Easily one of the most seen but least visited shrines in Japan is the tiny Omatsu Inari Shrine very close to the large Omotesando street crossing. Technically the address of the shrine is in Minamiaoyama, but most people would recognize it as a place in Omotesando more than anything else. It has quite a few illustrious brand name shops for close neighbors so there are tens of thousands of people passing it most days, despite this I have never seen anyone enter it.
The name, Omatsu, which means large pine, comes from the fact that until 1839 there was a huge pine tree right on this spot, it grew so large that people would come to venerate it. As it broke during a storm a tiny shrine was erected over the tee stump and it remains there today, even long after anyone who has ever seen the pine has passed away.
Since then the shrine has found a second shot of fame after having been featured in the award winning drama writer Mukoda Kuniko (向田邦子) who moved into the the fifth floor of the apartment building just next to it in 1970. I think she lived there until she died in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1981.
The shrine itself, being an inari-shrine, enshrines the diety Ukanomitama, who is often shown as a fox in Japanese mythology. I took these photos at night. For some reason I think this shrine is best visited at night, when the obvious modern surrounds are a little less obvious, giving us a chance to imagine this shrine as it must have looked in 1839.
Yesterday from morning to midnight we had a second big snowfall over Tokyo. It is said that we got about 10cm but looking out of my window the morning after I think it was a lot more in some places. I was out and about in the early evening around Aoyama and Omotesando and luckily I had my camera. Both me and my camera were thoroughly soaked after a few minutes in the snow and I had to stop in doorways every few meters just to wipe of the lens as it got covered in snow within seconds. As usual though the subways were doing well but hundreds of flights were cancelled, the shinkansen trains ran on reduced speeds and several highways were closed. It seems that we will be blessed with interesting weather this year!
The AO Building in Aoyama looked great in the snow (here are some photos of it in daylight and here are some at night), whereas Omotseando came out even rougher in the storm (compare with these photos from last December). The Taro Okamoto statue outside of the Kodomo no Shiro building in Aoyama looked regal, I have blogged about one of his paintings before, The Myth of Tomorrow which was featured in a very good Internet hoax).
In Tokyo’s Aoyama/Omotesando district there are tons of hidden gems for tourists and local that stray off the big roads and enter the maze of tiny streets and alley where the real heart of Aoyama is. Despite Aoyama being one of the most famous address in Tokyo, it feels very secluded and remarkably empty to wander around the back streets at any time of the day. The streets are absolutely loaded with top notch boutiques, fashionable hair dressers and great tiny (and not even that expensive) bars and restaurants. I guess it must the fear of getting lost that keeps people away because even after visiting the are dozens of times I still have to keep a mental track of where I am going and in which direction I am heading. But there is no harm in getting lost and wherever you end up is bound to be good, whether it is Omotesando, Shibuya or Harajuku.
A few weeks ago I took a wrong turn on my way home late one night and stumbled upon the Portofino center. It was just after a major rain and the rather splendid architecture with the wooden details were shining in the light reflected from the street lights. It felt like I had stumbled upon a hidden treasure! I returned a few day later and took these photos of the Portofino buildings, and of the wedding hall so beautifully reflected in the windows. The Saint Grace Cathedral (which of course is not a real Cathedral, it is just the name of the building and the wedding event planning company that runs it. Japanese people are quite in love with the romantic idea of a gorgeous western wedding so all around Japan there are these little faux churches to cater to the soon to be wedded couples. Although it might look a little like a movie prop, the place looks fantastic when used in wedding ceremonies and considering the costs involved in flying a wedding party to a proper church abroad, it is quite reasonable (and ecological). Almost every night you can see couples practicing for the wedding ceremony or doing the photo shoots in the beautifully lit night.
The easiest way to find this place is to go to Ao Building in Aoyama, and then turn left just to the side of it, walk straight into the maze of streets and keep an eye out for the towers. It is easier to find at night! The place is quite new and not very established yet but there are restaurants, clinics and wine bars, so far.
The other day, walking around the backstreets of Omotesando I noticed the many vacant lots and alleyways in the city, and I suddenly saw all manner of things filling up the space left by the buildings that once stood there, the gaps in-between. I think this could be an interesting subject for a photo book about Tokyo, Gaps. Vacant lots. Spaces. Buldings peeking through other buildings or the ghosts of other buildings long gone. Tokyo Gaps. Now if only I could find 6-7 extra hours to attach to each day and I’d be ready to search the city!