Sanpai (a visit to a shrine or a temple) (参拝)

Sanpai is an act of visiting a shrine or a temple and praying to gods or Buddha. Similarly, to visit a shrine or temple for another person who has a prayer is called daisan, while to pray towards a shrine or temple to which one is making a wish without actually visiting it is called yohai. Sankei' is the synonym for sanpai, but sankei focuses on the act of visiting a shrine or a temple while sanpai emphasizes the act of praying. However, the two words are generally considered to have the same meaning since one has to visit a shrine or a temple to make sanpai. The word 'sankei' may be used in stead of sanpai for a less religious visit to a shrine or a temple such as sightseeing or school field trip.

Procedure for sanpai

The major steps in the procedure of sanpai to a shrine or a temple are generally as follows:

Wash hands and rinse mouth at a chozusha (purification trough). These are the acts of purifying oneself, and at a shrine, in particular, they function as an informal purification ceremony.

Throw money into an offertory box.

Ring bells (some people maintain that one should throw money after ringing bells).

Then bow.

At a shrine, bow twice, clap hands twice, and then bow once (all being deep bows). At a temple, hold the palms and fingers of both hands together.

Procedures at some shrines or temples may be different from the ones mentioned above.

At the Izumo-taisha Shrine and the Usa Hachiman Shrine, visitors are required to clap hands four times instead of twice. Furthermore, at the Ise-jingu Shrine, there is an unusual way of clapping called yahirade (eight claps), which is not performed by ordinary visitors.

At some shrines or temples, visitors may be required to bow lightly first and then bow deeply when bowing twice.

People generally pray to gods or Buddha during the time from clapping to bowing or when holding the palms and fingers of both hands together. Having originated from the greeting in areas such as India, holding the palms and fingers together at a temple differs from clapping. Visitors chant a Shinto prayer called norito (jinja-haishi, or norito chanted during the sanpai at a shrine) while they bow twice, clap hands twice, and then bow once. They may also chant norito after vowing twice, and then vow twice, clap hands twice, and bow once.

Formal sanpai

The procedure mentioned above is for informal sanpai done in front of the main building of a shrine; additionally, there is a formal sanpai done (entering) inside the haiden (worship hall). To make a formal sanpai, visitors inform a clerk at a shrine office of their intention of making a formal sanpai and then enter into the haiden. After a Shinto priest performs shubatsu (purification ceremony) and chants norito to gods, they present tamagushi (branch of a sacred tree) before the gods and then bow. In this case, they are generally supposed to follow the same steps of bowing twice, clapping hands twice, and bowing once, but following the instructions of the Shinto priest is more important. Afterwards, they drink shinshu (sake, or Japanese rice wine, offered to gods) as naorai (feast after a ceremony).


In ancient times, sanpai and sankei indicated a visit to a nearby location to pray to gods or Buddha, but from about the Heian period, people began to visit a shrine or a temple located far away. From about the end of the Heian period, people, mainly nobles, often made a visit or a pilgrimage to the Kumano-sanzan (three major shrines of the Kumano-hongu-taisha Shrine, the Kumano-hayatama-taisha Shrine and the Kumano-nachi-taisha Shrine), the Koya-san mountains and the Ise-jingu Shrine. Pilgrimages to the Kumano-sanzan in particular became popular and many people visited them; the spectacle of their advancing on a narrow mountain trail in a row was called 'ari no kumano-mode' (ants' pilgrimages to the Kumano-sanzan).

In the early modern period, ordinary people took long trips more often thanks to the improvements of the transportation network. People from all over the county came to visit the Ise-jingu Shrine, the Kotohira-gu Shrine and the Zenko-ji Temple. Since it was costly to visit a location far away from home, the practice in which people formed a religious association and paid money to have their delegates make a visit for them arose. For a visit to the Ise-jingu Shrine, there was also a custom called "nukemairi" in which people were able to continue their trip with the help of roadside residents even after spending all their money on the way there. This was because people thought that those who helped visitors would receive the same blessing as them.

Shinpai (emperor's visit to a shrine)

The emperor's visit to a shrine is not called sanpai, but 'shinapai.'
This is due to the tenets in which the emperor is believed to be a living God of the Shinto religion and be ranking as high as the Gods worshiped at the shrine. In recent years, however, the word sanpai is often used incorrectly for the emperor even in newspaper articles. It is yet correct to use the word sanpai for the imperial family except the emperor such as the empress and the crown prince.

Some people maintain that emperors' visits to the shrines such as the Yasukuni-jinja Shrine, the Gokoku-jinja shrine, the Dazaifu-tenmangu Shrine, the Nikko Toshogu Shrine and the Minatogawa-jinja Shrine which embrace as enshrined deities the subjects (human beings) originally under the emperors unlike Amatsu-kami (heavenly gods) or Kunitsu-kami (god of the land) should be called simply gyoko (emperors' visit) instead of shinpai.

Various forms of sanpai

Hatsumode (the practice of visiting a shrine or a temple during the New Year)
Ohyakudo-mairi (ritual of visiting and praying at the same shrine a hundred times)
Hatsumiya-mairi (newborn's first visit to a shrine)
Virtual sanpai on the web

[Original Japanese]