Tag Archives: Shinto shrine

Turn right at the eel shop

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.

Map of Yamate pilgrimageSo 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.

Kakurinji   KakurinjiNow, 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:

BishamontenWhen 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.

Zuishoji   Zuishoji   I looked up and was delighted to see this amazing wooden fish:

ZuishojiWe 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:

HoteiOnwards 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:

Myoenji   Myoenjiand in the photo on the right you can see some disappointing fortunes which people have tied and left at the shrine. If you walk between the two halls you can find this tiny shrine also:

MyoenjiOf course I bought dolls of the lucky gods:

Jurojin   FukurokujuThe 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.

Daienji   Daienji                    The main hall is directly opposite the entrance

Daienjiand 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.

DaienjiThe god here is Daikoku, and here he is:

DaikokuContinuing 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.

Banryuji   Banryuji                         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:

Benten   7 lucky godsOne 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.

RyusenjiThis 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

Ebisuand the pilgrimage was complete. The nearest station is Fudomae, also on the Namboku Line, and you’re only one stop away from Meguro.

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.


Starting the year the Japanese way

The 7 Lucky Gods pilgrimage is a traditional way to start the new year. There are 24 different routes in Tokyo, and I’m sure many, many more throughout the country. I first did one three or four years ago, and chose to do the one known as the Yamate course, which is in Meguro and supposed to be the oldest. I’m going to do that one again tomorrow, but after I met a couple doing my local one, Ebara, (one of two in Shinagawa) on January 1st I became curious about it and found some information on the ward office website. Thanks to the joys of jet lag, I woke up early on Wednesday morning and since it was such a lovely day I decided to do it. I took the train to Oimachi, where the pilgrimage starts (though you can do it from the other end of the route, as the couple I met were doing).

The first stop was a tiny Shinto shrine called Oi Zao Gongen Jinja (大井蔵王権現神社).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe man in the small office gave me a far better map than the one I had downloaded from the ward office website. I bought a large card with the names of all seven shrines and temples (and their deities) on it, and he told me that if I collected a stamp at every stop I could get a small wooden plaque (called an ema or 絵馬) at the last one. I bought a very small plaque of the god of that shrine; Fukurokuju, god of good luck and longevity:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I left he encouraged me ‘gambatte kudasai’ (頑張ってください), roughly translated as ‘please do your best’ and something you hear on a daily basis before all kinds of endeavours. I vowed to do my best (gambarimasu! / 頑張ります!) and set off. Now, when I say I set off, what I actually did was head back to the main road because I had convinced myself that the route went along there (it was probably wishful thinking). I have to be clear right away that I am very bad at reading maps, apparently it’s spacial brain thing, but I frequently resort to trying to turn a map round to line it up with my surroundings and I have pretty much no sense of direction. I’m sure you have already realised, then, that heading back to the main road was not the thing to do, and so I spent some minutes wandering around, before going back to the road the shrine was on and continuing along there.

After about ten minutes I reached the second stop, this time a Buddhist temple called Toko-ji (東光寺).


This was the least interesting of all the places I visited, and hardly anyone was there. There were a number of dog statues, which made me wonder if there was any particular connection and if people somehow could bury their pets here, but I can’t find any information about that, although I did discover that the god of toilets is enshrined here. When I asked the woman in the booth she stamped my card for me, sold me a small ema of the god enshrined there, Bishamonten, god of success and good luck, and gave me some candy so I could continue to do my best.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe walk to the next stop was much longer and took about twenty-five minutes. It was quite a circuitous route, and for a while went along the road next to the shinkansen (bullet train) tracks. There was something satisfying about following an old pilgrimage route while the most modern of Japan’s trains glided past. It was also around this time that I really noticed just how hilly Shinagawa is.

The third stop was also a Buddhist temple, and my favourite so far. It also had the longest name: Yogyoku-in Nyorai-ji (養玉院・如来寺).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA      OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA             There were a few people there; the approach to the temple wound up a small hill and felt very peaceful. An elderly man was there with his small grandson, showing him how to worship. The god there is Hotei, god of good luck, matchmaking and fertility.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow, I was already feeling a little map-challenged, and so asked the women at the temple how long it would take to get to the next stop, and where I went from there. They told me it was quite a long walk, about twenty minutes, but this is where I went badly wrong and did a looping detour which added some time to my trek. I left the temple, pausing to listen to someone ring the bell in the tower,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAlined my map up, thought I knew where I was going . . . and then spent the next fifteen minutes getting lost. It was especially annoying since I knew that once I found the next place I was on home turf and knew the area much better. I just had to get there. Finally I admitted defeat and asked an elderly woman and her daughter who were out for a walk. The daughter did not seem to like me stopping them to ask but her mother started to give me directions. Another woman, out walking her impeccably-groomed dog, also stopped to help and marvelled at me doing something that most Japanese people don’t do. Once I knew generally where I was going I set off, now accompanied by the woman and her dog, and for a few minutes had one of those odd English and Japanese conversations with her. She asked me about where I was from, how long I’d been in Japan, and threw in words in English when the mood took her. The hill got steeper, I don’t think she wanted to go in that direction anyway, and so we shook hands, wished each other a Happy New Year and I carried on. At the top of the hill I stopped to look at my map again and this time another Japanese woman asked me (in perfect English) if she could help. Apparently I was already on track, it was just a walk straight down the other side of the hill, but it was nice to have confirmation.

In something of a giddy mood I reached the next stop, Kamishinmei Tenso-jinja (上神明天祖神社), a Shinto shrine where the only goddess of the 7 lucky gods, Benten, is enshrined.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s not a very good photo, but it was the busiest of all the places I visited, and a lot of people were praying. (When I was first in Japan I attended a church in Yokohama which was on the tourist trail, so on Sunday mornings, as we came out of church we were often photographed by Japanese sightseers, sometimes even in church, and I didn’t like it. Years later, I love to visit shrines and temples, but they are principally places of worship, and I’ll only get close if no one is praying.) So, I got the stamp on my card, bought my ema

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand looked around a bit. The main hall was very busy, with people lined up waiting to pray. There was a recording of ceremonial music playing and off to one side some men were burning last year’s rice straw rope called ‘shimenawa’ (標縄).

When I left the shrine I felt truly confident of my route for the first time on the pilgrimage, since now it was a walk straight down my local shopping street. I quickly arrived at the fifth stop, Horen-ji (法蓮寺), another Buddhist temple. It was the biggest of the seven, and also probably the most recently (re)built.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIronically it seems to be the most impressive from the photo, but it felt the least spiritual. There was hardly anybody there, and since I’ve been there before I got my stamp, bought my ema of Ebisu, the god of commerce, and carried on.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe walk to the next place was another quite long trek, but now I was in my own neighbourhood so I knew exactly where I was. It felt odd to walk past the end of my road and keep going, and being so close to home made me realise just how tired I was. I had bought some sushi as I walked along the shopping street after the last temple and was looking forward to getting home and having some lunch.

Anyway, I plodded on, and on the way to the next stop I saw a tiny neighbourhood shrine in the corner of a small carpark.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust a few metres further on I arrived at Maya-ji (摩耶寺), another Buddhist temple, where Jurojin, god of longevity and happiness is enshrined.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA      OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                    The people here were lovely, and after I stamped my card they gave me a cup of hot sweet sake and I had a short rest. While I was sitting and sipping on my sake I got talking to a couple who had just started the pilgrimage, so this was only their second stop. I proudly showed them my almost-completed card. They said they do a different pilgrimage route every New Year, and that so far they’ve done somewhere between 10 and 20. I was happy to hear that their favourite so far had been the Meguro pilgrimage; that’s the one I’m doing tomorrow.

When I’d finished my sake I had a quick look round and took the photos above. I bought the ema of Jurojin

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand was offered some more sake, cold this time, which everyone who had worshipped was given. When I declined they gave me the little cup anyway so I could take it home. They were so kind and I think I liked them the best. It’s also only about five minutes away from where I live and I’d never been there before, so I’m glad I found it.

So, the last stop, a Shinto shrine, and it was just round the corner, but it was at the top of a steep hill, which was the last thing I wanted to see at that point. The crows were making a fearful racket in the tree tops as I reached Koyama Hachiman Jinja (小山八幡神社), where the last god, Daikokuten, god of rich harvests, is enshrined.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI got my last stamp and the man in the booth took the card to add the final stamp which would certify that I had completed the pilgrimage. For one awful moment I thought he was going to keep the card, but he returned it to me with the ema of all the lucky gods in their treasure boat (takarabune or 宝船). I bought the little ema of Daikokuten

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand with my completed card


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand assurances that my year would indeed be very lucky I went home with sore feet but a huge sense of accomplishment.