Work currently has me in Fukuoka, Japan. While I haven’t been to many other cities in Japan, I have to say I love this place. It doesn’t get a lot of tourists so it’s a world away where people live an ordinary life and thankfully prices are reasonable. The best part of traveling is always experiencing other cultures.
Most Japanese do not practice one particular religion, instead they celebrate both Shintoism & Buddhism. Shinto shrines in Japan are visited to celebrate happy life events – births, birthdays, promotions, and weddings. So our first day in Japan, we had to go to the Shinto shrine to celebrate our safe travel and give us luck for this trip. We ventured out to Dazaifu’s Tenmangu Shrine.
Shinto shrines have layers of purification before you approach the altar to pray. The first thing you come across is the torii gate. Every shrine will have one or two gates that you walk under to be purified.
At this particular shrine, you then cross three bridges. The first for the past – you look forward and do not look back on this bridge. The second represents the present – walk steady and strong. The last represents the future – you should look ahead and not stumble.
After you walk in, there is a basin where you once again purify yourself. There are ladles at the basin. You take a ladle and pour some water over your left hand, then right. Then using your right hand, you take some of the water and put it in your mouth and rinse your mouth, but do not drink, and then spit the water into the area outside the basin. After that, you then hold the ladle upright so the water runs out.
Now you are ready to enter the shrine. At the shrine, you will see a rope with paper streamers that resemble lightning bolts. This is called the Sacred Rope. The lightning bolts represent water and the rope represents a good rice harvest.
Once inside main portion of the shrine, you can approach what can be referred to as an altar. The Shinto religion doesn’t have a particular set of gods according to our guide, nor does it have a set text, doctrine, or particular way to practice. However, there is a proper way to pray at the shrine. When you approach the front of the altar, there is a box with slats across the top – you should stand in front of it. You start by bowing twice, then clap twice, then throw a coin into the box, you then say your prayer or wish. Once complete you bow once more and then you are done.
Each shrine has its own story. This one includes a story about a man with his ox. Because of this, there are many bronze oxen statues. At the entrance, there is one particular statue that local tradition says you should rub. If you rub its head it is said you will be smarter, if you need to be healed in a particular area of your body, you should rub that part (so stomach problems you rub the belly, back problems rub the back). In case you were wondering – I basically molested the ox and rubbed all over (I mean it’s not like it hurts right?).
There is also an area, you can buy a paper fortune. If the fortune is good, you are invited to take it with you. If you do not like the fortune or would like to improve part of the fortune you can tie the fortune on to verticle ropes. Mine was good overall but told me that I would have pain in the future when it came to love, so I quickly tied it on and hopefully my luck will improve!
We also saw a man with a monkey dancing to songs that audience (mostly children) sang. All shrines seem to be surrounded with tons of souvenir stores. Beckoning cats are all the rage – which I kind of love! Not a huge fan of cats in general but the beckoning cats are precious. This shrine has a lot of plum trees around, as a result several shops offered a sweet of plum paste wrapped in bean paste. It was not bad, but I can’t say I enjoyed it either.
So that was our day at the Shinto shrine! The history and rituals that go into visiting a shrine are extremely interesting. They are located all over Japan, so if you ever make the trip, it is definitely worth the experience.