How to do Incense Offerings at Japanese Buddhist Temples

Hi Guys,

At the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temple we go to, there is a ritual called oshōkō (お焼香), where families go up to the temple before service and offer a little incense, as well as a small donation, usually a dollar or so. I’ve seen similar rituals at other temples too: Shingon Buddhist, etc. The word oshōkō simply means the burning of incense.

So, for those new to Japanese Buddhism, or if you are visiting a temple for the first time, I wanted to provide a quick overview. There is a helpful guide in Japanese on how to do this, but I haven’t found a helpful guide in English. So, here is a rough translation:

  1. Holding your rosary in your left hand, if any, take 2-3 steps toward main altar, then bow at the waist.
  2. If the incense brazier is closed, take the lid off and place it to the right.
  3. Take a pinch of powdered incense using the pointer finger and middle finger.1
  4. Drop the incense into the brazier. Some people will put the incense before their forehead in respect, but this is not really necessary.
  5. Put one’s hands together, with the rosary draped over both hands and recite the nembutsu.2
  6. Bow while reciting, hands still together.
  7. Take a few steps back, bow again, and then take your seat.

This is of course only a suggestion, but if you are new to a Japanese-Buddhist temple, this is a good start. Make sure to look at the photos linked above. If unsure though, just watch everyone else. 😉

Good luck!

1 Actually I usually see people pinch incense with the thumb and finger, so this is probably not a strict rule.

2 Or whatever prayer/chant is appropriate for that temple, of course.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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