When you walk around in Tokyo it’s easy to forget that large parts of this city didn’t exist a few hundred years ago, but sometimes we are reminded that we’re actually walking on reclaimed land by old piers left over, kilometers from the ocean, or signs and temples and names that tell of a long lost connection with the ocean. The area called Tsukiji today was mostly still ocean water until the mid 17th century when it was reclaimed by some very dedicated workers and clever engineers in feudal era Japan. However, at one spot near the Tsukiji fish market harsh waves made work very difficult and land was washed away almost as soon as workers could reclaim it. In order to bring better luck to the project some priests floated an image of an inari god (Inari Myojin) on the water and from then on worked progressed without any further problem. To praise the gods for their help a shrine was erected and named “Namiyoke” – protection against waves. To this day people come to this shrine to pray for safe voyages and to avoid misfortune.
In June every year the shrine hosts a lion festival, called Tsukiji Shishi Matsuri, where two large lion heads are paraded around Tsukiji, and although most ancient wooden lion heads have been destroyed two of them remain to this day, safe since when they were carved in 1848. In the old days the shrine was also connected the clan in charge of Owari Province, the world famous Tokugawa clan. Owari is the old name for the western half of modern Aichi prefecture.
A word of caution though, the industrial areas of Tsukiji are very much still working, unlike many western cities where light and heavy industry has been pushed out of the city centers there is still a lot of noisy production going on in Tsukiji. It’s absolutely not a pretty area, and can look just as grim and run down as any city in Europe or North America. It didn’t help the cause of Tsukiji that I took these snapshots on a cold, windy, over cast day either. Think of this shrine as being very much blue collar. It’s a factory shrine for hard working people. It’s not pretty, but it seems to be working well for the people who pray there!