Pilgrim Etiquette

On Arrival:

At the main temple gate, facing the interior of the temple grounds, bow once with your hands joined in ‘lotus’ position (gassho); that is, as if in prayer but with the thumbs uncrossed.
At the Temizuya:
The temizuya is the water basin located usually just inside the temple gates, or on the main pathway up to the temple. It is used for purification before entering the temple proper. Using the ladle provided, wash one hand and then the other, allowing the water to fall into the trough beside the basin or onto the ground - make sure you don't wash your hands or mouth into the basin itself. Next, pour a little water into the cupped palm of your hand, rinse your mouth and spit out the water onto the ground - no need to gargle or make a lot of noise, just wetting your lips is enough. Then refill the ladle and wash the waste water away on the ground. Finally, wipe your hands on your own towel or on the one provided.
Ringing the Temple Bell:
At some of the temples there is large bell that can be rung to announce your arrival and also as a sound-prayer offering. Some of the bells however may be very old and therefore fragile, so it is important to check first - either by seeing the sign that gives permission to ring the bell, or by asking at the temple office - If in doubt, do not ring the bell. First, put an offering (fifty to a hundred yen is appropriate) into the box, then ring the bell once only. To strike the bell, take up the rope and swing the pole back and forth a couple of times without hitting the bell - this builds up momentum for a good sound when the bell is struck. On the third swing strike the bell and then hold back the pole to prevent it from swinging in again. If you have companions who also want to ring the bell, wait until the bell stops vibrating before striking it again. Only ring the bell once on arrival, do not ring the bell on leaving the temple.
On Arrival at the Hondo:
After ringing the bell, go straight up to the Hondo (the main temple building) to pay your respects before looking around the rest of the complex. At some temples you need to remove your shoes before going up the steps; there will be sign, but if in doubt look at the other pilgrim’s feet! When you arrive at the Hondo, light some incense and a candle – either your own, or the ones supplied by the temple. The cost is usually written on a sign but if not, an offering of about fifty yen is appropriate. Waft the incense over your body for purification and make sure you lightly brush the incense smoke over your head, as this shows humility. If you have copied out the Heart Sutra, you can place your paper in the special box provided, which will be near to the offertory box. If you can't see such a box, then hand your Heart Sutra in at the nokyosho. If you have a pilgrim visiting slip, fill in the details and put it into the silver box beside the offertory box.
Praying in the Hondo:
At some of the temples it is possible to proceed inside to the inner part of the temple either by paying to go in or just by asking if it's okay. Otherwise, remain on the verandah and face towards the inner sanctury. Throw some coins into the large offertory box (about one or two hundred yen is appropriate) and ring the round flat bell with the rope, bowing once and quietly standing in prayer for a few moments with hands joined in ‘lotus’ (gassho) position. Facing the interior of the Hondo, bow once again with hands joined in ‘lotus’ position and recite the Heart Sutra (and any of the relevant mantras or personal prayers as you like), bowing once more on conclusion. Please do not eat or drink while standing in the Hondo or on the temple verandah.
At the Nokyosho:
You can have your pilgrim book stamped with the vermillion seal of the temple with beautiful calligraphy inscribed in black ink over the seal at the nokyosho, the temple office. Depending on the size of the temple this may be a separate window or office to the one where you can purchase amulets and other temple goods. Remove any pieces of loose paper before presenting your book: Hand the book to the priest with both hands, with the open page to be stamped facing the priest; bow slightly as you offer your book. The cost of a temple seal is usually 300 yen for either a single sheet or a page in your book, and 500 yen if you are completing a scroll.
On Leaving the Temple:

On leaving the temple, at the main gateway that you entered through, turn and face towards the temple and bow once with your hands in gassho.