The largest shrine in the otherwise very buddhist city of Tokyo is the massive Heian Jingu. It was supposed to have been even bigger, but due to land and money shortages when it was built in 1895 they had to settle on a small size. Built in a slightly unusual style, it was intended as a copy of the old imperial palace as it would have looked during the Heian period, but it is now used as a shrine dedicated to the souls of two emperors. The massive torii, the distinctive gate set well to the front of the shrine itself is one of the largest in the country although made in concrete. Heian Jingu is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kyoto and is also famous for its massive gardens. Entrance is free to the shrine grounds itself, but the garden is about 600 yen to enter I think. Although shrines might not be on the top of the list of things to see when in Kyoto, it is worth a visit if you have the time!
Almost every time I visit the grand shrine in Kamakura, the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu there seems to be a wedding going on. It’s a great opportunity to see the finest kimono and listen to the thousand of years old ceremonial music being played live. I caught this ceremony a couple of days ago, the bride looked really nervous as she was taking instructions from the priest assistants. Since it’s currently Golden Week here in Japan the shrine was packed with tourists and visitors enjoying the great weather and that in itself should be enough to make any bride nervous! The groom looked much more relaxed. It’s not all that common to see these traditional ceremonies performed out in the open, usually they are confined to the inner sanctum of the shrines. At most you can see the traditional wedding parade if you visit places like the Meiji Jingu in central Tokyo, but this shrine in Kamakura (Kanagawa prefecture) is one of the best for seeing traditional weddings!
One of the fun things to do at New Year’s in Tokyo is to visit Yasukuni shrine and check out their gallery of ema (votive plates) gathered from all major shrines around the country, there are hundreds of them! Recently (I think) they have also started displaying the labels of Japanese sake (rice wine) makers, dozens of them. There is such a huge variety in ema, some are traditional and rarely change over the years others have a new design every year, mostly in accordance with the zodiac sign of the year. Not all ema have the same size and not all are made by wood. There are big ones and small ones, metal, wood, plastic and even glass ema. To see so many different ema you’d have to spend a fortune to travel around Japan but here it is all conveniently gathered in one spot for all to see. Here’s a token few that I photographed, out of the hundreds on display. If you’re very curious about where they are from the file name of the photo gives the prefecture: there’s ema from Aichi, Saga, Iwate, Tochigi, Kagoshima and a couple from Hyogo and Wakayama each.
I really thought I knew all the major shrines of Tokyo, all the jingu and all the jinja. But Tokyo keep throwing me surprises! One evening while taking a walk near Kudanshita (and passing Yasukuni Shrine) I saw a sign mentioning Tokyo Dai Jingu (東京大神宮) and had to take a look. It turns out that in the middle of a quite new high rise residential area one of Tokyo’s big five shrines lies quietly tucked away. It is associated with the grand shrine at Ise and was constructed originally in Hibiya, in the 13th year of Meiji (1880), under the name Hibiya Dai Jingu. After the big Kanto Earthquake in 1923 it was reconstructed at its present location and renamed Iidabashi Jingu in 1928. In 1945 it was again renamed to the Tokyo Dai Jingu. The main deity (kami, or sprit) worshiped at this shrine is none less than Amaterasu herself, the sun goddess and one of the major Gods of Japan. The shrine itself is rather small, with a newly refurbished main garden and buildings, it reminds me very much of Nogi Shrine, which has a very similar look and feel. I was surprised to see so many young visitors to the shrine, the 30 minutes I spent there saw many people in their 20 drop by to pray. There was also a wedding going on in the main shrine building, very beautiful! I love the smells and sounds of a wedding ceremony, even if I can only take part of it from the outside.