How to Purify Yourself at a Japanese Shrine: 15 (not so complicated) Steps

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No matter how cold it is, when people go to a temple or shrine, most of them “purify” themselves, at least partially. On New Year’s Day (despite the fact that it was freezing), there was a line of people waiting to wash their hands in the Chozuya (also known as the temizuya 手水や).

The Chozuya is a Shinto symbolic purification facility found at basically every shrine in Japan (even non-Shinto establishments such as Buddhist temples). The Chozuya facilities themselves are absolutely gorgeous, and usually follow a similar theme to the Japanese Shrine or Temple.

Actually, to be honest, I don’t quite know the difference between a Japanese Shrine (Shinto) and a Japanese Temple (Buddhist), but each time I go, the process is generally the same.

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1. Find the Chozuya (Cozubachi) “water fountain.” I understand that water fountain is a crude term; I just don’t know what else to call it, because I feel like writing Chozuya, Chozubachi, or Temizuya over and over again will just confuse us all. Each water fountain is different, but the similarities are the fact it has a roof, running water from a spout into standing water, multiple wooden ladles, is usually made of stone, and basically looks like a small, cute shrine.

So, today we are going to call it a water fountain.

2. Wait in line. Somehow cutting in line at a shrine seems like it would defeat the purpose of actually purifying yourself.

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Just so you know, if you have any open wounds or are sick, you’re not supposed to visit a Shrine in Japan. Once again, I feel like this defeats the purpose of a Shrine or Temple since people have a tendency to become more religious and prey when they, you know, want something (like to be healed).

Moving on.

3. Grasp the wooden ladle handle with you right hand. The order of hands is important.

4. Hold the ladle (you’re still using your right hand, remember?) under the running water until it is about hallway full.

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5. Pour the “pure” water over your left hand. Make sure you cover all the skin.

6. Switch hands with the ladle.

7. Holding the ladle with your left hand (re-fill the ladle, if necessary), wash your right hand.

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8. Switch hands with the ladle (again). You should now be holding the ladle in your right hand. Fill up the ladle, if necessary.

Steps 9 – 12 are entirely optional. I usually don’t do it (because I don’t like putting the water at/near my mouth) – but the older generation often does this. To each their own.

9. Cup your empty left hand.

10. Pour the “pure” water into your left hand, making sure to keep it cupped.

11. Drink (BUT DO NOT SWALLOW) the water cupped in your left hand. You should still be holding the ladle in your right hand.

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Also, do not drink directly from the ladle. Cup the water in your left hand and drink from there.

12. Swish the water around in your mouth for a couple seconds then spit it out the rocks below. Do not spit it back into the standing water, or onto the regular, dry ground. The fountain is always surrounded by a bed of rocks (or something similar), that you can easily spit the leftover water.

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13. Fill up the ladle again (still holding it in your right hand).

14. Tip the ladle up vertically, so that the water flows down, cleaning the handle.

15. Place the ladle upside-down on the mat, bamboo sticks, or ledge, where you originally found it.

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Alright, now you’re purification is complete. You are all set to go inside the Japanese Temple or Shrine. Wasn’t this fun?

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

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