Shinto Practices and Rituals
There are many Shinto practices and rituals that happen year round in order to commemorate kami. Most of these practices happen at various shrines across Japan but are not limited to just at shrines. Everyday rituals are also paramount to Shintoism.
Various Shinto shrines
One of the main practices of Shinto faith is omairi. The kanji of omairi has two components: the "o" part of the kanji is a prefix used to show respect while "mairi" translates roughly into participation. Omairi, then, means venerable participation, and this is done best by visiting Shinto shrines which can be found throughout Japan. Visiting shrines is not reserved strictly for Shintoists; anyone can visit a shrine. When visiting a shrine, there are many rituals that must be followed. First, when approaching the entrance, one is to bow respectfully before entering. After entering, various hand-washing basins are scattered throughout the grounds where Temizu is supposed to be performed. Temizu is a way to show respect by cleaning oneself with water (one of the cornerstones of Shintoism). When at a shrine, one may ring the bell only prior to prayers. In addition to these rituals, there are various other festivals held at shrines. Going to shrines is a way to pay respect to kami.
Kagura is the ancient Shinto ritual dance that has been practiced for centuries. The word kagura is thought to be a contracted form of kami no kura, which translates as "seat of the kami." The ritual, then, is a way to both entertain and appease kami. Originally, the practice involved invoking a kami, called kamigakari, but today, the possessions are only choreographed. There are different forms of kagura, including the oldest and more traditional type miko kagura to shishi kagura which involves the dance of a lion mask as the image and presence of the deity.
Another activity held every day at shrines is harai. During the ritual, various items including food, sakaki tree branches, salt, and rice are used as offerings to kami. These offerings are done in order to commemorate kami as well as to appease them for good fortune.
Basin where temizu is performed
Misogi harai is another ritual done daily at shrines. The practice involves purifying oneself by ritual use of water while reciting prayers. Temizu (described above) is a form of misogi harai, but this ritual can also be performed by standing beneath a waterfall while reciting prayers or performing ritual ablutions in a river or other running water. This ritual mimics Shinto history, during which kami Izanagi-no-Mikoto performed misogi after returning from the land of Yomi. This act is intended to purify oneself from sins.
Ema and Other Protective Items
Woman tying omikuji
Ema are small wooden plaques of written wishes and desires that are left at a place in shrine grounds in order to get that wish fulfilled. Other protective items include ofuda, omamori, and omikuji. The uses of these items are many. Ofuda are talisman issued by a Shinto shrine and are kept at home to provide protection. Omamori are protective amulets usually worn to ward off bad luck and promote better health. Omikuji (pictured right) are a paper lot on which a personal fortune is written.