Despite my best efforts, I did not get to all of the shrines in Kyoto in three days. I tried really hard, though, and it left me exhausted. I made it in safely last night but I’m still too tired to put up a post that will do my trip any justice.

Instead, here’s a picture of something I bought at Fushimi Inari Shrine:

Miku Shrine ?!

No, that’s not a shrine to Hatsune Miku!


There might be a rule against displaying the torii like that, but I don’t know… I smile every time I see it over there!

Behind them are my three(!) shrine books: the original one I purchased at Hakone Shrine in October 2012, a special Ten Shrines of Tokyo pilgrimage book, and a new, blank book from Hirano Shrine in Kyoto. (Also, my mother’s copy of Rubyfruit Jungle, which she gave me for my birthday.)

I cleaned out the bottom shelf to make space for my research books and the pamphlets that come with shrine signatures. Tomorrow, I’ll start posting more detailed accounts of my Kyoto trip.


exciting news at #shrinehoppers headquarters

“So what ever happened to “梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival (2)?” you might ask.

Well, let me show you. This happened:
Yasukuni Shrine

I didn’t alter this picture (of Yasukuni Shrine’s massive torii gate) in Photoshop or anything. The sky, cross my heart and hope to die, was that weird yellowy brownish grey color, and breathing in that air kinda hurt. It stung my eyes.

So even though Anna and I intended to go see more plum blossoms, we only made it to two of the four shrines we wanted to see that day. Iidabashi was deserted, and Kudanshita was no better. Walking through any part of Tokyo, especially in a central area so close to Tokyo Station itself, and seeing almost no one was creepy.

It was a little too Acid Tokyo for us, so we went home.

The only other shrine we saw that day was the lovely Tokyo Daijingu.

Tokyo Daijingu


I’ll get back to that area sometimes for more pictures, more shrines, and a more detailed post, because today, there is exciting news at the #shrinehoppers headquarters:

We’re going to Kyoto!

I’ve got a train to catch this evening, and then for the next few days, it’ll be shrines, shrines everywhere! I’ve got to narrow down my choices, but first on the list is Fushimi Inari Taisha. I’m excited, because I’ve never been. Last time I was in Kyoto, I thought that shrines were terribly boring.


梅まつりPlum Blossom Festival (1)

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival
It’s (finally) that time of year again when the flowers start to bloom!
This post is going to be pretty picture heavy because I love to take pictures of flowers.

From the end of February to the middle of March, the first of the flowering trees start blooming. Last year, I mistakenly believed these to be cherry blossoms. Those come a little bit later, from the end of March until the beginning of April. First are the plum trees.

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

I’ve been keeping an eye on the one at work, watching it bloom and getting a whiff of the flowers when I’m outside at recess. Plum trees smell lovely. All of the shops sell fancy sakura scented goods, like hand cream and so on, but what they should package is the plum blossom smell: sweet and a little bit spicy. Yum!

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

My first stop yesterday was 亀戸天神, Kameido Tenjin Shrine. I’ve been there before (a few times). Kameido, like all Tenjin Shrines, enshrines the spirit of a historical scholar, 菅原道真, Sugawara no Michizane. (His name as a 神様, a kami (loosely, a “god”), is 天満天神, Tenma Tenjin.)

Originally enshrines to appease his vengeful ghost, Sugawara no Michizane was a Heian Period scholar and poet. Tenjin Shrines popular places to pray for good luck during the new school year, for passing entrance exams, etc. He is a patron spirit of arts, especially poetry.

Sugawara no Michizane also really, really loved plum blossoms, and you can find plum trees at all of his shrines.

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

Although Kameido Tenjin is more famous for their wisteria (which bloom in May), there are plum blossoms aplenty to be seen and admired. When my friend, and fellow shrinehopper, Anna, brought her shrine book in to be signed, they stamped it with a special “梅まつり” stamp.

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

I happened to catch a glimpse of a stranger’s shrine book while I was out admiring the flowers, and I saw that they have a special purple stamp for the Wisteria Festival in late spring.

Gotta catch ’em all?

My next stop was 湯島天神, Yushima Tenjin Shrine, not far from Ueno Park. I’ve been to Yushima Tenjin Shrine many times before, because I used to live over there. Often, I would stumble upon it by accident while out biking. That was always a good sign, because it meant I could find my way home.

However, I didn’t have my shrine book yet, so I brought that along to be signed.

梅まつり Plum Blossom FestivalI never cared much for handwriting before I started collecting shrine signatures. I love the delicacy of this one; a contrast to the dark, heavy (and still beautiful) signature on the opposite page, which unfortunately bled through the paper in places. Those two signatures are a study in contrasts.

Yushima Tenjin is usually a place of quiet and serenity. It’s a little out of the way from Ueno Park, and not quite famous enough to appear on every tourist’s itinerary. Yesterday, it was just bustling with people come to admire the plum blossoms that cover the grounds.

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

There were still opportunities for some beautiful flower photos.

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

I haven’t quite figured out who gets lions and who gets foxes for guardians, except that Inari Shrines always have kitsune. Sugawara no Michizane, like fellow deified scholar Ono no Takamura (enshrined in 小野照崎神社, Onoterusaki Shrine, near my old apartment), has lion guardians at his shrine.

Don’t let the old timey flower petals and carved stone lions fool you: on either side of this pedestal was a stall selling delicious fried festival food.

There is a saying in Japanese, “花より団子,” hana yori dango, which means, roughly, “food over flowers.” It’s for someone who goes to お花見, ohanami, flower viewing, for the tasty treats instead of the flowers. That was me, until about this time last year.

Now I’m all about the flowers.

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival

梅まつり Plum Blossom Festival



Plum blossoms are so important to Tenjin Shrines that the 御朱印長, shrine book, at Yushima Tenjin is decorated with them. ([ctrl]+[f] “湯島天神” to find the right one.)

This afternoon, I’m heading out for another #shrinehoppers お花見  (flower viewing) adventure, this time to 牛天神, Ushi Tenjin. This shrine is entirely new to me, so I’m looking forward to visiting!

If you’d like to go get a jump on flower viewing this spring, check out Time Out Tokyo‘s list of Top 12 Ume Spots.

お楽しみ! Enjoy!

*Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan’s Ancient Religion, by Joseph Cali and John Dougill

二つの稲荷神社 Inari Shrines x 2

The weather is almost sort-of nice again! And you know what nice weather means over here at the #SHRINEHOPPERS headquarters: biking adventures!

So I hopped on my trusty bike with the intent of biking from Shinkoiwa Station to Kinshicho Station and seeing what shrines I could find along the way.

The wind had other ideas.

First, I was nearly blown right off of the Hirai Ohashi Bridge into the Edo River. The wind was so strong I had to steer hard right to avoid crashing into the low fence on my left. Then my glasses nearly blew off of my face(!), and that was when I realized that I should go home and fetch my laundry inside.

I did at least get to see one shrine on my way:


I found this little Inari Shrine near an apartment complex right next to the train tracks. When I parked my bike to take a picture, the security guard came out and yelled at me, but I explained that all I wanted was to look at the shrine and I’d go away, and he said that was fine.

Hooray! for limited Japanese skills. I love that I can trail off awkwardly when I don’t know a word without looking like a complete idiot, because the listener is supposed to infer my meaning. Or something like that.

So, I parked my bike at Hirai Station and took the train back home, brought my laundry in so it wouldn’t be blown away in the hurricane winds we’re having today, and turned around and went back to Hirai. (Thankfully, this was all covered by my monthly train pass, so I didn’t have to pay for one stop back and forth.)

After the near death experience on the bridge, I thought better of biking any further and took the train the rest of the way to Kinshicho Station. I wanted to get some provisions (cheesy popcorn yum) for my movie night with my roommate and check out a little shrine I often see on my way in to work but never had the chance to really check out.

Kinshicho Livin Inari ShrineThis little tiny shrine lives on the second floor of a shopping complex parking garage. I wish I could have gone closer, but they had it coned off and while I might be able to explain why I’m illegally parking my bike, I’d have a harder time justifying breaking and entering.

What’s really interesting about this shrine is the location. I’m serious: it’s on top of a parking garage. Go up to the LIVIN bike parking second floor, and there it is, just doing it’s shrine thing. I bet it’s one of those little ones I’ve heard about that were moved upwards during the boom. The rule, so I hear, was that you can’t demolish a shrine and you can’t move the footprint from side to side, but you could move them upwards, as long as they were on the highest floor.

I’ve heard of those shrines before, but this is the first one I’ve seen.

Even though my plans were, ahem, blown up today, I’d still consider it a successful, if short, #shrinehoppers excursion.