When visiting a shrine or temple in Japan, it is important to behave yourself and show respect as you explore these religious sites. Here are some things to do to both interact with the shrines while also showing respect at the same time.
At the front entrance of shrines, there is usually a torii gate that you enter through. It is common place to bow before entering the gate (but you don’t have to if you don’t want to). I was also told not to enter directly through the middle of the gate path as this is reserved for the way of the gods.
Next is the purification with water, chozuya, which is a small station with water. Here you will take one of the ladles with your right hand, fill it with water, and pour some over your left hand and then in reserve to wash your right hand (don’t use all the water). After your hands are pure, use your left hand to take some water to rinse your mouth.
A few notes here, you are never to raise the ladle to your mouth, instead pour water into your hand and then rinse your mouth. Never drink the water either, instead, spit it out to the side (it’s just tap water but don’t be rude when you spit it or simply pour the water on the ground, you don’t have to actually put the water in your mouth). Water you scoop up with the ladle should never go back into the chozuya. Again, some don’t even do the mouth part of the ritual, so do what you are comfortable with.
Once you are done, turn the ladle upside down so the water can run down the handle, which purifies it for the next person, and then return it to the station for the next person.
When you go to the shrine itself, you shake the bell that hangs above to begin the prayer. You bow twice and clap twice before you say your prayer, then bow again before you leave the shrine. Also, do not take pictures of the inside shrine, it’s just rude to do. And before you begin the entire prayer process, there is a spot for small donations. This is considered good luck and also helps the temples as well (for maintenance and such).
Lastly, as you leave the shrine grounds, turn around and take one more bow to honor the shrine as you leave.
If you are just visiting the shrine grounds, you don’t have to do any of this, so don’t feel like you are obligated to do it. Just be respectful when you visit and keep these things in mind if you want to take part in a prayer.