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Views Insider’s Guide to Shintō Shrines
“Sandō”: The Worshipper’s Path

Toya Manabu [Profile]


The sandō, literally the “worshipper’s path,” is the route leading from the outermost torii entrance to the shrine itself. Worshippers walk along the sandō to make a complete pilgrimage of the entire shrine grounds.


The sandō, or “worshipper’s path,” is a walkway that leads you into the shrine and to its constituent structures. Most sandō are paved with gravel or flagstone. The sandō takes you naturally along the shrine’s pilgrimage route, providing a complete tour of the grounds. It is best to keep a step to the right or left of center, since many shrines regard the central axis (seichū) as a path reserved for the kami of the shrine.

Mitsumine Shrine, Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture

Usa Shrine, Ōita Prefecture

Chinju no mori

At older shrines, the sandō is usually lined with large trees, demarcating a path through the sacred forest, or chinju no mori, in which the shrine is situated. In Shintō, these groves are considered dwelling places of the kami and are sacred precincts in and of themselves. For this reason, it is forbidden to remove even one fallen leaf from the forest, let alone cut down any of its trees. Some of Japan’s most venerable shrines are surrounded by virgin forest that has been preserved unspoiled for centuries.

Forest around Ise Shrine, Mie Prefecture

(Banner photo: Sandō at Usa Shrine, Ōita Prefecture)

▼Further reading
Your Virtual Guide to the Shintō Shrine (Series Top) Torii: Gates to the Sacred Spaces Foreign Tourists Flock to the Gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine
Japan’s Religious Ambivalence: The Shaping and Dismantling of a National Polity The Japanese World View: Three Keys to Understanding “Kami”: The Evolution of Japan’s Native Gods


  • [2016.07.04]

Writer and Shintō priest. Born in Saitama Prefecture. Graduated from the Department of Shintō Studies at Kokugakuin University. Author of Shintō nyūmon (Introduction to Shintō), Fuji-san, 2200-nen no himitsu (Mount Fuji’s 2,200-year Secrets), and other works.

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Other articles in this report
  • Shintō’s Sacred Forests and Japanese EnvironmentalismToya Manabu explores the historical and spiritual connections between Shintō shrines, the sacred forests that surround them, and environmentalism in Japan.
  • Nature Worship in Old ShintōBefore Shintō came to be practiced in constructed shrines, it was centered on the direct worship of nature itself. Toya Manabu surveys the various objects of worship that formed the original focus of Shintō belief.
  • “Shōzoku”: The Shintō VestmentsThe clothing worn by priests and priestesses at Shintō shrines is unlike anything you will see elsewhere in Japan. Here we describe the styles of traditional vestments that are part of the Shintō experience.
  • “Shamusho”: The Shrine OfficeWhen not engaging in religious rites, priests and shrine personnel may rest in the shamusho, or shrine office. Here visitors can also obtain talismans to protect their homes and selves with the blessing of the shrine’s kami.
  • “Shintai, Shinboku”: The Divine Object or TreeAt the heart of the shrine, never viewed by visitors, is the shintai, the “divine body” of the kami. At some shrines this is an object, like a jewel or sword; at others, it is a natural feature like a mountain or shinboku, a divine tree.

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