to drink though there may be some designated drinking fountains. Simply use the ladle to pour water over your hands and your done.
3) Try and do research before going. Shines may become very boring to an outsider if there is no story behind it. The fact is, every shrine has a story and a reason why it was built. Find these out and it will make it much more appealing
Ex: On Mt. Takao, I learned that the monster-like figures at the shrine there were supposed to be a representation of the first Americans to venture to Japan! They were foreign and scary, so the shrine was built for protection and strength.
4) Be respectful! Weather you are on a guided tour, or just roaming around, please be mindful of areas you can and cannot take pictures of! Remember, while you may be there for fun, others are there for serious matters and are actually praying so please show respect!