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The act of cleansing or exorcising impurity is called Misogi 禊 or Misogi Harai 禊祓い, and the actual washing of hands with water is called Temizu 手水.An associated term is Imi 忌, meaning “abstention from defilement.” Most large shrines have a stone wash basin where worshippers and casual visitors rinse their mouth and hands before approaching the deity (most people no longer rinse their mouth).Restaurants may place small piles of salt at the entrance to their eateries.The origin of placing salt piles outside restaurants, some say, was to encourage wealthy clients to enter the establishment -- they rode horseback in the old days, and horses love salt. According to one Chinese story, the Chinese emperor had many wives, who he would visit in turns.One of the wives, hoping to encourage the emperor to visit more often, spread salt outside her house, and the beasts pulling the emperor's carriage would stop in front of her home to lick up the salt.Maki Shio (scattered salt) is throw around the boundaries of the house to stop impurities from entering the home area.Introduced into ceremonies of the Imperial Court sometime in the Nara Era (8th century).
If you don't know what is inside the shrine (or temple), you will soon lose enthusiasm. Shintō shrines have little to see in the way of statuary.New car owners take their vehicles to shrines to be purified (to be washed and prayed upon).Two Japanese characters are often written on the stone wash basin and elsewhere at the shrine.Some Japanese still practice the old tradition of sprinkling water at the gate of their home in the morning and evening to purify the family environs.In addition, purification ceremonies precede the commencement of all important events and functions in Japan.