Monday 26 June 2017

How to Purify Yourself when Visiting a Shrine

A signboard detailing five steps on washing hands and rinsing your mouth expected of visitors before they pray at the altar
Instructions on how to wash your hands before praying at Yasukuni Shrine
A number of posts to date - such as those on shide paper, Japanese toilets, and torii gates - have highlighted the importance of the impure/pure division in Japanese society. A further example of the importance of purification (kiyome =浄め・清め) is washing when visiting a shrine. After passing through the torii and under the shide - which do themselves symbolise purification - and before praying at the altar itself, it is expected that visitors will "purify" their hands (te o kiyomeru =手を浄める) at the temizuya (手水屋), a small open pavilion with a trough of water.

The instructions - note how they are written from right to left like a Japanese book - are quite specific (pictured above). First, pick up a ladle (hishaku =柄杓) with your right hand, scoop up some water, and pour it over your left hand. Second, switch the ladle to your left hand and clean your right hand. Third, switch the ladle back to your right hand, scoop up some water, and pour this water into your left hand; then sup a little water from your left hand (don't swallow!), rinse your mouth, and spit out in the drain. Fourth, clean your left hand one last time. And fifth, return the scoop gently to the edge of the temizuya. The process may seem a little confusing (there is a short video below) but it is a lot easier than misogi which covers a number of exhausting whole-body purification activities, the best known of which is standing under an ice-cold waterfall in nothing but a loin cloth!

UPDATE: A friend pointed out that it is more common to use one ladle scoop for the whole process rather than to keep refilling the ladle. Check out the video here for this method.