There’re certain steps to follow at each temple. However, you don’t have to be pressured. During long pilgrimage, you would learn it. And I think important thing is that you would pray regardless the way how you do it.
Step1: At the main gate (山門)
Once you arrive at the main gate, you first remove your hat, bow once then move in.
Step2: At the bell tower (鐘楼)
Ring the bell upon arrival as a greeting to the Buddha . It is considered as bad luck if you do when leaving (“Degane” means losing money). Maybe some temples limit the hours or prohibit it.
Step3: At the handwash basin (手水舎)
Here you wash your hands and mouth, then you put on Pilgrim’s stole (Wagesa) and rosary (Juzu).
Step4: At the main temple (本堂)
Light and offer a candle and three incenses. Three means your past, current and future. Put the candle from the back side, and incenses from the center for others who may come later.
Put a donation (usually 10 -100 yen in my case, but up to you) into the offertory box (Saisenbako), then put your votive card (Osamefuda) and copy of sutra (Shakyo, if you have) in the small box (usually silver one) next to the offertory box.
Move aside a bit in order not to disturb others, then rub your rosary and start to recite the sutras in the following order. It seems 3, 4 and 6 are minimum standard.
- Gasho reihai (合掌礼拝) – 1 time
- Kaigyouge (開経偈) – 1 time
- The Heart Sutra (般若心経) – 1 time
- Gohonzon mantra (御本尊真言) – 3 times
- Komyo mantra (光明真言) – 3 times
- Gohougo Sutra (御宝号 – 南無大師遍照金剛) – 3 times
- Ekobun (回向文) – 1 time
Even I as Japanese, it was not easy to recite sutra especially in the beginning. I think you may learn from YouTube and other sources if you are interested. I also believe it’s OK to pray silently too.
Step5: At the Taishi do (大師堂)
Pray in the same way as the main temple. For the sutra, you skip No.4 Gohonzon mantra at the Taishi temple.
Step6: At the stamp office (納経所)
Pay the Nokyo-ryo (300 yen) as a donation, then receive the temple stamp on your Nokyo-cho (stamp book). The stamp office usually opens from 7:00 to 17:00, so if you collect temple stamps, you need to plan accordingly.
Step7: At the main gate (山門)
Face back to the main temple and bow once, then walk to the next temple.
It took me around 20-30 minutes usually to go through these steps. However, when there would be many people (such as Ohenro tour), it would take more time to get the temple stamp.