During the Edo period after the end of the Civil Wars one of the ways that peace was kept was to have the ruling provincial lords to live close together in the capital where the Shogun could keep an eye on them. The Daimyo (provincial level lords) live in grand walled estates called Yashiki, the grandest of which was like a miniature city within the city while the smallest was merely a large house with a garden, a wall and sometimes a ceremonial moat to separate it from the city. Many of the Yashiki also had dedicated shrines where the people who lived there could pray. After the Edo period ended the old Yashiki system was abolished and most of the grand Tokyo estates were broken up into smaller pieces or turned into parks or gardens. The shrines sometimes remained though, and to this day it is possible to find several of these scattered around central Tokyo to show where a grand estate house once stood. I have heard there are 16 of them but I am not sure.
I found one of these Edo Yashiki shrines in Tokyo’s Asakusa district, the Taro Inari Jinja (Shrine). This used to be the estate shrine of the Tachibana House of the Yanagawa clan, who ruled souther Fukuoka province on the Island of Kyushu. The estate and the shrine was established here around 1660. This is the only remains of the old estate, even though some of the lots are still in the hands of the original noble family members who seem to be in the hotel business (not sure on this one).
The thing that made me notice this shrine however was the fact that the Torii, the red gate in front of all shrines and holy places, has actually been incorporated into the neighboring building when it was erected, a torii shaped hole has been made in the building wall itself! No matter how crowded Tokyo gets, you can’t really ask the Gods to move!
If you are in the market to visit minor shrines and temple while visiting Tokyo I can recommend trying to find the Ichigayakameokahachimangu (市谷亀岡八幡宮) near Ichigaya Station in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. This shrine was established as one of the guardian shrines of the Tokyo castle in 1479 and move to its present location outside the moat in 1636 after the moat had been completed. Like most buildings in Tokyo the shrine itself was destroyed in the air raids of May 25th, 1945, but it was rebuilt in 1962. On the shrine grounds you will also find the smaller but more popular Chanokiinarijinja (茶ノ木稲荷神社), that is renowned for being the place to go if you are suffering from eye diseases. It also seems to be a very popular shrine with pet owners who often come here to pray for the health or souls of their pets. There are monthly rituals where you can bring you pet to have it blessed by one of the priests. You would not know from the location but all the building behind and to the left belongs to the Japanese ministry of defense, making it one of the best protected shrines in the country. The shrine’s official festival seems to be in September every year but I have never seen it myself!
The last image is not one of mine, but a print from the hands of the famous Utagawa Hiroshige, showing what the shrine looked like in 1858.
Summer is the time to tour the country and here is a very summerly shrine that I visited in Kyoto with the fantastic name of Manzoku Inari Jinja. I didn’t have time to stick around to learn anything about the shrine which still annoys me, but maybe someone reading this blogs knows more? There were plenty of statues around in this well kept shrine. There’s not many shrines actually, in the very buddhist city of Kyoto, so I usually try to drop in and have a look every time I pass one on my Kyoto city walks.
Any foreigner who has spent any time in Japan, and almost all of Japanese school children know of the strange foreigner Lafcadio Hearn (his Japanese name was Koizumi Yakumo, or 小泉八雲), an exceptionally cosmopolitan Irish-Greek intellectual who came to Japan in 1890 as a journalist but quickly had to change career to that of an English language teacher, a fate no doubt shared by many eager young westerners in the present times. His first teaching post in Japan was at a school in Shimane, capital of Shimane Prefecture, which later featured in his famous writings about Japan. Also featured in his writings was this little shrine, the Jozaninarijinja (城山稲荷神社), an Inari shinto shrine at the top of the castle mountain in central Shimane. On his way to school he would often stop and look at the large stone statues of foxed outside the shrine. Hence, it is in my opinion that Lafcadio Hearn generally, and this shrine in particular, could be considered the guardian spirits, or saints, of English teachers in Japan, Japanophiles and even foreign manga lovers! If you consider yourself having ever fitted into one of those categories, take a moment the next time you are in Shimane and throw a coin to the spirits of this shrine!