Shinto is the indigenous faith of Japan. It means worshiping ancestors as guardians of the family, and it also symbolizes showing respect for the kami, a word that corresponds to ‘deity’ in English, who reside in the natural world. There are kami of the mountains, kami of the sea and kami of the forest. The kami are all around us, in everything and in each person. They can be worshiped anywhere, but many people visit Shinto shrines, called jinja, to pray, ask for favors, and give thanks. The word Shinto means ‘The way of the Gods’.
How to Pray
To pray properly, and show respect in a Shinto shrine, it is necessary to follow a ritual that will be explained below:
1- The entrance of the Jinja is generally a door called ‘Torii’. It is said to be the dimensional door that divides the physical world from the spiritual world. Therefore, before crossing the Torii a bow must be made in the direction of the sanctuary and then cross the door.
2 – In the Jinja, you must enter on the left and exit on the right, you should not walk through the middle because it is believed to be where the kami that inhabit the sanctuary travel.
3- The Jinja are sacred places, so, first we have to clean ourselves at the source of purification. This is a practice to clean your heart and soul before connecting with the kami. In the fountains there are wooden or metal ladles called hishaku, with which this ritual is carried out. They are very easy to identify since they have a fairly long handle to be able to easily drink water when doing the ritual. First, you take Hishaku, fill it with water to the top, and proceed to wash your left hand. Then hold the hishaku with your clean left hand and washes your right hand. Again, the hishaku is held with the right hand and the mouth is washed a little with water that is poured into the left hand. Finally, the remaining water is emptied into the tube of the hishaku to clean the instrument and put it back in its place.
4- Upon arriving at the oratory where the prayer will be held, an offering is made to the sanctuary with a coin. It is recommended that it be a 5 yen coin because its Japanese sound is the same as that of ‘Luck’. The Japanese word would be ‘Go-en’. (If there is a bell in the sanctuary it should be shaken to warn the kami that the enclosure has been reached)
5- Two deep bows are made.
6- Both hands are aligned, with the right hand slightly lower.
7- Clap twice.
9- Then there is a deep final bow.
10- Upon leaving the Jinja, after having crossed the Torii, the gaze must be directed back to the sanctuary and a bow is executed. The latter is to thank the kami for having received and heard the visitor.
Shintoism places great value on the virtues of purity and honesty, but as a faith, Shinto has no dogma, doctrine, or founder. Its origins can be seen in the relationship between the ancient Japanese and the power they found in the natural world. It is a relationship that continues to this day, defined by a great reverence for the force of nature and gratitude for its generosity. Only by receiving the blessings of nature and ancestors and accepting their power, can a harmonious connection be maintained with the world around. That is the basis of Shinto.