Perform a Shrine and Temple Ritual Purification like an Expert


Megan Liu

If you have been to a shrine or temple in Japan (check out our recommendations here), it’s likely you would have noticed a tsukubai (蹲踞: washbasin for ritual purification) near the entrance (these are not fountains for drinking!) They are to perform a purification ritual before entering the religious space. Originally, water from natural springs was used, but running water in these water basins known as chouzuya or temizuya (手水舎), have been adapted to areas without a natural spring. This ritual is to purify the mind and body and is not only for religious followers, but for everyone who wishes to visit the shrine or temple.


There are strict rules with the water basins so make sure you know them before you start reaching for the water ladle! Follow these steps of the ritual purification so you can take part in the traditional process of visiting the shrine/temple:


1. Fill the ladle

Take the ladle resting on top of the water basin with your right hand and fill it with fresh water. One ladleful should be enough to perform the whole ritual.

2. Wash your hands

Position your hands away from the basin, as to avoid pouring used water back into the basin. Slowly pour the water over your left hand, then switch hands and use your left hand to pour water onto your right hand.

3. Rinse your mouth

Your mouth should never touch the ladle; so pour some water from your ladle in a cupped hand. Then from the cupped hand, transfer the water into your mouth. Rinse and spit the water onto the rocks. Make sure you don't drink the water!

4. Clean the ladle.

Many people don't realize there is an extra step. So if you complete this - consider yourself a real expert. Tip the remaining water in the ladle vertically so the water flows down the handle of the ladle. Put the ladle back on the fountain, and the ritual is complete.


Often as travelers, we don't spend enough time learning the culture of the places we travel to. It’s definitely worth it to make the extra effort in being open-minded and curious when traveling, asking questions about cultural practices and basic dos and don’ts! Not only will this help you avoid any unintentionally disrespectful scenarios, it allows you to more fully participate and appreciate local cultures.

For more tips, take a look at our recommendations for traveling off the beaten path.