So, now you want to know what you are supposed to do at the temple when you arrive. There are a number of sources that can help you with this, and to date, I have not found anything that seemed “wrong” or “out of place”.

What I am going to do here is simply share with you the procedures that were shown me when I traveled around for a year (on weekends) with ohenro and what we learned from our excellent professional ohenro guides.

Step One: The Temple Gate

Here, it is suggested that you approach on the left side, take a moment and bow. The bow is to show your respects to the temple deity (they may differ from place to place) and to Koubou Daishi too.

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Step Two: Wash Your Hands and Mouth

You are going to see a place just inside the gate where you can wash up before going further. There are usually ladles and a basin. Pick up one with your right hand. Pour water over your left hand. Then hold the ladle in your left hand and wash the right hand. Pour a little water into your left hand and rinse your mouth. Then, hold the ladle up straight so that the remaining water runs down the handle to the scoop. This will purify the ladle and you can simply put it back.

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Step Three: The Bell

At some temples you are encouraged to ring the bell if you like. Others will not allow it. If you have a chance, you should go for it. Just don’t bash it hard. A gentle ring is appreciated by all. Often the bell tower has a suspended wooden log. Pull it back and ring out the bell.

Step Four: The Main Hall

Temples grounds will have two temples. One is for the principle deity, and the second is for Koubou Daishi. Go to the Main Hall first. At the front of the temple there is a place for you to light candles and incense. Do not light your candles or incense from other lit candles. This is taboo, and thought to bring you back luck and the sins of other ohenro. Light your own candles and incense. Put your lit candle in the candle holder (often a glass box to protect candles from wind) and then light three incense sticks and put them in the incense burner.

Next go and rattle the “alligator mouth drum”, it is bell or rattle that is suspended above the coin offertory box. Give it a good shake and let the gods know you have arrived.

The next thing to do is to put your name slip into the box and to leave coin offering in the box. Many ohenro pause a moment in brief silent prayer to the deity.

Come back down a little and prepare to chant the scriptures. There are likely to be other peoples coming through to do the things you have just completed to this point, so be aware of others and take a step to the side a bit.

From the Gongyoushidai (the book of scriptures you have already picked up for your pilgrimage) you will find the Heart Sutra, The True Teaching of the Thirteen Buddhas, The True Teaching of the Principal Deity and the Mantra of Light. Hold this in your hands as you chant.

The chanting sequence is often like this:

Heart Sutra (Hannyashingyou) one time.

True Teaching of the Principal Deity (Gohonzonshingon) three times.

Mantra of Light (Koumyoushingon) three times.

Precious name of the Deity (Gohougou) three times.

Step Five: The Daishidou

Now it is time to go to the second temple and pay your respects to Koubou Daishi. There is another round of chanting to be done.

Heart Sutra (Hannyashingyou) one time.

Mantra of Light (Koumyoushingon) three times.

Ekou one time.

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Step Six: Get Your Ink

Take your Noukyouchou (book of temple stamps) to the office to have the calligraphy of the temple and the stamps of the temple affixed. This is evidence and a reminder of your time at the temple, and a marvellous keepsake.

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  1. You will fumble along a lot as you start to visit temples. No one minds. You have come with a pure heart and a desire to learn and experience the pilgrimage. Do not fret about being judged by anyone.
  2. It is perfectly okay to see a group of ohenro and stand a bit at the back and follow along with them. No one will feel like you are crashing their “ohenro party”.
  3. There are some English versions of the Heart Sutra that would be fine to use as well. Here again, you will not be judged. You’ve come to pay respects and to figure out something for yourself. Everyone is a pilgrim in their own way.
  4. You don’t have to “dress the part”. Be yourself. You can wear and use the gear and clothing of the ohenro or not. Being in the moment, and learning something about the pilgrimage and observing this culture is also perfectly fine.

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