You are not expected to know every God and deity of the shrine or temple you are visiting. You aren’t expected to remember who the temple was built in honour of. Unless you are avidly interested in these things, no one will mind. You are a tourist, and looking at these places is what tourists do.
The thing you most have to remember is to be respectful of the shrine, temple, person or deity. You won’t walk in and handle all the century old vases or let your toddler lick the walls or anything disrespectful like that (I hope).
Some easy things to remember are:
– Be calm. You may be excited because you’re with your best friend on your first trip overseas, but you are in a place of worship. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in a church.
– When visiting shrines; at the purification fountain near the entrance, take one of the ladles provided, fill it with fresh water and rinse both hands. You may rinse your mouth with the water from your hands – but not straight from the ladle! For sanity reasons, it is understandable if you choose not to rinse your mouth.
– Photography is usually permitted at shrines. Watch for signs and don’t use flash!
– When entering temple buildings, you may be required to take off your shoes. Always follow directions carefully, as there is usually a special place to put your shoes and you will be required to keep your socks on.
– At some temples, visitors burn incense. Purchase a bundle, light them, let them burn for a few seconds and then extinguish the flame by waving your hand at it. When it is extinguished, put the incense into the burner and fan some smoke towards yourself, as the smoke is believed to have healing power.