On Saturday I did another Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimage. This time it was the Yamate pilgrimage, and I had company. It was a much easier route than the Ebara pilgrimage I did on January 2nd, and unlike all the other routes in Tokyo, this one is open all year. Of course, there is nothing to stop you walking any of the other 23 any time you want, but if you want to gather stamps from the shrines and temples, or buy dolls of the lucky gods, this is the only one that allows you to do this all year round. For these reasons, I’m going to try to give more detailed directions for this one, and if you have a chance I hope you can do this pilgrimage yourself one day.
So here is the map with all the shrines and temples marked on the route. Aha, the beady-eyed may be saying, she says it’s a Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimage, but there are only six stops! True; there are only six stops, because at the third place there are two gods in one shrine.
The nearest station is Shirokane Takanawa, on the Namboku Line, and the most convenient exit is 1. When you emerge at street level, turn left and walk to the next crossing. Cross the road, turn left and walk past the fire station then continue across another road. The first shrine is Kakurinji (覚林寺). We had decided to make an early start, so we were there before the office had opened and no-one was about. The shrine is a medium-sized one, with a concrete area in front, but parts of it look quite old. It’s amazing how just a few steps from a busy main road there’s a feeling of peace and tranquility.
Now, I have already written that the office hadn’t opened yet, so I was unable to buy a lucky god doll, but at the end of our pilgrimage we took the train back and I managed to get one. Each doll has a hole in the base and a fortune is inside, so when you buy one you have to choose your own. By the end of the pilgrimage you have seven dolls (and therefore seven fortunes) so I can only imagine that you look at each one as you go along and keep or discard it according to what you already have and whether it is better or worse than the one you already have. Anyway, the god here is Bishamonten and here he is:
When you leave Kakurinji, turn left, and retrace your steps back to the road you crossed over before. Instead of crossing the road, turn left and walk past the Miyako Hotel. The next place is Zuishoji (瑞聖寺), about 8~10 minutes’ walk along Meguro Dori. This was one of the largest we visited, and again had a lovely serene atmosphere. As you enter the precincts there’s a bell tower on the right. Although it was still before nine o’clock we could see inside the temple and spent some time just soaking up the atmosphere.
We decided to hang about for ten minutes to wait for the office to open, and when the staff started to arrive just before nine our presence surprised them. Several of them were apologetic and rushed to open the office, even though we were there early and they were not late at all. I bought my next doll (though actually it was the first of the day), Hotei:
Onwards to our next stop, Myoenji (妙円寺), where both Jurojin and Fukurokuju are worshipped. To get there, the route continues along Meguro Dori for another 8~10 minutes. The road to the shrine leads down a slope, and the shrine itself is quite small. There are two halls:
The walk to the next stop is a bit longer. Continue along Meguro Dori; you’ll walk under the expressway and eventually come to Meguro JR station. Walk parallel to the tracks until you come to the corner of the station, across from the Meguro Atre building. Cross over the road, but instead of walking down the main road, take the smaller road to the left and walk down quite a steep hill towards Meguro Gajoen. The next temple, Daienji (大円寺), is about halfway down on the left. The gate looks very new, but inside on the left there are a lot of small statues which look old and peaceful. There was a small bell to ring and the sound went on and on, it was so beautiful.
and on the right you can see a statue of a buddha covered in gold leaf. If you are suffering from some illness or ailment you can buy a small packet of gold leaf at the temple office and apply it to the corresponding part of the buddha’s body and he will heal you.
Continuing down the hill, you’ll pass Meguro Gajoen, famous for its wedding halls, banquet facilities and museum, but also for its huge and luxurious toilets! According to its website, it’s ‘a multipurpose community space exuding the pleasant fragrance of highly advanced culture’. If you need a toilet break, this would be a good option! A little further on, you’ll cross Meguro river, lined on both sides with cherry trees; a good excuse to walk this route in spring when the blossoms are in full bloom. A few more minutes and you reach Yamate Dori. Turn left and cross the road (by the overpass) and you’ll see the fifth stop up a small road on the right.
This is the smallest shrine, Banryuji (蟠龍寺), dedicated to Benten, the only goddess of the seven.
I know the photo isn’t very clear, but it’s the only one I took. The photo on the right is of the little grotto to the right of the main hall, under a tiny man-made (I assume) hill. There’s a pond in front of the shrine and the atmosphere here is very relaxing. Being so small, the incense wafts everywhere and the air is fragrant with its smoke.
At this shrine I bought a doll and also a decorative strap for my phone containing all seven gods:
One more stop to go! Turn right and continue along Yamate Dori. When you see a smaller road leading off to the right, follow it. It will zig-zag a couple of times, and you’ll come out opposite a temple that appears to worship an octopus. I have no idea what’s going on there. At this point, we asked the way because we weren’t entirely sure where we were, and were told to continue along the road and ‘turn right at the eel shop’. We walked on and came to the last stop, and by far the biggest of the pilgrimage.
This is Ryusenji (瀧泉寺), and the god here is Ebisu. The precincts are large, and when we entered we saw a lot of stalls set up to sell snacks like takoyaki (octopus fritters) and chocolate-dipped bananas. Nothing was on sale yet; it was still only about 10am. We walked up the steps and came to the main hall. There were two groups of high school students, noisily taking photos and checking the fortunes they had just picked out.
I bought the last doll
So I started this year with two pilgrimages and they were very different. The Ebara pilgrimage is quite demanding; it’s longer and there are a number of hills to go up and down. There were no dolls, but I bought the small ema and collected stamps at each stop. I found it enormously satisfying to complete the route but was very tired by the end. It’s very much a neighbourhood walk, and if you want to stop for a rest or refreshments you’d have to look for a convenience store, because not much will be open in the first few days of the year when you can do the pilgrimage.
In contrast, the Yamate pilgrimage is much easier; it’s shorter and as long as you start at Shirokane Takanawa there is only one hill and you walk down it. (If you start at Fudomae and do this route backwards you will have a steep walk up to Meguro station.) The dolls are a lovely souvenir. If you want to collect stamps you can, but it will take longer, because you have to wait for someone to do the calligraphy for you. Since you walk right past Meguro station it would be much easier to stop for a snack or a meal and the route is far more direct. If you have friends or family visiting Tokyo I would recommend this pilgrimage as a wonderful way to spend half a day. You can do it any time of the year and in only a couple of hours you’ll see the most modern and most ancient aspects of life in Tokyo.
I am deliberately focusing on Tokyo in my posts and not including people’s names, but I would like to thank the friend who got up early and did the pilgrimage with me, and especially for indulging me at the end by going right back to the beginning so I could complete my collection of lucky gods. Thank you! You know who you are.