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Posts Tagged ‘shichi fukujin’

Ōedo Line: Monzen-Nakachō

In Japanese History on June 22, 2015 at 1:37 am

門前仲町
Monzen-Nakachō (corruption of “town at the gate of the shrine/temple”)

tomioka

Monzen-Nakachō, known locally as Mon’naka, is the area around 富岡八幡宮 Tomioka Hachiman-gū Tomioka Grand Shrine. Wherever large temples or shrines were built, local economies developed to cater to the local parishioners and pilgrims. This was especially true on big highways[i]. Major shrines, called 大社 taisha, often employed a large number of staff as did large temples. They needed places to buy things quickly, so the towns that developed outside of their gates, called 門前町 monzen-chō “towns in front of the gate,” popped up to provide to the needs of the shrines/temples and the parishioners and pilgrims that came to these religious sites. Tomioka Hachiman-gū was no exception.

2 sumō wrestlers visit Tomioka Hachiman-gū on New Year's Day

2 sumō wrestlers visit Tomioka Hachiman-gū on New Year’s Day

The shrine has a profound ritual connection to the sport of 相撲 sumō as many say the standardization of sumō began here in the Edo Period and therefore it is the origin of professional sumō. I don’t know if this is the case or not, but the shrine itself is an amazing spot to visit. From 1868 to today, the shrine has been hosting many ritual events connected to the various 相撲部屋 sumō beya sumō stables in Tōkyō – and indeed all of Japan.

This shrine is considered the best place to begin the 七福神巡り Shichi Fukujin Meguri Pilgrimage of the 7 Gods of Good Luck of Fukagawa[ii]. I agree. If you start here and walk at a brisk pace, you can finish the pilgrimage in 2 hours.

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This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here.

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[i] Conversely, shrines and temples often moved to take advantage of the highways to increase their revenues.
[ii] Fukagawa 7 gods of good luck.

What does Suitengumae mean?

In Japanese History on April 27, 2014 at 5:18 pm

水天宮前
Suitengūmae
(in front of water heaven, more at “in front of Suiten-gū”)

shrine honden

 

This is a reader request, but I think I can answer it quickly – or at least I’ll try.

Firstly, I have to say this. There is no place called Suitengūmae in Tōkyō. This is the name of a Tōkyō Metro train station. The surrounding area may be referred to as Suitengūmae by the locals, but it’s not a postal address. Such is the life of a city dominated by such an expansive and exacting train system.

I’ve never used the train station before, but I have been to the area before. Officially, the area is known as 日本橋蛎殻町 Nihonbashi Kakigara-chō[i]. I don’t think most Tōkyōites know this postal code unless they live or work in the area. However, pretty much everyone will know the origin of this place name… err, I mean, this station name.

 

Subway stations... hehehehe.

Subway stations… hehehehe.

The name is derived from the famous 水天宮 Suiten-gū Suiten Shrine. Saying you visited this shrine is synonymous with saying “I’m pregnant.[ii]” The attraction to this is that 天御中主神 Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is enshrined here. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe she/he is the hermaphroditic creator of the universe in Shintō cosmology[iii]. Anyways, by some Shintō thought, this kami is said to be the first kami. So, the idea of creation is strong, thus the connection to creating babies. There are other kami enshrined here, of course, but the main visitors are expectant mothers and their families who are coming to pray for safe delivery and healthy babies.

Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is one of the most mysterious and elusive kami.

Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami is one of the most mysterious and elusive kami.

Looking at the architecture, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a famous picture of the 上屋敷 kami-yashiki upper residence of  福岡藩 Fukuoka Han Fukuoka Domain which was located in Kasumigaseki. In the picture, the mansion is built on a slope, with a large stone stairway leading up to it. Suiten-gū is built the same way.

Fukuoka Domain's upper residence in Kasumigaseki is considered a masterpiece of Edo Period administrative building style.

Fukuoka Domain’s upper residence in Kasumigaseki is considered a masterpiece of Edo Period administrative building style.

I know this is a coincidence, but imagine my surprise when I learned that this shrine was once located on the grounds of the upper residence of 久留米藩 Kurume Han Kurume Domain in 三田 Mita. Kurume is located in present day Fukuoka Prefecture[iv]. After the Meiji Coup, the Arima Family, lords of Kurume, moved to this area and rebuilt the shrine here. But the connection to Fukuoka goes deeper. 久留米水天宮 Kurume Suiten-gū located in Kurume City is the main shrine of Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami. His/her cult spread from this region and flourished during the Edo Period under the trend towards 国学 kokugaku native learning[v]. According to the Japanese Wikipedia page, there are about 25 Suiten-gū located throughout Japan, 4 of which are located in the Tōkyō Metropolis.

 

Pretty sure it's coincidence, but the architectural relation is uncanny.

Pretty sure it’s coincidence, but the architectural relation is uncanny.

 

On a slightly related note, a visit to Suiten-gū to pray for your safe delivery can always come after a visit to 東京大神宮 Tōkyō Daijingū Tōkyō Grand Shrine. This shrine was built in 1880 as part of the newly established Meiji government’s propaganda campaign to distract people from all things Tokugawa, including temples and shrines[vi]. Anyways, the shrine is known today as the place where single women go in droves to pray for a boyfriend or husband[vii]. Rurōsha has a nice blog entry about Tōkyō Grand Shrine. Check it out.

Oh, I almost forgot. Suiten-gū is part of the 人形町町七福神巡り Ningyō-chō Shichi Fukujin Meguri the Ningyō-chō Pilgrimage of the 7 Gods of Good Luck. As I’ve mentioned before, 7 Fukujin pilgrimages are popular during the New Year’s holiday. Most of the temples and shrines on this pilgrimage are minor, but when you get to Suiten-gū, you’ll find yourself at one of the busiest shrines in the area.

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[i] A name we may have to come back to… in the future.
[ii] I’m not even kidding here. Uploading a picture of the shrine with only the caption “Suiten-gū” onto social media is a common and modest way for Japanese girls to break the news to their friends.
[iii] Again, don’t quote me, but I think some argue that she is an idea imported from China by the 邪馬台国 Yamatai Koku, Japanized, and then spread throughout Japan by the Yamato people. Fukuoka is one of the areas assumed to have been the origin of the Yamato culture (we’ll come back to this in a moment). But if you want to know more about this kami, please read here.
[iv] In the Edo Period, these were autonomous domains ruled by separate families. Today’s Fukuoka Prefecture is a large, modern administrative unit and doesn’t correspond to the former Fukuoka Domain. Case in point, Kurume is now a city located in Fukuoka Prefecture.
[v] Without going into a too much detail, this was a nativist approach to scholarship promoted by people such as 本居宣長 Motoori Norinaga as an alternative to 漢学 kangaku Chinese learning. In the newly established Pax Tokugawa with its restriction on sea travel and trade saw a renewed interested in turning inward and parsing out the “nativist” Japanese narratives from the Chinese classics. The Chinese classics didn’t fall by the wayside, but new passion for Japan’s own contributions to its own culture came to be seen as valuable and was pursued with vigor.
[vi] I think I’ve touched on this a few times. But my most recent allusion to it was in the part about the 10 Shrines of Tōkyō in my article on Hakusan.
[vii] I’ve also been told that it’s one of the best places in Tōkyō to pick up desperate, broken women if you’re into picking up random, lonely chicks at shrines. Hey, this is apparently a thing.

What does Haneda mean?

In Japanese History, Travel in Japan on January 24, 2014 at 3:23 am

羽田町
Haneda Machi (Wing Field Town)

Haneda Anamori Inari Shrine in the late Meiji or Taisho Period.

Haneda Anamori Inari Shrine in the late Meiji or Taisho Period.

It may sound familiar. It may look familiar. But you will never find this city on a map of Japan.

That’s because this city doesn’t exist anymore. It was abolished in 1947 when 大森区 Ōmori-ku Ōmori Ward and 蒲田区 Kamata-ku Kamata Ward were merged into present day 大田区 Ōta-ku Ōta Ward. 3 humble postal codes are all that remain of this obscure Edo Period fishing village: 羽田 Haneda, 羽田旭町 Haneda Asahi-chō, and 羽田空港 Haneda Kūkō.

In 1818, a major shrine called 穴守稲荷神社 Anamori Inari Jinja Anamori Inari Shrine was built here. There were some other Inari shrines scattered throughout the area and since they came to a grand total of seven, someone got the idea of making a 七福稲荷巡りShichi Fukuinari Meguri Pilgrimage of the 7 Lucky Inari Shrines. At the beginning of the year, I spoke about how common courses for the 七福神 Shichi Fukujin 7 Gods of Good Luck are. Well, I know Inari became an extremely popular kami with the common people during the Edo Period, but this is the only 7 Lucky Inari course that I’ve ever heard of. (Of course, if there are more of these, I’d love to hear about it!)

Anyhoo, the area was just an obscure backwater until…

drumroll

They built an airport here.

Haneda Airport.

Above, I mentioned 3 postal codes; the last one is the airport. And that area takes up the bulk of what was once 羽田町 Haneda Machi Haneda Town. That is to say, the town was more or less bulldozed over and everyone was relocated elsewhere[i].

If you want to read about the history of Haneda Airport – which is actually a pretty interesting story in and of itself[ii]I’ll direct you to the English Wikipedia page which seems pretty thorough in my humble estimation.

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Map of the Haneda Shichi Fuku Inari

Map of the Haneda Shichi Fuku Inari.
Notice the river drawn vertically. That’s the Ebitori River.
Note the river drawn horizontally. That’s the Tama River.
Gonna talk about those again in a minute, mkay?

Ready! Set! Etymologize!

Now let’s talk about where this name came from, which, after all, is pretty much the only reason anyone comes here.

First, I’d like to give a little background. Today, Haneda is part of 東京都 Tōkyō-to the Tōkyō Metropolis. It was never part of Edo. Under the classical administrative system, this was 武蔵国荏原郡 Musashi no Kuni Ebara-gun Ebara District, Musashi Province. The area was not a han domain, rather it fell under the direct control of the shōgunate[iii]. Until the 1950’s and 1960’s, the area had been, since time immemorial, a fishing village of little consequence.

Kantō place names start coming into the historical record in a sort of haphazard “abundance” for the first time in the Heian Period – but this particular area was in a dark age of sorts. There doesn’t seem to have been much activity here during the Kamakura Period – which is when we usually start getting solid information on place names in the Kantō area. The next big burst of information usually comes with the ascendancy of the Late Hōjō, but alas, this area gets skipped over (except for a passing reference which I’ll get to in a minute).

It’s not until the Tokugawa Period when we get any sort of reliable information on the area. Up to this point the area is more or less recognized as 羽田村 Haneda Mura Haneda Village. With the creation of 東京府 Tōkyō-fu Tōkyō Prefecture in the late 1860’s came the arrival of modern census-taking, modern map making, and – thankfully – modern record keeping.

But before that time in this area, we’re probably looking at a place name that went through a number of changes. The phonemes themselves could have changed, the kanji representing the phonemes could have changed, and such willy-nilly kanji-use could have been replaced by other kanji later – also willy-nilly. So, yes, once again, take everything, and I mean, everything, with a grain of salt.


hane
feather

da
field
Japanese Flight Attendants at Haneda Airport in the 60's.

JAL Flight Attendants at Haneda Airport in the 60’s.

So, here we go!

Theory 1
“Haneda” is a reference to where the inlets of the Pacific Ocean met the Tamagawa River.
The idea was that はね met :

跳ね
hane
muddy splash
撥ね
hane
(water) brushing up against (against the shore)

ta/da
Fields (ie; the land being splashed upon or brushed upon)

This actually seems to be one of the most popular theories. The first kanji is rarely used in Modern Japanese place names[iv]. The second kanji is plain rarely used. Let’s file this under “not so crazy, but extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

This torii marks the original location of Haneda Anamori Shrine (the shrine was removed to make room for the airport). You can see the Tama River in the background.

This torii marks the original location of Haneda Anamori Shrine (the shrine was removed to make room for the airport). You can see the Tama River in the background.

Theory 2

The area was famous for 半田 handa solder (heating up metals to melting point and fusing them). I couldn’t find many references to this business in the area, so who knows.

The story goes that in the old Kantō dialects, はんだ handa solder/pewter was pronounced はねだ haneda. Interestingly, I’m pretty sure the kanji 半田 are ateji[v]. So, if this etymology is true, it’s referencing a very ancient Japanese word and any kanji attached to it were added post hoc. Let’s file this under “adventures in ateji.”

I've got no pictures for this theory. But, hey, here's a picture of a cloud that looks like a dick.

I’ve got no pictures for this theory.
But, hey, here’s a picture of a cloud that looks like a dick.

Theory 3

OK, this is a kind of a stretch, because I probably can’t provide you with a visual for this, but, when viewed from the sea, the 海老取川 Ebigtori-gawa Ebitori River[vi] was split in two by the fields (). The fishermen said it had a shape that looked like a bird with its hane wings spread as if about to take flight. Let’s file this under “unlikely.”

Aerial shot of Haneda Airport. The bulk of the current airport is built on landfill that didn't exist during the Edo Period so there's no way to confirm this theory now.  I'm too lazy to pull out an old map because this theory sounds like BS. But from the air, you can see how various inlets split off into new rivers. I guess that could look like a bird's wings. Just not sure how you'd see it from a boat.

Aerial shot of Haneda Airport.
The bulk of the current airport is built on landfill that didn’t exist during the Edo Period so there’s no way to confirm this theory now.
I’m too lazy to pull out an old map because this theory sounds like BS.
But from the air, you can see how various inlets split off into new rivers.
I guess that could look like a bird’s wings. Just not sure how you’d see it from a boat.

Theory 4

This one is a total déjà vu, but it’s Totally Tōkyō®. First, let’s compare Akabane and Akabanebashi to this one. It’s said that the area was famous for its hani clay (for pottery, etc). In the local dialect, はに hani was pronounced はね hane. Completely plausible and consistent with other place name origins in the region. Let’s file this under “my preferred theory.”

"Haniwa" (the "hani" means "read clay") are ancient pottery or modern pottery done in the ancient style made of, yup, red clay.

“Haniwa” (the “hani” means “clay”) are ancient pottery or modern pottery done in the ancient style made of, yup, red clay.

Theory 5

The final one isn’t really a theory at all. It’s more of a half-assed observation.

This “theory” states that because fields () were so common in this part of Ebara-gun, many place names in the area included the kanji which means field.

OK, sure. But you can find place names and family names[vii] all over Japan with the kanji in them. And if we wanted to see if there was a particular trend for using that kanji here, we’d need to do some heavy statistical research that just sounds waaaaaaay too boring to me. Not to mention, this theory doesn’t say anything about the first part of the name. Let’s file this under, “not thought out very well.”

At ease, soldier.

The Mac Daddy himself.
“At ease, soldier.”
Haneda airport’s first real expansion effort was begun by the Supreme Allied Command during the American Occupation of Japan.

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[i] Of course, this didn’t all happen at once. The original airfield was a modest fraction of what it is today. The bulk of eviction and development was initiated by the Supreme Allied Command under General MacArthur. The Americans didn’t just evict a bunch of people, though. The area had been thoroughly devastated by firebombing and so most of the people were probably happy to get the hell out of the rubble and move to the new Haneda area which was fresh for development.

[ii] Although, its official story begins in 1931, it had become Japan’s major airport by 1938. But even just a quick look at the planes flying in and out and the size of the airfield bares testament to just how technologically unprepared for WWII Japan actually was. Wow.

[iii] If I’m not mistaken – and please correct me if I’m wrong – this was called 天領 ten’ryō and referred to lands that didn’t fall under the control of daimyō, but were nevertheless obviously part of the 天下 tenka the realm. So these lands traditionally fell under direct imperial control, but in the Edo Period they fell under control of the shōgun and his direct retainers. Basically they were worthless fiefs in the boonies. It seems like there were many ways to categorize these types of fiefs, so today a general term 幕府領 bakufu-ryō “shōgunal territory” is used.

[iv] A quick Google search only turned up 6 place names across Japan that use .

[v] The literal meaning is “half a field” which doesn’t mean shit when talking about blacksmithing.

[vi] Interestingly enough, this river’s name means the “the river where we pull up some delicious-ass shrimp.”

[vii] And apparently words (I’m looking at you, 半田 handa solder).

Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin

In Japanese Holidays, Japanese Shrines & Temples on January 6, 2014 at 5:14 pm

深川七福神巡り
Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin Meguri (Walking Tour of the Fukugawa 7 Gods of Good Luck)

The Fukagawa 7 Fukujin Course

The Fukagawa 7 Fukujin Course

I hope everyone had a safe and happy (and delicious) winter holiday. I’ve been out of the country and haven’t updated JapanThis! for a few weeks. Did you miss me?[i]

At the beginning of every new year, Mrs. JapanThis and I do a traditional walking tour of the 七福神 shichi fukujin the seven gods of good luck. There are shichi fukujin walks all over Japan. This kind of pilgrimage[ii] seems to have begun in the late Muromachi Period (1333-1573)[iii]. The practice was brought from Kansai to Kantō and grew in popularity during the Edo Period when most of the old temples and shrines associated with the 7 gods of good luck had become settled. Prior to the Edo Period, the exact set of deities wasn’t standardized. This lack of standardization has resulted in some shichi fukujin walks including an 8th deity of varying provenance. Occasionally, you’ll actually see a 八福神巡り hachi fukujin meguri walking tour of the 8 gods of good luck. But more often than not, these are a distinct set of 7 deities and when represented in a group, they should be immediately recognizable by any Japanese person[iv]. Anyways, as most of the shichi fukujin pilgrimages became settled in the Edo Period and the popularity of these walks during the new year holiday increased, it should be no surprise that most of these are found in the heart of Edo. There are more than 20 possible shichi fukujin walks in Tōkyō alone[v].

Tōkyōites walk a lot, but in the Edo Period, people walked everywhere and for much greater distances – even in the dead of winter. An average pilgrimage in Tōkyō will require anywhere from 2 to 3½ hours of walking. Every route is unique, but generally people do it from Jan. 1st to Jan. 6th[vi]. Each route is well-organized and you can buy 七福神色紙 shichi fukujin shikishi stamp board for about 1000 (roughly $10) and at each stop you can get a stamp for 100 or 200 (roughly $1 or $2). Temples and shrines that are not major destinations are usually closed except for special events, so the week or two after the new year is big business for them. That’s why the routes are well-marked with flags and there are maps available everywhere.

Shikishi are decorate pieces of cardboard used to collect signatures for special events. Here you can see the name of each shrine/temple in black and then a red ink stamp pressed over it confirming that you actually visited the temple/shrine. At the bottom, in gold, you can see the 7 gods of good luck riding on the the takarabune "treasure ship."  Awwwww yeah.

Shikishi are decorate pieces of cardboard used to collect signatures for special events.
Here you can see the name of each shrine/temple in black and then a red ink stamp pressed over it confirming that you actually visited the temple/shrine.
At the bottom, in gold, you can see the 7 gods of good luck riding on the the takarabune “treasure ship.”
Awwwww yeah.

Today is the first day that most Japanese companies started work after the holiday, so there were two kinds of people we mostly encountered: salarymen and old people. As it was the first day back at work for most Japanese companies, people are still feeling pretty lazy and any excuse to get out of the office and walk around is welcome and so groups of co-workers tend to be permitted to visit a shrine near the office to pray for success in business. I doubt they’re allowed to do the whole shichi fukujin meguri, but visiting a shrine dedicated to a god of good luck makes much more sense than visiting a shrine for, say, 安産 anzan safe delivery of babies. There are lots of old people because… well, they don’t have to work and Japan is just crawling with old people anyways.

I’m not going to go into detail about each of the 7 gods because you can look them up in Wikipedia or here is a nice description of them. But I am going to list each of the 7 gods and the shrine or temple with which they are affiliated. Now, I say affiliated because many times these gods are not the main deity venerated at a certain temple or shrine – they may be part of a small shrine attached to another larger religious structure[vii]. As it so happens, except for 1 structure, most of the sites of the shichi fukujin in Fukagawa are very minor, simple buildings. They’re probably only open a few days a year to perform certain religious duties and the rest of the year, the family who owns the property is engaged in other work that has nothing to do with the temple/shrine[viii]. Keep in mind that this list is for Fukagawa only, the names of the temples and shrines of another course will be totally different.

Name

Domain

Shrine/Temple Name

Description

寿老人
Jurō-jin
longevity 深川神明宮
Fukagawa

Shinmei-gū
I always think of this guy as the bearded old man with a big head. This shrine participates in the famous Fukagawa Mizukake Festival.
大黒天
Daikokuten
amassing wealth, good harvest 円珠
Enju-in
Daikoku is one of the more famous of the shichi fukujin, but the temple in Fukagawa is TINY. Daikoku is enshrined in what is essentially a round Buddhist style shack.
恵比須神
Ebisu-jin
love & respect; bountiful food 富岡八幡宮
Tomioka

Hachiman-gū
This is one of the most important shrines in Edo-Tōkyō. I mentioned it here. However, the small shrine to Ebisu seems like an add-on. It’s located on the left, back-side of the main hall. Read more about the Tōkyō place name, Ebisu, here and here. Also, if I’m not mistaken, Ebisu is the only of the 7 gods of good luck who is of native Japanese origin.
布袋尊
Hotei-son
selflessness & generosity 深川稲荷神社
Fukagawa

Inari Jinja
This shrine is tiny. I think I’ve mentioned Inari before. Inari is generally an auspicious kami and shrines to this deity are all over Japan. It’s my understanding that the cult of Inari spread under the sankin-kōtai system because this kami was popular with daimyō. In the Edo Period, Inari became popular with the common people too.
毘沙門天
Bishamonten
risk taking; gambling 龍光院
Ryūkō-in
This is a tiny temple in a residential area that almost blends into the background. It looks just like any other modern building on the block.
弁財天
Benzaiten
being rich & famous; the glamorous life 冬木弁天堂
Fuyuki

Benten-dō
Another small shrine, but this one has an older, traditional feel. The name of the shrine is interesting. It literally means “Fuyuki’s place to venerate Benzaiten.” Fuyuki was the name of a family of lumber workers who supposedly lived here and had a small shrine to Benzaiten. Benzaiten is sometimes depicted as a slutty, music playing, and jealous bitch. It’s often said if couples visit her shrines together, she’ll get jealous and the couple will break up.
福禄寿
Fukurokuju
popularity, happiness & prosperity 心行寺
Shingyō-ji
This temple is doing its own Buddhist thing, but has a small “shack” dedicated to the veneration of Fukurokuju. It seems like they only open it for viewing a few times a year, including the new year holiday.

So, as I said earlier, Mrs. JapanThis and I have done many shichi fukujin walks. This year we decided to do the Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin Meguri. Fukagawa is a very shitamachi area and even boasts a fantastic museum called 深川江戸資料館 Fukagawa Edo Shiryōkan Fukagawa Edo Museum which reconstructs a block of Edo Period Fukagawa and brings a little bit of Edo to life – highly recommended. Because the area was in the heart of Edo, it wasn’t surprising to find out that it’s one of the easiest shichi fukujin courses. It took us no more than 2 hours to walk the whole thing. They started us at Monzen Nakachō Station[ix] and marked the entire path with flags so that we didn’t need any maps or any GPS (even if we did get lost, there were groups of old people being led by cute tour guides waving flags – they’re easy enough to follow).

Monzen-Nakacho

“Mon’naka” Station.
Every time I visit an area I’ve written about it’s like seeing an old friend.
Hello, old friend!

Then we entered Tomioka Hachiman-gū. At the entrance was a massive stone lantern. Its size reminded me of the Monster Lantern in Ueno Park – but the Monster Lantern is much bigger. Still, it’s pretty cool to see a stone lantern of this size. We ventured around to the left hand side of the 本殿 honden main hall of Tomioka Hachiman-gū and found a small grove with 3 stalls housing 3 kami, the middlemost kami was Ebisu.

The giant stone lantern at the entrance to Tomioka Hachimangu.

The giant stone lantern at the entrance to Tomioka Hachimangu.

The main hall of Tomioka Hachimangu!

The main hall of Tomioka Hachimangu!
Notice the group of salarymen walking together.

The torii that leads to the shrine dedicated to Ebisu.

The torii that leads to the shrine dedicated to Ebisu.

The actual shrine to Ebisu is basically a wooden shed behind Tomioka Hachimangu.

The actual shrine to Ebisu is basically a wooden shed behind Tomioka Hachimangu.

The next stop on the Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin Course is Fuyuki Benten-dō, home of Benzaiten, the only female kami (女神 megami) of the 7 gods of good luck. It’s a very small temple and today it was filled with old people standing around and looking very confused… until the tour guide told everyone to make a single file line and pay their respects. We got our stamp and got out of there as quickly as possible so as to beat all the old people to the next stops on our course.

IMG_3893

The shrine to Benzaiten is so small and the grounds so narrow that it is literally wedged between to small apartment buildings. If it weren’t for the flags announcing the 7 fukujin walk, you might not even notice it!

Next stop was Shingyō-ji where Fukurokuju-son is enshrined. The temple itself isn’t’t much to look at, but the interesting thing is the Buddhist style stall in which Fukurokuju is venerated, it’s a good example of syncretism in Japanese religion (ie; foreign religions like Buddhism naturally mixed with the native Shintōism).

Entrance to Shingyoji. Again, if you didn't know what you were looking for, you probably wouldn't even bat an eye at this temple.

Entrance to Shingyoji.
Again, if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you probably wouldn’t even bat an eye at this temple.

This is the shrine to Fukurokuju.  The shape of this structure is distinctly Buddhist.

This is the shrine to Fukurokuju.
The shape of this structure is distinctly Buddhist.

Here's a statue of the little bugger himself.

Here’s a statue of the little bugger himself.

Along the way, we passed a famous 和菓子屋 wagashi-ya Japanese sweets shop called 伊勢屋 Isei-ya. We picked up some 大福 daifuku and went on our merry way.

Iseya has been in business since 1907 (Meiji 40) and has quite a good reputation in Tokyo for quality Japanese sweets.

Iseya has been in business since 1907 (Meiji 40) and has quite a good reputation in Tokyo for quality Japanese sweets.

Our 4th stop was Enju-in which houses and enshrinement of Daikokuten. As I mentioned before, most of the shichi fukujin are commonly recognized when seen together, but separately, it may be hard to remember who is who. Ebisu, Benzaiten, and Daikokuten are the most recognizable, I think. Daikokuten’s gig is granting wealth – not just wealth, but ever accumulating wealth. There is a famous chain of “pawn shops[x]” called Daikokuya. The one near my house specializes in high end wallets and bags (Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, etc…), I can’t help but think there is a connection. Anyhoo, the temple itself is non-descript and if it hadn’t been for the flags lining the path, I might have had a hard time finding the place.

A paper lantern with the name "Daikokuten" written on it.

A paper lantern with the name “Daikokuten” written on it.

IMG_3903

Again, if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d probably never look twice at this temple.

During my winter vacation, I visited Arizona. Feeling a bit stir crazy one day, I took a 2 hour walk just to see what I could see – and I saw nothing. But walk for 10 minutes through the heart of Edo-Tōkyō and you’ll see lots of things! As we were moseying along, we stumbled across a solitary grave near an intersection. Turns out, this was the grave of Mamiya Rinzō. He was a map maker and a spy for the Tokugawa shōgunate. He made maps of northern Japan and the Kuril Isla— and wait, did you just say “spy?!

Yes, I did.

In 1826, the Dutch doctor and botanist, Phillip von Siebold was caught collecting maps of northern Japan (drawn by a member of the imperial court in Kyōto, no less). But the Tokugawa shōgunate was all about very limited access to the country[xi]. Furthermore, they insisted on keeping the imperial court out of the business of real politics and especially out of the limited international exchanges possible at the time. So this was quite a big deal to the government in Edo. Today, most of us look back at it and laugh but really this was some North Korea-style shit, right? Well, North Korea shit could get you killed but luckily for von Siebold, the shōgunate didn’t want to create an international riff, so they effectively deported him and that’s the end of story.

But who was the douchebag who told on von Siebold like a little bitch? Oh, it was Mamiya Rinzō from 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain[xii]. Make what you will of that.

Grave of Mamiya Rinzo.

Grave of Mamiya Rinzo – Tattletale extraordinaire.

IMG_3906

Plaque in front of Rinzo’s grave.


Then, we moved on to Ryūkō-in. This is where Bishamonten is revered. It’s another less than memorable temple.

Ryūkō-in - yet another non-descript temple.

Ryūkō-in – yet another non-descript temple.

A makeshift sign for the season that says "Bishamonten."

A makeshift sign for the season that says “Bishamonten.”

After that, we headed to Fukagawa Inari Shrine to see Hotei-son. This shine is literally crammed into a tiny corner of a residential intersection. I bet this is the most action this place gets all year.

It's hardly fair to even call this a shrine.

It’s hardly fair to even call this a shrine.

Finally we hit up Shinmei-gū which was larger than the last few places, but not so big. They had their o-mikoshi (portable shrine) on display with pictures indicating that they participate in the mizukake matsuri which is generally spearheaded by Tomioka Hachiman-gū[xiii].

Torii and entrance to Shinmeigū. The premises were quite large, but the architecture and space weren't much to look at.

Torii and entrance to Shinmeigū. The premises were quite large, but the architecture and space weren’t much to look at.

So, having done quite a few shichi fukujin walks, I was really looking forward to the Fukagawa walk because it’s so famous. But it was a bit of a letdown compared to the others. The highlights were definitely Tomioka Hachiman-gū (because of its size and importance to Edo-Tōkyō) and the grave of Mamiya Rinzō (which just pissed me off). But all in all, I got a lot of good exercise, quality time with Mrs. JapanThis, and best of all, I got a future place name to research. Check this shit out:

Bakuroyokoyama FTW!!!

Bakuroyokoyama FTW!!!

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[i] It’s a rhetorical question; I don’t need my inboxes flooded with “no” e-mails.

[ii] For lack of a better word.

[iii] This is the most liberal reckoning I can think of for this era. Various scholars will assign different dates for the beginning of the Muromachi Period depending on how they are trying to frame certain topics. I probably won’t even mention the Muromachi Period again in this article, so let’s leave it at that for now.

[iv] And I reckon most foreigners who have spent a few years in Japan would recognize them too.

[v] And according to Wikipedia, there are at least 10 more in the Kantō area.

[vi] Some routes are officially open as late as Jan. 15th.

[vii] Not unlike in Europe where a church may be dedicated to a certain saint, but the relics or bodies of various other saints and holy people may be also be located on the premises.

[viii] That is too say, they have a real 9-5 most of the time.

[ix] Again, if you’re interested in the etymology of the place name Monzen Nakachō, I recommend you read my article here.

[x] Again, for lack of a better word.

[xi] Some say it was 開国 sakoku a closed country, others say it was under 海禁 kaikin a policy of limited access by sea.

[xii] The same Mito Domain that produced Mito Gaku and the grand douche daimyō extraordinaire, Tokugawa Nariaki. Oh yes, Mito Han. JapanThis! loves to hate on Mito Han almost as much as Satsuma and Chōshū.

[xiii] More about this next summer…

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