There are many different types of Temples and Shrines in Japan and before you visit you should know how to participate and experience them to their fullest. However, you should keep in mind that there are simple rules and etiquette that should be followed in order for you and others to have an enjoyable experience.
Difference between Shrine and Temple
The Buddhist and Shinto religions have been a part of everyday Japanese life for over a thousand years. Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines are among the most popular types of religious structures in Japan. There are many differences in the two with the most prominent being their use. Many Shinto shrines are said to enshrine a Kami or God, while the typical Buddhist temples are generally for holding sacred items and are not typically worshiped outside of ceremonies in specific areas.
How to Worship at a Shrine
Shinto Shrines (Jinja) are a place of worship for the Kami that inhabit them. Some shrines are for good grades and luck while others are for overcoming hardship. Not every shrine is dedicated to a Kami; some are for sacred mountains and other areas. Before you enter the shrine you will walk through a Torii gate, something you have most likely seen one before in movies or games.
The Torii gate symbolizes the entrance from the real world into the spiritual realm and here you should lightly bow before you enter. You should also avoid walking down the center of the road leading into the shrine, as this path is said to be mainly for the Kami to use. Instead, walk on either sides of the road. After you enter the shrine you will first wash your hands and mouth with the water from the Temizuya, which is said to purify your body before you approach the main shrine.
The Temizuya is a small basin containing water with multiple large dippers placed in it for patron use. Make sure to pour water from the dipper into your hand before bringing it to your mouth; it is considered common sense among Japanese people. Once you reach the main shrine you will perform a short ritual; offer a small coin into the shrine, ring the bell (if there is one) to pay respects to the Kami within the area, bow twice, clap twice and finally bow once more.
How to Worship at a Temple
While most Buddhist Temples (Tera) are not used for general worship there are still places to pray and have your fortune told within them. In some cases you will walk through a Torii gate much like a Shinto shrine. When you arrive at a Buddhist Temple you may be required to remove your shoes before you enter the specific structures. If there is a Temizuya, please cleanse your hands and mouth before entering the main area. Some Buddhist temples have incense for you to burn. Typically you will simply offer up a coin for blessing and quietly pray at most Buddhist temples.
Typical Manners for Shrines and Temples
When you arrive at a Temple or Shrine there are a few rules to follow to make sure you are being appropriate and respectful to the area and others around you. Generally speaking you should be quiet and try not to speak loudly. You should never bring alcohol into the area or enter while intoxicated. You should make sure your shirt is buttoned up and that you are presentable before bowing and entering a Torii gate. Most importantly, make sure you do not disturb the others around you. If you are ever in doubt you should look to others for guidance or ask for help.