One of the most famous “Temple Shrines” (temples that also functioned as shrines – it is a long a complicated story about the role of Japan’s two major religions Buddhism and Shinto) in Tokyo is the Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin in Tokyo’s Moto Akasaka district (near both Nagatacho stations and the famous Akasaka Mitsuke stations). Erected as a branch office of the main Toyokawa Inari in Aichi Prefecture, it has been tremendously popular from the day it was opened in 1828 to this day. During the years after its founding, the temple shrine was moved and the buildings rearranged, one of them being one of my favorite buildings in Tokyo; the tiny Okunoin (奥の院). It looks very much like an ordinary shrine from the outside, except that it is strikingly white (which is quite unusual), but on the inside it looks like any rural temple complete with buddhist art and statues. During the Hatsumode season this year (early January) the Okunoin building was opened to the public and I got my first chance to poke around outside. I would have loved to spend more time in here but lots of people were lining up outside waiting to get in so I had to be quick with my camera.
The Tokyokawa Inari Bestuin is very popular with celebrities and if you have a chance it is a great spot to go for the New Year’s celebrations, from about half an hour before midnight on the 31st to the Coming of Age day in early January.
Last weekend was the stylish (and quite tiny) Miraitoterasu festival at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine and on both the Friday that saw the torrential rains and the mild Sunday there was a display of Tetzutsu Hanabi, handheld fireworks. I wrote a little on the history and art of Tetzutsu fireworks in this blog, so please have look! The Yasukuni event had I think 100 bundles, quite large. One person waited to pick it up while the other one lit it. After a good fire had started it would be picked up and pointed to the sky before going out in a big bang and a final burst of fire directed downwards. Few festivals are as colorful, loud and smelly as this one!
In Ueno, just near the the famous pond and the zoo, next to one of the gates belonging to Tokyo University you will find the tiny Sakaiinari Shrine (境稲荷神社), and right behind it the tiny ancient well of Benkei Kagami (弁慶鏡ケ井戸). The well, which has been famous for its sweet and clear water has been around for as long as anyone can remember, and it was certainly there before the Shrine, whose beginnings are lost to history, but which was already established in this spot in the late 15th century. The shrine has its name Sakai (meaning border) for being in the middle of the the border between two old towns or villages. It was built over in the 19th century but dug out again in 1940. The revival of the old well turned out to be a very good thing, as its water helped save the lives of many people who lived in the area during the intense bombing raids of 1945. One of the most famous people said to have been saved by the well’s water was the famous painter Yokoyama Taikan (横山大観).
Unfortunately, few natural spring wells can survive the infrastructure of a modern city and today the water is labeled as not for drinking, although you can still draw it, by the Sun Tiger hand pump installed near the old well head.
At the Kakitagawa Yuusui park in Shizuoka Prefecture’s Mishima City you can visit the tiny Kifune Shrine (貴船神社). It is a shrine dedicated to the God Takaoka-no-kami, who is the Inoame and Tomeame God, or the God who can start and stop rain at his will. The Shrine is a tributary of the much larger and more famous Kifunejinja in Kyoto far to the west. The shrine itself is located on the highest spot in the river and spring valley, on the spot of a castle which was first destroyed in the 1570s, rebuilt and finally destroyed again sometime in the 1610s. The lack of remains of any castle structures might mean that it was a wooden castle, more like a fort. The nature around the shrine is very beautiful, and there were plenty of insect, lizards, fish and birds around. I saw one semi sit quietly on the trunk of a tree. In summer the swarms of semi can be quite deafening, almost like a motorcycle constantly revving its engine!