We went to Yushima Tenjin shrine near Ueno in Tokyo on the weekend for their annual plum-blossom festival. It’s been so unusually cold in Japan this year that even though the festival is supposed to finish at the end of this week the blossoms are only about 40% open. The shrine was originally established in 458AD and is now dedicated to a 神 (kami – god/spirit) of learning so often school children come before entrance examinations.
As usual, there are lots of food stalls in front of the shrine:
The main hall:
Before the exams, children (or often the parents!) come to give an offering for success. People write their wishes on small wooden boards, called ema, which are later burnt:
There’s also a tradition that if you make 1000 paper cranes then your wishes will come true. Here you can see long colourful strings of cranes:
There was also a stage set up with performances of traditional music:
The taiko drumming requires a lot of concentration:
There was also traditional dance:
We weren’t the only ones enjoying the festivities:
The highlight was display of plum blossoms, even if it was still a bit early:
There is a small garden in the shrine which is quite pleasant (if of course crowded!) to stroll around with a cup of hot amazake:
A traditional start to the new year is hatsumode (初詣), or first shrine visit. Around 12 million people visit the top five shrines around the country visit to pray for good luck throughout the coming year. It’s also not only for good luck. Many shrines specialise and people come to pray for everything from help in passing exams to having a baby. To keep the good luck with them throughout the year, omamori (お守り), or good luck charms, can be bought from the shrines. You’ll often see school children with them hanging from their bags. What is also little known is that after the exams, or whatever it was bought for, the omamori is supposed to be brought back to the same shrine and thanks given:
The most popular shrine in Japan for the new year visit is Meiji Jingu in Harajuku, Tokyo. In fact, 3 million people visit Meiji Jingu shrine alone in the first three days of the year. Sake barrels, donated by corporate sponsers, line the route to the main shrine:
This is the main torii entrance to the shrine:
This year’s Chinese zodiac symbol is the snake (much to M’s horror as she hates snakes!) and you’ll see images of them everywhere this year:
Lantern on the front gate to the shrine:
This is the main hall of the shrine:
People lining up to pay their respects:
After praying at the shrine, many people buy a fortune paper to see what’s in store for the year:
Or buy a hamaya (破魔矢), literally ‘demon destroying arrow’, to keep you safe in 2013:
Kanda Shrine in Chiyoda-ku close to the electronics district of Akihabara is a shrine, first established in 730 AD, dedicated to two gods of fortune and a Heian period samurai by the name of Taira no Masakado who rebelled against the government and lost his head in the year 940 thus earning the respect of ordinary citizens ever since.
The main gate, Zuishin-mon, reconstructed in 1995:
The main shrine was rebuilt in 1934 after the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 that levelled much of the city:
Not far from Hiroshima by ferry is the island of Miyajima, containing the world-heritage listed shrine of Itskushima. The island itself was first established as a holy site by professional holy-site founder Kobo Daishi in 806AD. Itsukushima shrine, with its famous ‘floating torii-gate’, was then founded in 1168 by Taira no Kiyomori about whom this year’s NHK Sunday evening drama and an excellent 1955 Mizoguchi Kenji film is based.
The park has been nicely preserved with deer free to roam:
The floating torii:
Stone guardian lion and the shrine complex with pagoda:
The main hall:
Looking out from the main shrine:
Stage where Noh plays are performed:
At sunset the tide moves in and begins lapping around the base of the shrine:
Until the torii stands poised on the silver water floating between worlds:
Further up in the mountains above Nikko, about an hour by bus, is Chuzenji-ko lake. The area is relatively not overdeveloped and, being higher up (1269m), it is wonderfully cool in summer. But the best time to visit if possible is October when the spectacular autumn colours come out. These photos were taken with an old Nikon point-and-shoot in 2004 (I think) so perhaps not the best quality.
The lake has its inevitable ‘attractions’:
The highlight of the lake is the almost 100 metre Kegon Falls:
It’s also possible to take an elevator down to the base of the falls:
There are also some nice walks around the lake. Just past the main village is Futarasan Shrine:
While around on the other side is Chuzenji Shrine, from which comes the name of the lake:
View of Chuzenji-ko lake from Chuzenji shrine:
Many years ago, the area was apparently popular with foreign embassies as summer residences. This was the former Italian residence which features beautiful wood panelling:
The colours are spectacular as the sun descends and gives the lake a glistening golden shimmer:
One of the most famous children’s stories in Japan is momotaro, the peach boy. Together with a dog, a monkey and a pheasant, he travelled to the demon’s island of Onigashima and, after defeating the demon, carried back a treasure to his village. The story is thought to be based on the (possibly legendary) Prince Kibitsuhiko, who defeated an ogre and pacified the region for the Yamato Kingdom. The Kibi Plain in Okayama prefecture is said to retrace his journey and can be easily cycled.
Wedding at Kibitsuhiko:
Kibitsu Shrine, where the Prince is said to have battled the ogre:
Surviving earthquakes, fires and war, the Toshogu shrine in Ueno is one of the oldest buildings in Tokyo, constructed in 1627 and remodelled in 1651by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third Shogun. The first, Tokugawa Ieyasu, united the country and created the Edo Bakufu, or military government, then promptly retired two years later in 1605. For the next 11 years he was the power behind the scenes from his retirement in Shizuoka and, on his death, was proclaimed a deity, Toshogu or ‘the Eastern Light’. He was then enshrined in Nikko. On the funeral procession to Nikko from Shizuoka, minature versions of the grand shrine in Nikko were later built at the various stops along the way, comemmorating the Toshogu and proclaiming the power of the Bakufu.