cortigiana took part of an afternoon, headed to a shrine near her (over in Japan [not Kyoto, I was wrong about that], where she lives), and, well...
When asked what to pray for, I just said "a little happiness, luck, and good health." The text here is hers, sent to me with the pictures.
On April 29th, 2010 I went to Ōasahiko-jinga (大麻比古神社), the Ōasahiko Shrine. This Shinto Shrine is located in the Bando area of Naruto in Tokushima-ken (Tokushima Prefecture), Shikoku, Japan. Oasahiko-jinja can be found at the base of the Oasa Mountain and nearby the first temple of the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage as well as the grounds of a former POW camp for German, Austrian, and Hungarian soldiers.Way, way cool. Thank you, Mazi, for being a damn nifty person.
At this particular shrine the two main Kami (Shinto gods/spirits) worshiped are Ōasahiko-no-Okami and Sarutahiko-no-Okami. The exact founding date of the Shrine is unknown but the first recorded mention of it (still available today) dates to 927. The grounds consist of a main shrine and many smaller shrines.
When entering a Shinto Shrine one walks through torii, large gates that are usually orange wood/metal or grey stone (you can also find unpainted wood torii). Traditionally there are two torii to walk through, they do not always match. Once you enter the grounds you need to cleanse yourself. This is done in one of two ways. Some shrines, though this is rare, have a fire going where you pull the smoke over yourself to purify yourself.
More common is purification through water. This is done at the provided basin (they come in various sizes and shapes). You use the ladle to first pour water into your left hand, drop the water, switch the ladle to the left hand and pour water into your right hand and drop it to the ground, and finally you switch the ladle again and pour water into your left hand, bring the water to your mouth, put the water in your mouth and swish it about before spitting it on the ground. You then return the ladle and often there is an available towel to dry your hands.
Once the cleansing is complete you walk to the shrine you wish to pray at. What order you get the attention of the Kami, make an offering, and pray is up to the individual, though every area has its own methods. To get the attention of the Kami you either clap twice loudly, ring the provided bells, or do both. Then you say your prayer and then leave your offering.
For your offering I went past the main shrine and headed up behind it to Maruyama, a small mountain on a back path. This particular shrine is for the Inari. Inari are very special to both Shintoism and Japan. The Inari are fox like beings who are kami of fertility, rice, agriculture, industry and worldly success. They are also tricksters and the most accessible in terms of the kami you can pray to.
I entered the grounds via the two torii, cleansed myself at the basin, clapped and rang a bell (have to wake those Inari up!), prayed on your behalf, and then left an offering of a bottle of water.
This is the main torii you pass to enter the shrine grounds. You can see its massive size by comparing it to the walking person (lower left) and the car that has driven through it. I believe it is over 50 feet tall. I know you can see it from the expressway (those are raised over 50 feet high here).
This is a map of the shrine grounds; many of the larger Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines have such maps. The specific shrine I prayed at is in the top left corner. It is the shrine most to the left.
This is a photograph of the main shrine. Behind it are many paths and many smaller shrines: including the one I prayed at.
This is a sign in front of the shrine I prayed at on your behalf. It states when the shrine was built and some other information (that I have not been able to translate as I do not know enough kanji). The most important on the sign, though, is the name of the shrine:
丸山稲荷社 (Maruyama Inari Shrine)
These are the torii you must go through to get to the Inari Shrine. All Inari Shrines have their own torii.
This is a photograph of the inside of the shrine. Inari lanterns are hanging form the ceiling and tiny fox statues wait by a door to carry your prayer to the inari themselves. On your behalf I left an offering, which you can see in the photograph: the bottle of water. (I apologize for the blurriness of this photograph, the sun had set and as such the lighting inside the temple was horrible.)