After you’ve visited Meiji Shrine, it’s time for you to go to an actual shrine. Until the turn of the century, shrines have been the community hubs of every city, town and village. Not only were they places that people prayed; they were places for festivals, gatherings, and socialising. They set trends, gave alms, had schools. They are where you heard kids laugh, marketplaces, etc. Shrine aren’t just to be looked at. They’re to be experienced.
The birthplace of sumo, professional sumo as it’s known today, also happened at a shrine.
Just a 10-minute ride from Tokyo Station and Nihonbashi, Monzennaka-cho is a local hidden gem, not least because of the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine (Tomioka Hachimangū 富岡八幡宮 ), the birthplace of sumo, home of Kanto’s largest portable shrine, and host to one of the three Edo Great Festivals (a massive water fight).
Founded in 1627 on reclaimed shoal in Tokyo Bay, the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine (Tomioka Hachimangū 富岡八幡宮 ), it is the largest Hachiman Shrine in Tokyo. Hachiman is the tutelary deity for samurai, and the protector of Japan. He is also the Shinto deity for the Minamoto Clan, which founded the first Shogunate (Kamakura) in Japan in the 12th Century.
Because of its long-standing cultural significance, it is also one of the designated Ten Shrines of Tokyo (Tokyo Jissha 東京十社).
It was burnt down on March 10, 1945 during one of Tokyo’s many bombings.
- stone torii through the gates
- twin lanterns commemorating its burn down
Professional Sports – Sumo:
In 1684, the shrine held its first sumo tournament (Kanjin-zumō 勧進相撲) under the auspices of the Tokugawa shogunate, and continued to do so for a century before the location was moved.
This is still the shrine the rikishi come to pray at after they have won tournaments.
Because of its long-standing association with sumo, you will find stone slabs and pillars close to the entrance gate (torii) that commemorate the most celebrated wrestlers (rikishi). Many shrines hold traditional competitions, such as the Kamigamo Jinja in Kyoto for horseback archery.
- The Ozeki Monument (Ozeki Rikishi-hi) stone slabs inscribed with over 100 names of Ozeki champions with their ring names shikona, from the first to the 69th.
- The main slab, placed in 1900, listing the successive top-rank wrestlers (yokozuna), and is known as the Yokozuna Rikishi-hi .
- The right stone slab has the yokozuna hand and foot prints.
- The left stone slab has line markings that mark the height of sumo wrestlers.
From the entrance gate, you’ll see a display hall to your left. Inside, you will see two elegant, golden-guilted portable shrines called mikoshi. The 4-ton mikoshi costed a billion Yen, guilted with diamonds, rubies and saphires, and is the largest portable shrine in the Kanto region. It is a stunning work of craftsmanship without the price of a museum ticket.
Once every three years, you can see the mikoshi on the main street of Etai Dori for the Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri (matsuri is festival), one of Tokyo’s Big Three Festivals from the Edo Era. Affectionately called the Mizukake Matsuri, which means Water Pouring Festival, it attracts over half a million spectators. The celebrations include carrying the 55 mikoshi that represent the respective Fukagawa districts. As the procession proceeds, spectators throw water on the shrine carriers, and the entire spectacle turns into more of a refreshing water fight in the heat of high summer.
If you are visiting in Mid-August, make sure you check the festival schedule. As with all big festivals, the streets will be lined with food stalls selling traditional foods and sweets.
- two golden portable shrines (mikoshi) behind a glass wall in a building left of the main gate
- in Mid-August, the Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri
Community: A Flea and Antique Market:
If you time your visit for the 1st, 15th, and 28th of each month, you can check out a large flea market with a dazzling array of old coins, postcards, eating utensils, and even furniture. It is a great place to find a unique souvenir, and usually at a great bargain!
- On the 1st, 15th, and 28th, look for stalls set up inside the shrine grounds
At the heart of a community, the shrine is within stone’s throw of local restaurants, sweet shops, bars, and cafes. Locals and weekend visitors alike take advantage
- Fukugawa Fudo Temple, another major landmark, just beside the shrine
- Soumen Ramen, Menya Endo, and Kokaibo Ramen – the area’s highest rated ramen shops serve delicious soy sauce (shou-yu) and salt (shio) ramen
- Monz Cafe
- Fukagawa Sweet Shop just outside the Monzennakacho Station exit to try the salty-sweet red bean daifuku (shio daifuku)
- Fukagawa’s best Ramen Shops, Cafes, and Sweet Shops
Every shrine has its own history and character. Some shrines are meant to commemorate, others as austere religious outposts, and still others as community centres. Visiting a variety of representative shrines, from the refined beauty of Meiji Shrine in a park to Tomioka Hachiman-gu’s lively local buzz, finally to little ones hidden in small street corners, you are digging deeper to appreciate the nuances of a part of Japanese culture.